What are “reasonable accommodations?”

This is the second post in a 3 series blog.

What does the law require?

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is a federal law that provides federally funded facilities (like public schools) from discriminating against those with disabilities. Under 504, public schools must ensure that students with a disability must have equal access to education and services. Schools must provide modifications to education and services aka “reasonable accommodations” to students to prevent discrimination based on disability.

What is a “reasonable accommodation?”

None of the laws that call for reasonable accommodations define what they are. The courts have said that the accommodations can’t “fundamentally alter the nature of the school’s purpose”, which in the case of a public school is providing educational services.

There are several types of accommodations the courts have found to be reasonable.

a. Accessibility: Wheelchair access to the entire building. Access to a special needs bus or transportation.

b. Service Animals: Schools must allow service animals access to the building if the animal is necessary for the child.

c. Interpreters: Access to sign language interpreters. Hearing aids for those who have hearing disabilities. Access to Braille. Language interpreters for emergent English language learners.

d. Auxiliary Aids and Services: Medical plans, burse access for students will illnesses that require medication or monitoring while at the school. This category also covers sensroy needs such as small class size, less noise, less distraction, low light, etc.

e. Removal of Barriers: If doors or stairways or other typical structural aspects of the school are a barrier to a child with a disability, the school must find alternate ways to accommodate that student.

Is it reasonable?

What is the disability, and how does it interfere with the students’s access to education? This is obviously something that needs to be looked at on an individual basis. So, how do you approach this with your student’s team?

  • What are your child’s needs? Include documentation from doctors/therapists/counselors/health care workers.
  • Write down your list of suggestions – remember that you know your child best. Don’t overreach – your student may need transportation in a 5 point harness but they don’t need a Jaguar to get them to school safely.
  • The school may decline an accommodation as being unreasonable, but they need to tell you why.
  • Ask the school to suggest alternatives.
  • Ask the school to respond to your request in a set amount of time. Give them a week, and then a reminder.

What is unreasonable?

Some examples I have seen:

A barrier to a student in a wheelchair who needed to access a classroom, being asked to go outside the school, and around to another entrance every day to get to class.

A student with severe sensory avoidant behavior being told that they must attend school assemblies and can just “hold hands with a friend if they’re scared.”

A student who needs help toileting being put on a specific schedule with access to a bathroom aide only 1 time per day.

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