Learning Disabilities and The Law: After High School: An Overview for Students

Senior student receiving advice from his school councilorDo the legal rights of students with learning disabilities continue after high school?

Legal rights may continue. It depends upon the facts in the individual case. Children with learning disabilities who receive services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (RA) in public elementary and secondary school may continue to have legal rights under federal laws in college programs and in employment. When students graduate from high school or reach age 21, their rights under the IDEA come to an end.

The rights that may continue are those under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). To understand which rights continue, it is important to understand the three basic federal statutes that confer rights on people with disabilities.

The IDEA, initially enacted in 1975, provides for special education and related services for children with disabilities who need such education and services by reason of their disabilities. The IDEA provides for a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).

The Rehabilitation Act, most notably Section 504, prohibits discrimination against children and adults with disabilities. The Rehabilitation Act applies to public and private elementary and secondary schools and colleges that receive federal funding. It also applies to employers that receive federal funding.

The ADA prohibits discrimination against children and adults with disabilities and applies to all public and most private schools and colleges, to testing entities, and to licensing authorities, regardless of federal funding. Religiously controlled educational institutions are exempt from coverage. The ADA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees and to state and local governments.

It may help to consider an example of how rights may continue over many years. Jeff has a reading disorder. For a long time he wanted to become a lawyer, and now he is in law school. He received special education and related services under the IDEA during public elementary school. He went to a small private religious high school and received accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. He received extra test time on the SAT, during college, on the law school admission test (LSAT), and in law school. Under the ADA, he will be entitled to extra test time on the Bar Examination.

Do all people with learning disabilities have legal rights under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA?

No. Many have legal rights, but some do not. Under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA, a disability is an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as learning. Children and adults with learning disabilities, in many cases, have been found to have an impairment that substantially limits learning. That substantial limitation means that these individuals have a disability under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA and are protected under these laws.

Let’s look at an example. Jim was diagnosed with a reading disorder and math disorder when he was six years old. He received special education under the IDEA for most of elementary school to assist with reading and math. By the time he entered high school, his reading comprehension and speed tested as average, but he continued to receive services under the IDEA for his math disorder through the end of high school. After graduation, Jim enrolled in art school. The art school required one math course as a requirement for graduation, but had a policy allowing course substitutions for the math requirement for students with disabilities that interfered with math. Jim disclosed his math disorder, requested a course substitution for math, and submitted good professional documentation of his disability and his need for accommodation.

What rights do I have under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA as a person with a disability?

Basically you have the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of a disability. In the early school years, a child may be found ineligible under the IDEA but eligible under Section 504 and the ADA. The child would then receive services and accommodations under these anti-discrimination laws. In college, the Rehabilitation Act and ADA provide a right to accommodations for qualified persons with disabilities, so that courses, examinations, and activities will be accessible. These laws also require reasonable accommodations in the workplace for qualified individuals with disabilities.

Notice that the protections of these laws are for qualified persons with disabilities. This means you must be qualified to do the college program or job in order to be protected under the law. You may have to prove you are qualified. This is different from public elementary and secondary school, where you were presumed to be qualified to be educated.

An example will illustrate this point. Karen had a reading disorder, auditory processing and memory retrieval problems. She received special education throughout public school. She had extra time on the SAT and did well enough to get into a college social work program. She disclosed her disabilities, requested the accommodation of extra test time and a reader for examinations, and provided supporting professional documentation. She received the requested accommodations but failed essay tests anyway. She was dismissed from the social work program. She then sought to set aside the dismissal on the ground that she couldn’t take essay tests on such complex material because of her memory retrieval problem. In the end, the finding was that the school had provided all requested accommodations, that the school had done nothing improper, and that Karen was not qualified for the program.

What accommodations would I be entitled to in college?

College accommodations depend upon your particular disabilities and how they impact on you in the college setting. Accommodations might include: course accommodations (e.g., taped textbooks, use of a tape recorder, instructions orally and in writing, note taker, and priority seating) and examination accommodations (e.g., extended test time, reader, and quiet room).

