Ability Services Student Handbook
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Eligibility for Services
Students are responsible for self-disclosing their disability to Ability Services and for providing appropriate and current documentation by a qualified professional in order to determine eligibility. Prior documentation such as an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a history of receiving accommodations from a former school does not necessarily validate the need for services or continuation of accommodations at the community college level. This history can, however, be attached to the current documentation as part of a comprehensive assessment battery.
Evaluating a Disability
The evaluation for a learning disability should be conducted by an evaluator with comprehensive training with adults with learning disabilities. The evaluation for a psychological disorder should be provided by a professional who is qualified and has appropriate training in diagnosing psychological and psychiatric disorders.
Guidelines for Evaluations
The following guidelines apply for all disability types recognized by the Americans with Disabilities Act:
- the evaluator must be a qualified professional who made the diagnosis or is currently treating the student for the disability
- the documentation must be current
- the documentation must specifically name the diagnosed disability
- if it is a letter, it must be on letterhead and signed and dated by a qualified professional. If it is a full evaluation, it must be signed and dated by the evaluator
- the documentation must include the credentials of the qualified professional
- identify diagnostic testing mechanisms, procedures, and results [for learning disabilities, this means Psychological Evaluations including tests such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scales (WAIS/WISC) and the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement]
- all documentation must include a detailed history of the functional impact of the disability in an educational environment.
- Identify any recommended accommodations.
Diagnoses of disabilities that do not contain the required information may not be used for determining eligibility for academic accommodations. Ability Services reserves the right to request further verification when questions arise regarding previous assessment or previous service provision.
Determining a Student’s Eligibility for Services
After a thorough review of documentation, eligibility will be determined by the ADA Counselor in Ability Services on a case-by-case basis, and reasonable accommodations will be determined. Due to the high demand for services and the nature of certain disabilities, students are advised to contact Ability Services and provide documentation well in advance of the beginning of the semester to allow time for documentation review, consultation, and accommodation planning (at least six weeks notice is recommended). While every reasonable effort will be made to arrange accommodations in a timely manner, insufficient advance notice may impede service delivery.
Prospective students who anticipate the need for accommodations for the placement test should contact Ability Services and provide documentation prior to taking the test. Since the placement test is not a timed test, it is not necessary to make prior arrangements for extended time. However, it is not recommended to sign up for the last test of the day.
Parameters of Services
Please understand that the College does not offer a special education curriculum or a comprehensive program of services but does provide reasonable accommodations to eligible students, based on documentation provided by the student, unless such accommodations would fundamentally alter the essential nature of a course or program, result in an undue financial or administrative burden, pose a safety threat, or constitute services or devices of a personal nature.
Steps to Receive Services
- Obtain appropriate documentation of your disability. Appropriate documentation is required for the intake appointment and before accommodations can be provided.
- For a Learning/Intellectual Disability:
- Most recent diagnostic assessment including:
- Intelligence and achievement test results
- Most recent full and individual evaluation
- ARD documentation alone is not sufficient
- Most recent diagnostic assessment including:
- For Other Disabilities:
- Recent comprehensive medical, physical, or psychological evaluation or
- Typed letter on office letterhead with a signature from a licensed professional including the following:
- Intelligence and achievement test results
- Functional limitations
- How it impacts your educational process
- For a Learning/Intellectual Disability:
- Call and Schedule an Intake Appointment with your ADA Counselor and remember to bring your documentation. Your ADA Counselor will review your documentation and determine eligibility for services.
Coleman Ability Services
Central Ability Services
Northeast Ability Services
Northwest Katy Campus Ability Services
Northwest Spring Branch Campus Ability Services
Southeast Ability Services
Southwest Ability Services
Accommodations are granted on a semester-by-semester basis. You must visit your ADA Counselor each semester to obtain a current accommodation letter.
In order to receive support services, 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 at the current time, and suggested accommodations for the college setting. Because the impact of and/or accommodation needs of many disabilities vary over time and in different settings, documentation should be recent (e.g., within the last five years). Acceptable documentation includes:
- Hearing loss: audiogram and/or audiology report.
