Policies and procedures

1. Equal Access for students with disabilities

Houston Community College is strongly committed to providing an accessible and supportive environment for students with disabilities. The College offers a variety of support services that are available to students with special needs. Accommodations are an obligation of Houston Community College under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and its Amendments. Houston Community College recognizes its responsibility not to discriminate against anyone who has a documented disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities; has a record of such impairment; or is regarded as having an impairment.

Ability Services at each College of the Houston Community College System is responsible for arranging reasonable accommodations for all qualified students with documented disabilities to ensure equal access to all programs and activities at HCC.

It is the responsibility of the ADA Counselor to increase faculty and staff awareness of the needs of students with disabilities as well as to enhance students’ own knowledge of their rights and responsibilities as recipients of accommodations. Students are also made aware of outside sources, such as Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), Learning Ally (books on tape), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services through DARS (DHHS), and Division of Blind Services through DARS (DBS) and other agencies. These agencies may provide financial, educational, and vocational assistance beyond what would be available through the College.

Title II of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) effectively implements Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 at post-secondary institutions receiving financial assistance from the federal government. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals who meet the academic and technical standards required for admission. HCCS works to ensure access and to provide reasonable accommodations for all qualified students with disabilities.

Accommodations must be arranged through Ability Services at the College the student plans to attend. This includes students with learning disabilities, those who are physically challenged due to disease or an accident, those with psychological disabilities and all students qualified under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

2. Establishing a need for Disability Support Services

Specific policies have been established to enable students with documented disabilities who are otherwise qualified, to request accommodations which would allow them equal access to the College under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Students who are planning to attend the Houston Community College System (HCCS) and wish to declare a disability are encouraged to adhere to the following:

Procedures

To access services in a timely manner, students need to adhere to the following:

  • Complete admissions process.
  • Contact the appropriate ADA Counselor for students with disabilities, preferably two months or more prior to enrolling. More time may be required if special services, such as adaptive equipment, interpreters, captionist, or assistance from outside agencies are needed.
  • Bring documentation of a qualifying disability to the first appointment. Acceptable documentation includes diagnostic testing, reports from physicians, psychologists, school districts and agencies such as DARS. Check with Ability Services to determine what documentation will be accepted.
  • Have the ADA Counselor review the documentation and recommendations. Discuss the reasonable accommodations needed for appropriate placement testing and in the instructional environment.
  • Complete testing procedures with the assistance of your ADA Counselor.
  • Make a second appointment with the assigned counselor, after completion of placement testing, for class selection.
  • Discuss reasonable accommodations for classes with your ADA Counselor. The ADA Counselor will prepare an accommodation letter for the student to take to each instructor. Students are encouraged to self-advocate for accommodations requested in their accommodation letter. If the instructor asks questions about the disability, we recommend referring the instructor to the ADA Counselor.
  • Students are encouraged to visit their ADA Counselor during the semester for tips on study skills, to discuss educational goals or for academic or personal counseling.
  • It is the students’ responsibility to contact their ADA Counselor for course selection and letters of accommodations. We encourage all students to advance toward their educational and career goals.
  • Declare the disability with Ability Services at the primary College of planned attendance within HCCS at least sixty days (60) prior to the enrollment period to assure timely provision of ADA services.
  • Accommodations in the instructional environment begin when the student provides instructors with a current accommodation letter approved by Ability Services. However, students must allow reasonable time for instructors to arrange requested accommodations.

Student Responsibilities

Adhering to timelines and procedural requirements enables Ability Services to provide accommodations in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Students who adhere to the following procedures help to expedite the receipt of appropriate accommodations as early as possible:

  • Request accommodations with Ability Services as early as possible.
  • Present the accommodation letter provided by the ADA Counselor to each course instructor.
  • Meet the timelines and procedural requirements for self-identifying, providing documentation and presenting the letter of accommodation(s).
  • Self-advocate for services or refer faculty to Ability Services if there are questions.

3. Documentation of a qualifying disability

In order to receive accommodations, students must provide Ability Services with documentation of their disability supporting the need for accommodation. By law, an individual with a disability is defined as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more “major life activities” or a record of having such an impairment. Major life activities include functions such as walking, seeing, hearing, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.

Documentation should be from a professional qualified to diagnose the particular disability, and should include a diagnosis of the disability, a description of how it impacts major life functioning in the academic environment and suggested accommodations for the College setting. Please consult with an ADA Counselor for clarification about documentation. Examples of acceptable documentation include:

  • Hearing loss: audiogram and/or audiology report. A Certificate of Deafness from the Office for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services through DARS.
  • Visual loss: report from ophthalmologist/optometrist documenting a need for services other than corrective lenses. A Certificate of Blindness from the Division of Blind Services through DARS.
  • Learning Disability: testing of cognitive ability, achievement levels, and possible processing deficits (i.e., auditory memory, visual memory, visual-spatial, attention, etc.) Detailed guidelines are available from Ability Services upon request.
  • Medical Disability: documentation of disease, illness, etc., from appropriate specialist listing functional limitations.