What accommodations would I be entitled to in my job?

Workplace accommodations depend upon your particular disabilities and how they impact on performing the essential functions of your job. Accommodations might include: instructions orally and in writing, frequent and specific feedback from supervisors, quiet workspace, and training course accommodations.

What about ADHD? Is it covered under the law?

Yes, if it meets the criteria of the particular law. ADHD, while not expressly listed, may be covered by the IDEA under one of three categories: other health impairments, specific learning disabilities, and serious emotional disturbance. ADD has been found to be an impairment under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA and, like learning disabilities, is a disability if it substantially limits a major life activity, such as learning.

How do I assert my rights in college?

You need to disclose your disability to the college, request specific accommodations, and supply supporting professional documentation. In public school, the school system has a duty to identify students with disabilities. This is not so in college. The student has the responsibility to disclose the disability and to request accommodations. You must be specific about the accommodations that you need because of your disability. It is not enough to say that you have learning disabilities, so the college must help you.

Let’s look at an example. Sarah is taking courses at the community college. She has a reading disorder, expressive writing disorder, and ADD. She requested one and one-half time on tests, separate room for tests, a reader to read exam questions to her, and a scribe to take down her answers. She provided good professional documentation to support her request and was granted the requested accommodations.

There are student requests that the college is not obligated to grant. For example, if you did not request an accommodation on a test and failed it, generally you may not require the college to eliminate the failure from your record.

Should I disclose my disability at work?

It depends If you do not need accommodations in the application process; generally it is best to wait until after you have the job. Once on the job, if you see that a part of your job is a problem for you and believe you need an accommodation, it is best to act promptly and not allow a long period of poor performance. Also, at the time you disclose your disability, request the specific reasonable accommodations that will enable you to do your job.

Let’s consider an example. Carlos has problems with expressive writing, spelling, and fine motor coordination. After high school, he was hired as a security guard. On the job, he began to have problems with the reports he had to write. The reports were messy, had spelling errors, and were often submitted late. He sensed that his boss was becoming annoyed. Carlos disclosed his disabilities and requested that he be able dictate his reports into his tape recorder and then type them up on one of the computers (with spell check) at the main office at the end of each day. His request was granted.

How should I disclose my disability?

Disclose the disability in writing. Be confident and positive. Combine the disclosure with a request for accommodations that will enable you to perform the job. Provide professional documentation of your disability and need for accommodations.

What documentation of my disability and need for accommodations do I have to provide?

You need to provide documentation that establishes that you have a disability and that you need the accommodations you have requested. This might be a letter or report for the college or employer from the professional who has evaluated you. It should state the diagnosis and tests and methods used in the diagnostic process, evaluate how the impairment impacts on you, and recommend reasonable accommodations.

What if I find out I have a learning disability during college or even later?

A late diagnosis of learning disabilities may be questioned more than an early diagnosis. It is important to have excellent documentation of the disability. It may be important to explain why the disability was not evident earlier. For example, Janet was diagnosed during her first year of college with a reading disorder. There were reasons why the problem had not shown up earlier. She had done well in the elementary and secondary school because she went to schools that did not have timed tests. She put in the extra time needed to successfully complete her course work and her tests. In college, timed tests posed a major problem for her and led her to seek a thorough evaluation. She was able to document her reading disorder and her need for extra test time in college and medical school.

What if I take medication for ADD? Do I still have rights?

Yes. The existence of a disability is to be judged without reference to the possible beneficial effects of medication. The taking of prescription medication for ADD does not result in loss of disability status under the Rehabilitation Act and ADA or in loss of reasonable accommodations.

Can learning disabilities or ADD cause a person to be rejected for service in the Armed Forces?

