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This page highlights the transition from the secondary (high school) education environment to post-secondary (college) environment. The page details what a student may expect during this time and how the Office of AccessABILITY may help during this transition.

Information for Parents and Students with Disabilities

The transition from high school to college is an exciting one, filled with anticipation and expectations of what lies ahead: an engaging collegiate environment, challenging classes, new friends and colleagues and a vast array of unique experiences. As students begin this journey they must accept new responsibilities. Unlike high school where parents and teachers take the lead in advocacy for the student, in college students with disabilities must self-advocate and self-manage

Student Self-Advocacy at Hunter College

Self-advocacy skills in college are essential. Students who have relied upon the support of their parents and others now must be able to help themselves. This vital "rite of passage" enables the student with disabilities to prepare for independence and success in the adult world. Self-advocacy for college can be defined as the ability to recognize and meet the needs specific to one's disability without compromising the dignity of oneself or others. Independent decision-making and the ability to express one's needs are two critical elements of self-advocacy (Richard Goldhamer & Loring C. Brinkerhuff (1993).

As a self-advocate it is a student's responsibility:

  • To register with the Office of AccessABILITY Services (OA) and voluntarily disclose information regarding the nature and extent of the disability. Accommodations are provided for a student who has self-identified as having a qualifying disability and has provided supporting documentation. 
  • To bring medical or psychological documentation of the diagnosed disability to an initial interview with a staff member of the Office of AccessABILITY (OA).
  • To present requests for reasonable accommodations based upon the supporting documentation, to both the faculty and the Office of AccessABILITY.
  • To meet privately, early in the semester, with course faculty members and discuss needed reasonable accommodations.
  • To immediately report to OA any physical or academic difficulties with accessibility
  • To be on time for all classes and tests.
  • To maintain an ongoing relationship with the OA, review and promptly respond to correspondence and complete ADA signature forms each term. 


A Comparison of the Legal Rights and Responsibilities in both High School and College for Students with Disabilities

The legal rights and responsibilities for students with disabilities in high school are different from those in college. The chart below outlines those differences:

What is the law? IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
504 (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992

504 (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, particular references in Subpart E)

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1992)
What is the intent of the law? IDEA – To provide a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment to eligible students with disabilities, including special education and related services.
504/ADA – To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability is denied access to, benefits of, or is subjected to discrimination in any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity.
To ensure that no otherwise qualified person with a disability will be denied access to, or the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination by any program or activity provided by any public institution or entity. (504/ADA)
Who is covered under the law? All infants, children and youth requiring special education services, until age 21 or graduation from high school. All qualified persons with disabilities who meet the entry age level criteria or particular program entry criteria of the college and who can document the existence of a disability as defined by the ADA.
What is a disability? A list of disabilities is provided in IDEA, and includes specific learning disabilities.
504/ADA has no such list, but considers a person with a disability to have any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment.
Any physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, having a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having an impairment (504/ADA); ADA also includes HIV status and contagious and non-contagious diseases.
Who is responsible for identifying and
documenting need?
School districts are responsible for identifying, evaluating, and planning educational services at no expense to parent or individual. Students are responsible for self-identification and for obtaining disability documentation from a professional who is qualified to assess their particular disability; cost of the evaluation must be assumed by the student, not the institution.
Who is responsible for initiating service delivery? School districts are responsible for identifying students with disabilities and providing special instruction, individualized educational plans, and/or accommodations. Students are responsible for notifying the Office of AccessABILITY Services of their disability and of their need for accommodations. Accommodations (not special education) are provided on a semester-by-semester basis in order for students with disabilities to have equal access to the college's programs and activities.
Who is responsible for enforcing the law? IDEA is basically a funding statute, enforced by the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services in the U.S. Department of Education.
ADA/504 are civil rights statutes, enforced by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), U.S. Department of Justice, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
This is basically a civil rights statute so the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education (504), and primarily the U.S. Department of Justice, in conjunction with the Equal Employment Opportunity commission (ADA).
What about Self-Advocacy? The parent or guardian is the primary advocate. Students with disabilities learn about their disability, the importance of advocacy, the types of accommodations they need, and ways to become a self-advocate. Students must be able to communicate what their disability is, their strengths and weaknesses, how the disability impacts and functionally limits major life activities, and identify any requested accommodations.

There are many differences between college and high school (the laws by which they are governed, the classroom setup, the courses and instructor’s expectations, and the overall requirements). We believe that with knowledge, awareness and encouragement we can empower students and ensure their academic success before they arrive to college.

Office of AccessABILITY’s Transitional Services helps to create a friendly and accessible environment for all students, and promotes academic success, retention and graduation for all its registered students.

Our Transitional Services include:

  1. One on one/group workshops and in-house and on site presentations for high school students and / staff to share Hunter College rules, regulations, policies and admission process
  2. Confidential Information sessions to review, evaluate and discuss accommodations available
  3. Assistance and or referrals to help with following areas:
  • Admissions Application Process
  • Advising and Registration
  • Financial Aid and Appeal Process
  • Scholarship Information
  • Career Planning and Counseling
  • Personal Counseling and Mental Health Services
  • Degree Choice
  • Tutoring Services
  • Diversity Training and Activities
  • Club Membership
  • Self-Advocacy and Communication Skills Training



Transition of Students With Disabilities To Postsecondary Education – A Guide for High School Educators

Click here to download the Transitional Information Presentation [pdf]


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