Who Can Receive Accommodations from SAS?

Critical to the work that SAS does is the provision of accommodations for students with disabilities. Before going too far into the details of this process, it is important to establish what is meant by “disability” and who is qualified to receive accommodations.

Disability is not something easily defined. There are legal definitions (as our office uses), as well as a range of other perspectives that have been presented over time. Understanding disability requires a complex consideration of a variety of factors. As stated within the WHO ICF Practical Manual, “The functioning of an individual in a specific domain reflects an interaction between the health condition and the contextual: environmental and personal factors. There is a complex, dynamic and often unpredictable relationship among these entities.” (How to use the ICF - A Practical Manual for using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (who.int)) As highlighted, any understanding of disability needs to be centered within this dynamic and often changing interaction between an individual (identities, impairments, personal goals, strengths, etc.) and the environment (physical and digital space, culture of inclusivity, accessibility, barriers, practices, etc.). 

Disability within the ADA

While much of the work within SAS is focused on changing environments to ensure inclusion, the accommodation process falls within the legal realm of the ADA. Therefore, the primary definition used within our office as it relates to accommodations is the ADAAA definition of a disability (used by both Section 504 and HUD):

  1. Disability - The term “disability” means, with respect to an individual—
    1. a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual;
    2. a record of such an impairment; or
    3. being regarded as having such an impairment (as described in paragraph (3)). (42 U.S. Code § 12102 - Definition of disability | U.S. Code | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu))

The ADAAA did not change how this definition was worded, but it did clearly change the scope of how this definition should be interpreted. In particular, the interpretation of “substantially limits” was broadened to include a range of other potential life functions, and even this was viewed as examples and not an exhaustive list. Import to later distinctions between general accommodation processes and housing-only processes, the HUD also considers the ADAAA definition to be of primary importance in determining eligibility for accommodations.

Defining a "Qualified Individual"

The individual with a disability must also be a “qualified individual” to qualify for protections, and in the case of SAS services and accommodations. Qualified in this sense is meant to clarify that students must still be able to meet essential requirements with or without accommodations. As stated in the Title II regulations:

Qualified individual with a disability means an individual with a disability who, with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices, the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity. (Americans with Disabilities Act Title II Regulations | ADA.gov)

Similar language can be found in Section 504, where a “qualified handicapped person” is defined as “(3) With respect to postsecondary and vocational education services, a handicapped person who meets the academic and technical standards requisite to admission or participation in the recipient's education program or activity;” (34 CFR § 104.3 - Definitions. | Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (e-CFR) | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute (cornell.edu)) As with ADA if a student is not qualified, then they are not covered.

As expected, exactly what this means in the context of higher education is on the one hand broad, but on the other hand context specific. There are university requirements, but when it comes to accommodations, the specific program, department, and course also make a difference. Whether or not a student can meet essential requirements must be determined based on context specific requirements of a course, program, department, or college. As will be stated through the document, all accommodations need to be made on a case-by-case basis as the result of an individualized assessment.

Temporary Disabilities

SAS provides accommodations to students with temporary conditions. If a student has a temporary condition or is suspected of having a temporary condition, then the student should proceed through the interactive accommodations process.

If you had a recent accident that has resulted in the need for flexibility, then SAS recommends that: 

  • If there is immediate danger, contact 911.
  • For acute injuries students should work with Health and Wellness to create a return and management plan (Dean’s Letter, SAS accommodations, Health Leave). Accommodations through SAS may be part of that return and management plan.

Please note that the process for temporary conditions is not the same as the Dean’s Letter process. For students who have had an acute incident, a Dean’s Letter is often the first step in the process. Accommodations may still be necessary, so connections to both processes may be needed.