It depends. Many individuals with learning disabilities or ADD join the Armed Forces and report that the structure and clear expectations help them to do well. However, these conditions may prevent some individuals from obtaining the required score on the Armed Forces Qualifying Test. The Armed Forces are not required to grant accommodations, such as extended test time, on the qualifying test. Further, military regulations provide that academic skills deficits that interfere with school or work after the age of 12 may be a cause for rejection for service in the Armed Forces. These regulations also provide that current use of medication, such as Ritalin or Dexedrine, to improve academic skills is disqualifying for military service.

Can I be fired from my job or dismissed from college even if I establish that I have a disability?

Yes. Having a disability does not create absolute entitlement to a job or college education. The purpose of the anti-discrimination laws is to make sure you have equal opportunity. For example, if you have math disorder and cannot pass a required math course (with no substitutions permitted) for an engineering program, then you would not be qualified for the engineering program.

What about confidentiality of disability records I file with a college or an employer?

Colleges generally have confidentiality policies with respect to disability material. The employment provisions of the ADA contain confidentiality provisions. However, these provisions are not as strong as the IDEA provision that provides for a right to delete disability records contained in your public school files.

For example, Ruth’s parents submitted professional documentation of her learning disabilities and depression to her public high school. Ruth submitted the same documentation to her first employer when she disclosed her disabilities and requested job accommodations. After leaving her first job and being hired by a new employer, Ruth decided that she did not need accommodations in the new job. She also decided to request deletion of her disability information from prior files, while retaining copies in her own files in case she would need the records later. The public high school complied with her request. Her first employer informed her that the disability information could not be deleted but was kept in a separate, confidential file.

If I don’t get what I ask for, should I sue?

A lawsuit is not the first step. First, you must evaluate your own position. It may be wise to consult with a lawyer to review the strong points and weak points in your case. If your case has merit, and you wish to pursue it, then follow these steps: communicate to the college or employer the basic facts and the reasons why you are entitled to what you have requested, negotiate by marshaling the facts that support your request, consider alternative dispute resolution (e.g., mediation and arbitration), and finally consider formal proceedings, such as litigation in the courts.

Remember, even if you have a strong case, it does not mean you must take legal action. You may decide that you wish to put your energy into moving on to a new college program or job rather than disputing events at the prior program.

Author:   Patricia H. Latham, JD, in conjunction with the LDA School-age and Postsecondary Advocacy Committees

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  1. My daughter is 18 years old and was working a the prison. She went to training and she couldn’t pass her test. I called and ask do they have accommodation for someone who is LD and he stated no. She can do the job but she just have problems with testing. They send her back to back to the prison and the Warden told her he couldn’t use her. What do I need to do because she really enjoyed working at prison.

    • LDA of America says:

      If your daughter has current documentation of her disability, she has the legal right to request testing accommodations in the workplace. For information about her rights under the ADA, see the “Accommodations and Compliance Series” bulletin at http://askjan.org/bulletins/adaaa1.htm. She can also contact the Job Accommodations Network (JAN) at http://askjan.org/ JAN’s services include a toll-free number (800-526-7234) which she can call to speak with an accommodations expert about her job testing accommodation needs.

  2. I’m 21 years old, a college student, and i have a learning disability. I requested that i get a test accomodation that included more time, a secluded room, and a reader two weeks in advance of my quiz date. The accomodation request went through but my professor still has not sent it in saying i can have it, and my test is monday. I contacted my disability lab at my college and they said if she denies it, i can still go up there and take it, but i will not have the requested time on it that i need. I feel like that is completely outrageous, considering i sent it in two weeks in advance and yet, i’m not going to get the time that i need on it because the teacher decided not to put my test accomodation as a priority. What my question is, what can i do if this ultimately happens? I’ve talked to my mother and told her ultimately that i could contact the ADA and maybe see what they can do, but i’ve never had this happen before and don’t really know who to contact if i don’t get the accomodation i rightfully and legally deserve because of a teacher’s laziness.