- Visual loss: report from ophthalmologist/optometrist documenting a need for services other than corrective lenses. A Certificate of Blindness from Division of Blind Services through DARS.
- Learning Disability: testing as an adult including 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 borne by 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 borne by the student.
General Guidelines for Documentation
HCCS is dedicated to providing reasonable accommodations for enrolled students who present appropriate documentation of a qualifying disability. The following guidelines will be used in evaluating the appropriateness of documentation. Documentation must have been prepared by a person who is qualified by professional training and practice to diagnose and treat the impairment leading to the disability. It must also be typed or word-processed and printed on the letterhead of either the practitioner or the agency hosting the practice.
The provision of all modifications and auxiliary aids is based upon a determination that the modification or aid is appropriate to the needs and capabilities of the student. Therefore, it is in the student’s best interest to provide recent and appropriate documentation. To be recent, the report should be no more than four years old for a student who graduated from high school just prior to applying for services and accommodations or no more than five years old for a student who graduated more than two years prior to registering for services. Exceptions can be made in the case of disabilities that are known to be stable throughout an individual’s life.
HCCS reserves the right to request further assessment of a student who provides out-of-date or 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 separate confidential files within Ability Services. No information will be released without prior written consent.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Educational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 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.” Therefore, 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 one’s self, 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 also requested.
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 of the impairment from a licensed mental health professional, e.g. psychiatrist or psychologist. The report should include summaries of the following: diagnostic interviews, assessment of the student’s mental status (including testing) and DSM IV/V 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.
Students applying for services and accommodations on the basis of a learning disability must submit a current, 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 should 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.
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/V 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.
Students who are returning and have been away from Houston Community College for a while may need to update their intake paperwork with Ability Services. In addition, if the student’s disability status has changed or the student is seeking additional accommodations for any additional disabilities, the student will need to make an appointment to meet with an ADA Counselor and provide updated documentation.
Changing College Locations
Students who attend multiple College locations (Central, Coleman, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest) will need to be on file with Ability Services at each College in which they are attending classes in order to receive an accommodation letter. If the student is on file at one College (ex. Southwest) and has registered for a class at another College (ex. Central), the student will need to schedule an intake appointment with the ADA Counselor at Central and contact Southwest to request a copy of their file to be sent to Central.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is considered an “otherwise qualified” individual with a disability?
- An “otherwise qualified” individual is one who meets the academic and technical standards for admission or participation in the educational programs or activities of the College in spite of the disability.
- Because we are an open enrollment institution virtually anyone with a disability would meet admission standards as long as the individual has a high school diploma or a GED. Some of our programs have additional admission and technical standards that students are required to meet.
What qualifies as a learning, physical, or psychological disability?
An impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of the individual. Examples would include but are not be limited to:
||• Performing Manual Tasks
• Interacting with Others
What about people with psychological disabilities like depression, bi-polar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorders, etc?
If the disability impacts a major life activity to a “significant degree” it probably is covered under the ADA. However, not all disabilities require reasonable accommodation. For example, a person with depression, who is compliant with medications, may not need any accommodations. This will be assessed in the intake and documentation process.
What does the student have to do to qualify to obtain reasonable accommodations?
Students must provide documentation of a qualifying disability to the designated office for services to students with disabilities at the college they attend. The student may self-refer by calling or coming to the office. Faculty members are encouraged to refer students when they believe a student is having a great deal of difficulty in their class, when a student has an obvious physical disability that requires accommodation, or when there are signs of psychological issues that may need to be addressed. We recommend speaking with the student in private. One way to approach the learning disability issue is to say, ”You seem to be having difficulty understanding material in my class. Perhaps you could talk with someone in Ability Services to see if they can assist you.”
How does the student find out about services for disabilities?
Information and procedures for obtaining services is readily available to all students through the college catalogue, the student handbook and information posted in prominent places around campus. In addition, we ask that all faculty members include a statement in their course syllabi.