The cost of documenting a disability shall be the responsibility of the student. If the initial documentation does not meet the College’s guidelines or needs or does not support the requested accommodations, the cost of additional documentation shall be the responsibility of the student.

HCCS reserves the right to request further assessment of a student who provides incomplete documentation. All assessment is done at the expense of the student. In the case of documentation for a learning disability, Ability Services will provide a list of qualified diagnosticians to any student who requests it and to all students referred because of a suspected learning disability. All contact information documents received are kept in confidential files within Ability Services. No information will be released without prior written consent.

Physical Disabilities

According to the ADAAA of 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the an individual with a disability is defined as one who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life functions.” Ideally, documentation of a physical disability should include (1) a statement of the impairment and (2) how it limits a major life activity, including but not limited to walking, breathing, seeing, hearing, performing manual tasks, caring for oneself, learning, and working. A doctor’s statement of the impairment or condition is not sufficient, without the documentation of how that impairment or condition substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the student. In addition to the doctor’s statement, a copy of the most recent Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan, if the student was educated in the public schools, will help HCCS to determine appropriate accommodations, but will not be automatically granted.  Documentation should state the student’s current level of functioning. For disabilities that fluctuate throughout an individual’s life, documentation that is less than three years old is requested. HCCS requires documented evidence that the requested service or accommodation is appropriate to the needs of the student; therefore, recommendations for appropriate accommodations are helpful.


Mental Disabilities

Students who have a mental impairment that limits their ability to function in the classroom may qualify for accommodations. Appropriate documentation of a mental impairment should include a statement and diagnosis of the impairment from a licensed mental health professional, e.g. psychiatrist or psychologist. Ideally, the report should include summaries of the following: diagnostic interviews, assessment of the student’s mental status (including testing) and DSM IV diagnosis. A doctor’s statement of the impairment or condition is not sufficient without the documentation of how that impairment or condition substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of the student.

Learning Disability

Students applying for services and accommodations on the basis of a learning disability must submit a comprehensive report of a psycho-educational assessment performed by a person who has received formal training in assessment techniques necessary to diagnose learning disabilities and has professional experience in that field. The student’s most recent IEP and psycho-educational assessment summary could fulfill these requirements.

The report should include summaries of the following: diagnostic interview, assessment of the student’s aptitudes, academic achievement and information processing. A diagnosis of a “learning difficulty or “learning deficit” will not be considered appropriate documentation.

AD(H)D

Diagnosis of attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity (ADHD) will only be accepted when made by an individual who holds a current license in an appropriate field (medicine or psychology) and has formal training and experience in assessment of these conditions. Documentation should include (1) a clear statement of ADD or ADHD with the DSM-IV diagnosis and a description of supporting past and present symptoms, (2) a summary of the assessment procedures and instruments used, (3) a narrative summary that includes scores and supports diagnosis, (4) a statement of the student’s medical needs, including the impact of medication on the student’s ability to meet the demands of an academic environment.

4. Reasonable accommodations

Students with disabilities will request accommodations through Ability Services by disclosing a disability which substantially limits one or more major life functions, by providing the required supportive documentation, and by following the institutional procedures implemented by Ability Services.

If a student chooses not to submit documentation of a qualifying disability to Ability Services, the College will not be responsible for providing reasonable accommodations. Instructional faculty is not to provide accommodations in the academic environment without a letter from the ADA Counselor requesting the needed accommodation.

Students will receive appropriate reasonable accommodations to enable them to participate on an equal basis in all programs and activities of the College. This occurs when they choose to submit their current letters of reasonable accommodations from Ability Services to those directly or indirectly responsible for implementing a program, providing a service, or conducting an activity.

Students are expected to engage in self-advocacy by sharing the responsibility for accessing accommodations through collaboration with direct and indirect service providers. Specific responsibilities include, but are not limited to:

  • Informing instructors at the beginning of the term about their accommodations by presenting the letter of reasonable accommodations provided by Ability Services.
  • Meeting the timelines and procedural requirements for self-identifying, providing documentation, and informing instructors.
  • Contacting Ability Services in a timely manner for information and assistance when the need arises during the semester.
  • Students must allow instructors adequate time to arrange for accommodations.

5. Course substitution

Some students may find some classes or subject areas (e.g. foreign languages and math) more challenging than others due to the nature of the qualifying disability. The College’s first priority is to provide all appropriate accommodations in the class in order to enable the student to complete required course sequences. This requires a cooperative effort of the student, the Instructor, the ADA Counselor, tutors, and other available resources.