    • LDA of America says:

      Since you have met with the Student Support Services (ADA) office and provided them with their required proof of current disability documentation, the college is legally required to provide reasonable accommodations as needed according to your disability documentation. If those accommodations have already been approved by the college, but you are not given those accommodations as agreed, you generally have the right to take legal action to ensure that the college is in compliance with the federal laws that protect students with disabilities. For information about rights and responsibilities for both you and the college, see https://ldaamerica.org/rights-and-responsibilities-of-college-students-with-learning-disabilities-ld/ The processes and procedures used by colleges for providing accommodations vary greatly but all are directed towards ensuring equal access to their programs for students with disabilities. The office can guide you through the appropriate actions you need to take or they may need to intercede. You may need to utilize the college’s appeals process or file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, both of which are processes that are generally used if all other avenues have failed. More information is available at https://www.ahead.org.

  3. Dear Sir or Madam,

    My 22 daughter has Asperger Syndrome, ADHD, social anxiety disorder and a very rare congenital disorder know as Abernathy Syndrome. This condition is caused by a missing blood vessel going to her liver. It causes multiple problems such as internal bleeding and increased ammonia level in her blood. Her condition became so serious that she had surgery when she was 16 years. It was only partially successful. Unfortunately, due to poor medical care, she suffered a cardiac arrest. She survived but sustained a anoxic brain injury.

    We worked hard with her after she came home and she graduate high school and a community college. She studied hard and was accepted in to a nursing school and here is where the she having problems.

    She studies hard and is a B student in nursing. She pass the first year but failed pediatric nursing clinical in the 2nd year. Although the academic part of the course she had a B average, she failed the clinical. The clinical is only 3 days and not every student had the same type of patient. I met with the dean of nursing to plea my case for my daughter but they were unsympathetic.

    Up to this point, I did not disclose my daughter’s disabilities or the cardiac arrest and rehabilitation she endured to the college. I did not discuss it much with my daughter. I wanted her to be raised in as normal life as possible. I wanted her to be a productive member of society.

    However, when I disclosed my daughter condition to the dean and her staff. They had absolutely no sympathy or compassion for her. They said they had standards. This is true but she deserves accommodation and a chance.

    Disable people has legal protection and I will now make them provide the right she is entitled to.

    I went disabilities services and they granted her extra time on tests.

    But my questions is:

    Due to her social anxiety, she does not want to be assign to a certain instructor but the dean insist. Being assigned to different instructor she likes is not a alters the course or paces a undue burden on the college.

    Is she entitle to extra time in clinical to show her nursing skill.

    Am I entitle to attend school meeting with her since she is disable and feels intimidated by adults in authority? They have try to intimidate me not to attend.

    Should I contact the Dept of Justice and discuss possible violation of her ADA rights?

    Should I get a attorney?

    I need help and support. She is my only child and I just want her to get the opportunity she deserves.

    Thank for your help and kind consideration.

    Mr. Chin

    • LDA of America says:

      By law, the school is required to provide “reasonable accommodations” upon request for students with currently diagnosed disabilities. Her diagnoses, however, do not guarantee that the college will allow those accommodations, but she should discuss it with her college’s Disability Services office. You can both attend that discussion. There is information about the rights of college students with learning disabilities at https://ldaamerica.org/rights-and-responsibilities-of-college-students-with-learning-disabilities-ld/ that may help. Requesting a different instructor sounds like a reasonable request, but the school would not be required to grant that request since your daughter would be offered the same class, information, etc. by either instructor. She can request extra time for her clinical assessment; the school may or may not approve that request. All accommodations requests must be supported by her current disability documentation. You are allowed to be at any meeting at the school with your daughter as long as your daughter wants you to be there. It always helps to have an advocate present during those meetings, and you can be her advocate. It’s your choice whether or not to contact an attorney, but if you want to explore that option, you may want to contact your state’s Disability Rights office. There is information about finding help in your state through the Disability Rights Network at http://www.ndrn.org/index.php

