What am I legally entitled to by federal law?

Federal law provides that individuals with disabilities—in general, those with physical or mental impairments substantially limiting one or more major life activities—are entitled to academic accommodations and reasonable modifications in school policies. That means that once the school is aware of your disability it must take reasonable steps to revise policies and practices that create obstacles for you because of your disability. 

Great! How do I know I qualify?

In general, if you have a mental health problem that substantially limits you in one or more major life activities (sleeping, working, learning, speaking, caring for yourself, etc.) even if these symptoms are controlled by medications or some other form of treatment, or a history of such a problem, you may be protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To comply with the ADA, schools must provide academic accommodations and make reasonable modifications to policies and rules when necessary to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. However, schools need not make such changes if doing so would fundamentally alter their operations, waive essential academic and technical requirements or cause them undue financial burden. Check with a doctor if you are unsure you qualify as disabled.

What are some typical accommodations? 

  • Allowing additional time to complete exams.

  • Providing a private environment or alternate location in which to take exams.

  • Permitting students to use equipment to take exams (e.g., a word processor or a machine that enlarges print).

  • Allowing students to audio record lectures.

  • Providing modified deadlines for assignments.

  • Reducing course load or providing alternate work assignments.

  • Providing preferential classroom seating.

  • Providing early availability of syllabus and textbooks.

  • Providing transportation services. 

  • Providing orientation to campus facilities.

  • Allowing excused absences.

  • Allowing the student to postpone assignments and exams.

  • Allowing the student to work from home.

  • Allowing the student to drop courses.

  • Allowing the student to change roommates or rooms. 

  • Providing retroactive withdrawals from courses if academic difficulties were due to depression or another mental health condition.

  • Providing a leave of absence.

Source: Bazelon Mental Health Law Center (Karen Bower)