They tell me I need documentation for accommodations in college, but what does that mean?
In order to provide students with academic accommodations, colleges generally need some sort of documentation from an appropriately qualified professional to clarify what accommodations may be needed and why. There are no legal guidelines about what documentation a student must provide in order to receive academic accommodations and the guidelines for each college or university may vary. Although there are no hard and fast rules for what to include in your documentation, AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability, 2010) has identified seven elements in the best practices of documentation.
1. Credentials of the evaluator: Evaluators must be properly credentialed to evaluate the specific needs of the individual for whom they are recommending accommodations. Psychologists may provide documentation regarding mental health concerns possibly including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, pervasive developmental disorders, cognitive impairment, or the like. Psychologists could not, for example, provide documentation for a student seeking accommodations for a hearing impairment; an audiologist would be a more appropriate evaluator in that case. The credentials of your evaluator will depend on the type of condition that impacts your learning.
2. A diagnostic statement: The documentation should include a statement of the functional impairment caused by the symptoms. In other words, how do the symptoms affect your (the student’s) functioning? The manner in which the impairment was diagnosed, as well as the progression of the condition, are also important. The assignment of a specific diagnosis is less important than a description of your symptoms and the related impairment on your functioning.
3. Description of methodology: How was the impairment diagnosed? Was testing conducted? If so, what measures did were used? Was the impairment assessed through an interview and self-report forms? Your evaluator should simply describe the process she or he completed to arrive at your diagnosis. In some cases, such as with a psychological evaluation, this section may be quite long, in other cases it may be shorter.
4. Current functional limitations: How are you doing now? How are the symptoms currently affecting your functioning? The Amendments to the American’s with Disabilities Act (U.S. Department of Justice, 2008) clarified that an individual may qualify for accommodations even if mitigating resources (such as medication) have been effective or if the condition is currently in remission.
5. Progression or stability of the condition: What might this condition look in the long-term? Short-term? What is the prognosis for your symptoms?
6. Current or past accommodations, medications, or services: What treatment have you received in the past? Are you currently on medications? Have you received academic accommodations in the past? This information can be particularly helpful for identifying successful interventions to continue using or interventions that have not been successful in the past. Your evaluator should ask you these questions during your interview or evaluation with him or her in order to provide the most clear description of previous and current successful (or unsuccessful) interventions.
7. Recommendations: Based on all of the above information, what services or accommodations does your evaluator believe might be most helpful for you? The goal is to identify accommodations that may remove barriers that result from the functional impairment and while allowing you to truly demonstrate your full knowledge.
Providing your evaluator with a copy of this checklist may help her or him ensure that all of the necessary information is available in the documentation provided, which, in turn, will increase the likelihood that the disability services offices at your college or university will have everything they need to determine your eligibility for accommodations based on their documentation guidelines. As always, if you have any questions about the accommodations process or the necessary documentation for your school, contact the disabilities office as soon as possible for clarification. They love to hear from you!
This information was included in a publication for members of the Oregon Psychological Association. A full copy of the article can be requested by contacting Dr. Rapkoch via email or phone. Additional information regarding best practices in documentation and academic accommodations in higher education can be obtained from the Association on Higher Education and Disability at www.ahead.org.
Association for Higher Education and Disability. (2010). AHEAD best practices: Disability documentation in higher education. Retrieved July 29, 2010 from http://www.ahead.org/resources/best-practices-resources.
Rapkoch, E. M. (2010, July/Aug). Navigating academic accommodations in higher education: Tips from a former disability services provider. The Oregon Psychologist: Bulletin of the Oregon Psychological Association, 29 (4), 5-9.