  4. Angel walker says:

    Hi my name’s is Angel I have so much trying to find out what wrong with me why I can get a real good job like every body else I took it hard when I got through with school but all the class I was in was special education class all the teachers help me very well but at the end of all I didn’t learn like every one else I’m slow in learning and some all of my class I didn’t learn math that good or any other thing they was given me in class
    Now I’m out in the real world trying to find out what I’m going to do with my life and to be real I don’t know I have try to work on job but every job that I had I didn’t like cause I thought everyone was used me and make more money they me so I left people ask me have I every been to meateal health I told them u have to paid for to get appointment so if u find some words ant spell right I have try to write this on my own most of the time my husband help me with most of everything been married for five years have three wonderful kids 12 14 19 I have try to teach them for what all I know but I don’t know more but I didn’t try my best with no help from no one so I do what the little ik yes I am in a special program at midd west been with them when I was in high school and still with them can some one please help me

  5. Danielle Stout says:

    I have a learning disability and I get time and a half on tests, can a professor who has followed my accommodations suddenly stop and refuse to because it is inconvenient for her? I talked to disabilities and they told me she can because I’m taking it in class and not at the testing center.

    • LDA of America says:

      If you have met with the Disability Support Services (ADA) office and provided them with their required proof of current disability documentation, the college is legally required to provide reasonable accommodations as needed according to your disability documentation. If those accommodations have already been approved by the college, but you are not given those accommodations as agreed, you generally have the right to take legal action to ensure that the college is in compliance with the federal laws that protect students with disabilities. For information about rights and responsibilities for both you and the college, see https://ldaamerica.org/rights-and-responsibilities-of-college-students-with-learning-disabilities-ld/. The processes and procedures used by colleges for providing accommodations vary greatly but all are directed towards ensuring equal access to their programs for students with disabilities. The office can guide you through the appropriate actions you need to take or they may need to intercede. You may need to utilize the college’s appeals process or file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights, both of which are processes that are generally used if all other avenues have failed. More information is available at https://www.ahead.org.

  6. Theresa Lizotte says:

    I have s question does an adult 18 years or older with an intellectual disability have to be in school till they are 22?

    • LDA of America says:

      No. The decision for a student to stay in school is based on many things, and must be agreed to by the parents and the school. However, a student with a disability is protected in school up to the age of 22 under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). That law ensures that students with a disability who remain in school are provided with a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.

  7. Faye Ann Witt says:

    I have a learning disability, I guess you could say I was diagnosed with it as a child just as I was entering kindergarten and I live with it preactly on a daily basis I have trouble reading and spelling and prenouning words I’m told to sound the words out but trust me it doesn’t work at least not for me it does and I’m very slow to understanding things someone can try to explain things to me and I just don’t get it I don’t understand it’s like my brain just ain’t coperhending to what they are saying is the best way I know to put it and this makes me feel kinda unhappy inside cause I want so much better for myself than just what I have now.

    • LDA of America says:

      If you want to find out how to meet educational and career goals as a person with a learning disability, there are many resources on the LDA website to help you do that. You might want to start by getting a new LD assessment done, and there’s information about that at https://ldaamerica.org/adult-learning-disability-assessment-process/ There are other pages on the Adult section of the website that discuss how to get accommodations in college, or on a high school equivalency exam like the Hi-SET, TASC, or GED tests. There’s also information about job accommodations and how to get that process started. But the first step – getting the new assessment – will help you better understand your own areas of strengths and challenges, and may help you decide if you want to pursue more education or look for a good or better job match. The professional who does the assessment can help you better understand yourself as an individual, and perhaps refer you to other local resources to help you start working towards your goals.

  8. My 17 year old daughter, who is LD, was fired from a job at Martins Grocercy STORE that ends in 3 weeks because the company is closing. She had been working there for over a year. This prohibits her from drawing the 12 week severance package that had been promised to her.