What are some of the major provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?
Colleges and Universities may not:
- Refuse to accept an otherwise qualified student simply because the student has a disability
- Make pre-admission inquiries about the student’s disabilities
- Use admissions tests or criteria that inadequately measure the academic qualifications of students with disabilities because accommodations were not provided for them. In other words, we are required to provide accommodations for placement tests such as TABE (workforce) and COMPASS (academic).
- Limit the number of students with disabilities admitted. For example, we are not permitted to refuse to admit additional students who are deaf or hard of hearing simply because it is difficult to obtain interpreters.
- Establish rules and policies that may adversely affect students with disabilities. If a rule or policy tends to impact students with disabilities to a greater degree than would be true of the majority of students, it probably is a violation of ADA. For example, requiring a student with a disability to demonstrate that they are capable of swimming before allowing them to use the pool, when other students are not required to do so would be a violation. However, if there is reason to believe that the student’s impairment would cause a risk to self or others, we want to err on the side of safety. The key here is not to use the rule to exclude those with disabilities.
- Measure student achievement using methods that adversely discriminate against a student with a disability. This could be somewhat tricky depending on the nature of the disability and the reasonable accommodations requested. An illustration might be someone in an English Literature class who is severely dyslexic (difficulty with reading), has been approved to use a screen reader on a computer, but is required to remain in class and take the test without use of a screen reader. We probably would have difficulty defending our decision. Could we require that the student stay in class and use a scribe? Possibly, however, the courts tend to go along with the students preferred mode of learning or their preferred accommodation. On the other hand, Salome Hayward, a nationally recognized expert on ADA Law, has said that, “we are not required to provide a Cadillac if a Chevrolet will get the job done.”
- Exclude a student from a course of study or a College function or activity because of a disability. Beware of this issue, because we are required to provide accommodations for field trips, plays, concerts, and all programs or activities sponsored by the college. For example, if you have a field trip and a student with disabilities requires accommodations, it is important that you contact Ability Services for your College to make necessary arrangements.
Colleges and Universities Must:
- Provide “reasonable accommodations” on a case-by-case-basis. Accommodations are based on documentation, usually provided by the secondary school in the case of a student with a learning disability. With older students who have not been in school for some time, we work with outside agencies such as the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services (DARS) to obtain documentation.
- Provide interpreters, note-takers, and other learning aids. The college averages approximately $10,000 per year in costs for interpreter services per student. These students are required to meet the same attendance and academic standards as any other student. When a student needs a note-taker, the faculty member is asked to assist in this process. Letters usually contain suggestions about how to arrange note-taker assistance. Some students require specialized adaptive computer equipment such as Zoomtext, a screen reader, some type of voice input, etc. Our office can usually provide specialized, adaptive equipment; however, we may need thirty to sixty days to obtain required software and/or hardware.
When would you consider an accommodation to be unreasonable?
Accommodations are considered unreasonable if they:
- Provide an unfair advantage to a student with a disability.
Example: Open book, open notes, unlimited time for testing.
- Compromise the essential elements of the program.
- Cause an undue financial or administrative burden. It is difficult for major colleges and universities, with multi-million dollar budgets, to claim an undue financial burden for providing adaptive equipment that may cost two to five thousand dollars.
- Endanger the safety of self or others. A blind student working alone in a chemistry laboratory might be an example of this.
- Require the provision of services off campus. The college is not required to go to someone’s home to test them for a distance education class.
- Involve personal attendants. We do not provide personal attendants for students. Normally, attendants are provided by outside agencies. In most cases, the attendant would be expected to wait outside of the classroom. If the attendant is needed in the classroom, faculty should notify Ability Services.
- Involve service animals that cannot abide by standards of conduct. We are required to allow service animals in the classroom, in most cases, but the service animal must remain quiet and not be walking around the classroom. Also, students and staff should not pet the animal or interact in any way with the animal because that would distract the animal from its primary function.
