College Students with Disabilities: Protect Your Rights and Register for Reasonable Accommodations Before School Starts

April 6, 2022
Disability Discrimination

Critical Questions when Pursuing a Claim for Disability Discrimination

We often represent college students who were discriminated against due to a disability.  Disabilities can range from a mental health condition like PTSD, a chronic health condition, Autism Spectrum Disorder, or a physical disability. Regardless, the first questions we always ask are whether the student properly requested an accommodation from the school, and have they registered with their college’s office of disabilities? These are the most critical questions on whether a student can pursue a claim for disability discrimination against a school. Failure to register makes students with disabilities lose out on their rights.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are federal laws that prohibit colleges and universities from discriminating against persons with disabilities. All public colleges and universities are covered by Section 504 and/or Title II of the ADA, and virtually all private colleges and universities are covered by Section 504 and Title III of the ADA.

Most colleges and universities have their own disability services offices where students can register their disability and request accommodations. Typically, colleges have their own webpage devoted to a disability services office to provide information on how to register a disability, information on qualified conditions, and other resources for students with disabilities. College and university student handbooks often include how students can register and request accommodations; many even have online registration applications where students can electronically submit an application and supportive documentation in support of their disability and requested accommodations. Documentation can include medical records, Individual Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans from high school, or other documentation to show their disability.  Whether it is extra time for exams, permission to make audio recordings of lectures, text-to-speech software, or some other accommodation, you have to properly register and ask the college for accommodations.

Register and Request College Accommodations for your Disability

Just telling a professor or other college faculty about a disability is not enough to protect a student’s rights. A cautionary case is shown in Buescher v. Baldwin Wallace Univ., 86 F. Supp. 3d 789 (N.D. Ohio 2015). In that lawsuit, a student in a nursing program actually met and had a conversation with Baldwin Wallace University’s disability services specialist to discuss her disability and accommodations. However, she failed to complete her application with Baldwin Wallace. Thus, the Court held that she could not pursue a claim for discrimination under the ADA and Section 504 for this failure to complete the application and properly request accommodations with the University. This case shows the importance of properly registering and requesting accommodations.

We find that sometimes students with disabilities do not want to register; however, they always should. There is nothing to be embarrassed about, there is no stigma, and there should be no reticence in registering a disability with a college and requesting an accommodation. All registration does is level the playing field and protect a student’s rights. Ideally, students with disabilities should register and request an accommodation before they enroll. However, currently enrolled students should still register to protect their rights as soon as possible. Student must register before their performance suffers due to not having any needed accommodations.

If you’re a student and you have been discriminated against due to a disability, or you’re a parent of a student who is facing disability discrimination, please reach out to Special Education Attorneys Susan Stone (; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (; 216.736.7217).