    She had gotten food and was going to her car to get her credit card which she had accidentally left. She took her food and when she came back inside someone had reported her as stealing it. This was not the case. SHe has never gotten in trouble at work and this was a stupid mistake on her part, but they fired her anyway. She had no idea she couldn’t go to her car and come back and pay when she came back in. Her $7 panini sandwich essentially cost her $2000. She doesn’t have time to get a new job for the remainder of the summer because she heads to college in a month. This seems quite unfair to me and would appear to violate her rights. Couod I get some feedback

    • LDA of America says:

      If you want to address your daughter’s firing as a legal issue, you might check with http://www.legal-aid.org/en/ineedhelp/ineedhelp/civilproblem/disabilityadvocacy.aspx. They have a link on their website where you can find a Legal Aid office in your area. My recommendation would also be that you call the folks at JAN (Job Accommodations Network). Their web address is: https://askjan.org/. Their phone number is (800)526-7234. They might have some other ideas for you about dealing with this situation and could help you with understanding what types of accommodations your daughter needs at work and how best to request those accommodations and talk to employers.

  9. William Stonehocker says:

    So I heard a lot of you guys are talking about autism and life in college or work. I am a 20 year old guy (I turn 21 in 3 months) who is on the high end of the spectrum even though I cannot live in my own house. I lived in New Jersey from infancy to when I was only 19. I went to Somerset Hills from the dark age of 3 to the bright age of 6. I went to Metuchen schools from K-6 (elementary school and 5th grade I survived, even though 3rd grade was mediocre and 4th grade was forgettable). Then after 6th grade failed, I went to Y.A.L.E. Schools from grades 7-12. My parents delayed my diploma to 21, because they wanted me to try the S9 program (I was in Employment). Needless to say, I spent a year in the S9 program, and I hated it with a passion (it was my second worst school year first being 6th grade-but whereas 6th grade came from a district who didn’t know what disabilities meant, the S9 program came from people who didn’t give a crap about my future). Now, I live in North Carolina and I am close to finishing my first year at Enka. My first year at Enka was okay, but I know next year for being my last will improve-since it’s only my first year, I might want to sweep it under the rug.

    If I am supposed to get services, make it at least relatable to independent living. Due to being an emotional wreck at times, I know college doesn’t sound ideal for me. I did visit Beyond Academics program at UNC Greensboro, and it looked awful-I had a mental breakdown on the way back to Candler because I was unhappy. I know I’m supposed to get a job-and I can praise Enka for helping out. The person at VR had plans to make me work in the supermarket/restaurant industry-I would not fit well there.

    In the sense of housing, I know I was rejected because my scores were too high for their standards-they only accept people whose IQ limits are <70. Given me, I'd do well semi-independent living. I had a girlfriend one time (I was 12 when I got her), but she and I broke up a year later because her father hated me (and I never even saw her-I was too busy with school). I know I'm skipping the grad ceremony in 2018 so that I can get a vasectomy-because I would make a bad father (and the kid would end up with a disability worse than mine). As for a job, I do well with data entry.

    Can anyone help me out? My parents are 65, and they are lucky to be alive, but my mom has been a worser person than before since she retired from her teaching business in 2014 (she started in 1979). 2019 is when I age out Talisman (it's in Zirconia; I'll be 22 by then), and the 10 year anniversary of when I went to Elks Camp Moore (I aged out in 2015 at 18, around the time the week for the 19-21 year olds were implemented; that was an afterthought-I began ECM when I was 12). As for weekend getaways and summers after Talisman is done for, IDK what is next. It was my idea for me to go to the coastal climates of North Carolina (maybe South Carolina). I have heard of Camp Royall in Moncure, NC having a weekend getaway, but I would not go 3-4 hours to there.

    I need advice and help. I want a girlfriend, and I know I deserve to have a job. I even want to get married, and the person living in the apartment better support me and her at the wedding.

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