- Fundamentally alter the nature of the service program or activity
Do students have any responsibilities under the ADA?
Yes, they must:
- Self-identify to Ability Services at the College they plan to attend and request reasonable accommodations for their disability. If the student chooses not to self-identify to the designated office, the college is not obligated to provide accommodations. In fact, we ask faculty to provide only those accommodations requested by Ability Services.
- Provide documentation of a qualifying disability in order to access support services. For learning disabilities, we require a full psychological evaluation that has been completed while the individual was in high school or an adult.
- Request accommodations early to allow time to obtain appropriate documentation and prepare a letter for reasonable accommodations. This is critical for students who may need interpreters or specialized adaptive equipment for their classes.
- Inform the ADA Counselor if the accommodations are not adequate, need to be adjusted, or are not being provided in accordance with the letter for reasonable accommodations
How does a student obtain assistance?
- Referred by faculty, administration, or staff
- Referred by outside agencies or individuals
What process and procedures are used to qualify students for support services from Ability Services?
Every student who comes Ability Services for assistance will participate in an intake interview to determine eligibility for assistance from Ability Services. If no documentation is available the counselor may refer the student to an outside agency for assistance. Some of the outside agencies we use include: Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services (DARS), Mental Health and Mental Retardation Agency of Harris County (MHMRA), The Division of Blind Services through DARS (DBS), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services through DARS (DHHS) the Neuhaus Learning Center, and the University of Houston. In addition, we have a list of qualified diagnosticians that we give to students if they need to have a full psychological evaluation to determine whether or not they have a learning disability. The College is not required to provide psychological testing for learning disabilities and does not do so. If we have reason to believe that the student may be eligible for services, we ask the student to complete the following forms:
- Intake Form. This form contains basic demographic information such as: Name, address, telephone number, agencies the student is working with, and other personal information provided by the student.
- Information Release Form. This is required in order to allow Ability Services to communicate with faculty regarding reasonable accommodations. A second part of the form allows us to keep documentation of the disability on file.
- Placement Testing Accommodation Form. Students with appropriate documentation may be eligible for accommodations on the TABE or COMPASS placement tests. This form is completed and sent to the testing office in order to provide accommodations.
- Medication Form (if any). Students who are using medications are asked to complete this form and keep it up-to-date. This information is needed in the event a student experiences a medical emergency on campus.
- A follow-up session (usually after placement testing) with the student focuses on the documentation, review of test scores, identification of an appropriate program (workforce, academic, or special) for the student, and establishment of a set of reasonable accommodations designed to address the specific learning or physical needs of the student, on a case-by-case basis. The ADA Counselor prepares a letter requesting reasonable accommodations for the student. The student presents a copy of the accommodation letter to each faculty member and self-advocates for the accommodations: If the student chooses not to present the letter, faculty members should not provide accommodations. Providing accommodations for a student who has not presented a letter may create what the courts consider a “past practice” for the institution and could jeopardize the College in the event of an Office of Civil Right (OCR) hearing or a court case. Faculty should not ask specific questions about the students’ disability. However, it is appropriate to ask, in private, “what do you want me to know about your disability”. If the student says, “nothing”, the faculty member should not pursue additional information. By law, students are not required to reveal information about their disabilities. Call Ability Services if you have questions about accommodations or feel that an accommodations is inappropriate or will not work for you or the student. Please protect the confidentiality of student information, confidentiality is a major provision of the ADA.
Student Rights and Responsibilities
- Students with disabilities have the right to equal access to courses, programs, services, jobs, activities, and facilities available through Houston Community College.
- Students with disabilities have the right to reasonable and appropriate accommodations and services, which are determined on an individual basis.
- Students with disabilities have the right to information in accessible formats.
- Students with disabilities have the right to appropriate confidentiality of all information pertaining to their disability with the choice of who to disclose their disability to except as required by law.
Houston Community College resources
Central College resources
Coleman College Resources
Northeast College resources
Northwest College resources
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Southwest College resources
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