The Houston Community College System will consider a course substitution request on a case-by-case basis, based on the student’s strengths and weaknesses as determined by documentation as long as there is no substantial change to the essential elements of the curriculum. Before considering a course substitution, assistive technology, tutoring, or other accommodations will be considered in an effort to enable the student to succeed in standard course work. However, nothing in these guidelines should be interpreted as requiring the student to attempt and fail a course before consideration will be given to a request for course substitution.

The accommodations will be considered at the respective Ability Services office with the respective department chair and at the college the students is attending.

  1. The student must present himself at Ability Services and provide acceptable documentation.
  2. Ability Services will contact the appropriate department chair and seek the approval of the Academic Dean or the Workforce Dean to determine whether the substitution course would result in a substantial change in the essential elements of the curriculum.
  3. If it does, the substitution will be denied.
  4. If it does not, the faculty, dean, and the ADA Counselor will, in discussion with the student, determine an appropriate course substitution.

Simply because the student has documentation that the student has a disability in a particular area, a substitution will not automatically be made

6. Assignment of full-time status with less than traditional full-time load

  1. Requests for reduced course loads should be submitted to the ADA Counselor. Documentation must include a diagnostic evaluation from an appropriate professional that is recent enough to evaluate the current impact of the disability and must meet the requirements of the documentation policy of the College.
  2. The ADA Counselor evaluates the documentation and the requested course load based on the information provided of the student’s past academic performance, placement test scores, and knowledge of the demands of specific courses.
  3. If the request is denied, the student may appeal the ADA Counselor’s decision through the standard accommodation grievance procedures.
  4. If the request is approved, the potential consequences of the reduced course load on progress towards graduation, financial aid, billing, etc. will be explained to the student by the ADA Counselor. The ADA Counselor will indicate the approved reduced course load and explain that this credit load will be considered as the student’s minimum credit load for full time status for the semester in question and that he/she cannot drop below this without placing his/her full time status in jeopardy.
  5. At the agreed upon credit load, the student will be considered as full time and entitled to all of the services, benefits, rights and privileges of full time status with the exception of financial aid.
  6. Based on the reduced credit load, the student’s financial aid will be adjusted. Within the limits of Federal financial aid regulations every effort will be made to ensure that the student does not incur additional costs.
  7. For approvals dated before the end of the official drop period for the semester, HCCS will prorate the students tuition based on the enrolled credit load and per credit charges if the adjustment results in a figure lower than full time tuition. Other charges (technology fees, course fees, etc.) are not affected by this accommodation.
  8. Ability Services will issue a letter stating that the college has approved a reduced course load based on a qualifying disability. The student may obtain a letter from Ability Services stating that the College has approved the specific number of hours as being equivalent to full-time status for this student.

7. Confidentiality

Ability Services at Houston Community College System is committed to ensuring the confidentiality of all information regarding a student as required by law. Any information collected is used for the benefit of the student. This information includes, but is not limited to, test data, grades, biographical history, disability information, performance reviews, psychological evaluations, and case notes.

Guidelines for the treatment of such information have been adopted by Ability Services and are rigorously followed. These guidelines incorporate relevant state and federal regulations and guidelines established by relevant professional associations. These procedures are shared with each student as a part of the intake process.

  1. Ability Services and Counseling have immediate access to student files within the office. Any information regarding disability gained from medical examinations shall be considered confidential and shall be shared with others within the institution on a need-to-know basis only. Disability-related information is to be treated in the same manner as medical information. For example, College faculty and staff do not have a right or need to access diagnostic or other information regarding a student’s disability; they only need to know what accommodations are necessary or appropriate to meet the student’s disability-related needs. If a student has requested an accommodation, the student will be given an accommodation letter to present to each instructor. To limit access to private information and protect confidentiality, all disability-related documentation must be filed in Ability Services.
  2. Information in files will not be released except in accordance with federal and state laws, which require release in the following circumstances if a student: States they intend to harm themselves or another person(s); Reports or describes any physical abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults.
  3. A student’s file may be released pursuant to a valid court order or subpoena.
  4. A student may fill out a Release of Information statement when she/he wishes to share her/his disability information with others. Before giving such authorization, the student should understand the information being released, the purpose of the release, and to whom the information is being released. Information will not be released without consent unless federal or state law requires it.
  5. Ability Services is required to retain a copy of all information provided.

8. Grievance procedures

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) was enacted to protect individuals with disabilities against discrimination in areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, health services, and access to public services. HCCS policy is to make all reasonable efforts to accommodate students with disabilities, and these procedures are written to help students understand avenues available to them should they have a problem under the ADA.

The Director of EEO/Employee Relations for HCCS is designated as the ADA Compliance Officer and will handle formal ADA complaints. The procedures for filing a discrimination complaint based on disability are:

Informal

HCCS strives to resolve differences through informal resolution procedures wherever possible. Complaints regarding ADA-based academic accommodations should be submitted to the Director of Veterans Affairs and Student Support Services or the appropriate Dean for informal resolution. For academic students, the appropriate Dean is the Academic Dean; for workforce students, the appropriate Dean is the Workforce Dean. Confidentiality will be maintained to the fullest extent possible.

Formal

To file a formal complaint on the basis of disability or association with a person with a known disability, notify the HCCS Office of EEO/Employee Relations Office in person. Be prepared to provide the following information:

1. The issue(s) involved in the complaint.
2. Identification of the complaining party’s disability.
3. The date(s) of the incident(s).
4. Details of what occurred or continues to occur.
5. Identification of witnesses who have knowledge related to the complaint.

The Director of EEO/Employee Relations will work with the complainant and formally investigate the complaint, if necessary. The complainant will be notified of the conclusions of the investigation and the recommendations for resolution as soon as practical. Appeals of formal complaints can be made to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Educational Development.

If the complaint concerns accommodations outside of the academic area or is directed toward the Ability Services staff, it should be submitted to the Dean of Student Development.

To contact the Office of Institutional Equity, the student may call 713-718-8271.

9. Interpreter Services

Purpose
The purpose of this policy and procedure is to establish guidelines for the provision of interpreting/captioning services in the classroom and to ensure that all qualified students receive appropriate interpreting or captioning services designed to meet their individual needs. Second, the policy establishes procedures and timelines to ensure availability of services to all those in need of such services. These services are mandated under the American with Disabilities Act; therefore, we strive to ensure that all qualified individuals receive appropriate services that will meet their needs.

General Requirements for classroom services 
To access interpreting/captioning services students must present documentation of a qualifying disability to Ability Services at the respective College of attendance. The department requires a thirty-day notice of the need for services in order to provide reasonable assurance that services will be available when needed. It is not always possible to provide qualified interpreters on short notice. The department will attempt to obtain services requested with less than thirty-day notice, however, services are provided on a first come first served basis.

Eligibility
Students may be eligible to receive interpreting or captioning services on a first come and first served basis. The College will make a good faith effort to provide interpreters or captionists in a timely, efficient and effective manner consistent with availability of qualified interpreters or captionists in the service area of the College. The College makes a best effort to employ a sufficient number of full-time and part-time interpreters and captionists. Provided that students apply for services thirty-days in advance of the need, we should be able to provide appropriate interpreting or captioning services.

Procedures
Students planning to attend any of the Houston Community Colleges are requested to contact Ability Services at your respective College of attendance, sixty (60 days) prior to the commencement of the semester to establish eligibility for services.

  1. The student must present documentation of a qualifying disability which meets the guidelines for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services through DARS (DHHS), “Certificate of Deafness Waiver” that pays tuition fees only, or documentation of a qualifying disability under the Americans with Disability Act or Section 504 of The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, (See Policy No. 1 for acceptable documentation of disabilities).
  2. The ADA Counselor will provide assistance and intake services. During the intake process, the ADA Counselor will discuss the type of services required and refer the student to the Supervisor of Interpreting Services, if interpreting or captioning services are required. All interpreting and captioning services will be scheduled by the Supervisor of Interpreting Services and must be arranged thirty-days in advance of the date the service is needed.
  3. If the student has not registered for assistance with the appropriate Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) the ADA Counselor will encourage the student to register with the office nearest the student’s home. However, students are not required to register with DARS in order to obtain interpreting/captioning services.

Procedures:

  1. The student will decide which classes to enroll in with the assistance of the ADA Counselor.
  2. It is the student’s responsibility to provide the Supervisor of Interpreting Services with their course schedule for the upcoming semester. This will enable the Supervisor to schedule interpreting or captioning services in an efficient manner.
  3. The ADA Counselor and the student will select the appropriate course sequence.
  4. It is the student’s responsibility to notify Ability Services at the respective College of attendance or Andrea Guerrero (713-718-6333 or andrea.guerrero@hccs.edu), Supervisor of Interpreting Services if the student is going to miss class so that his/her interpreting/captioning services can be cancelled for the class. If the student is absent 3 times without contacting Ability Services or the Supervisor of Interpreting Services, interpreting/captioning services will be cancelled.

Special requests for interpreting services, such as field trips, workshops, or system requests are to be handled on an individual basis. Requests should be made at least three days in advance of the event to ensure services can be arranged.