Foundational Principles for the Review of Documentation and the Determination of Accommodations

AHEAD presents the following principles as the foundation for policies and best practices used by postsecondary institutions as they establish disability documentation guidelines and determine accommodations for students with disabilities.

  • All documentation should be reviewed on an individual, case-by-case basis

    This calls for an individualized inquiry, examining the impact of a disability on the individual and within the specific context of the request for accommodations. There is no list of covered disabilities or accepted diagnostic criteria. Institutional documentation policy should be flexible, allowing for the consideration of alternative methods and sources of documentation, as long as the essential goal of adequately describing the current impact of the disability is met.

  • Determination of a disability doesn’t require the use of any specific language

    Service providers should avoid elevating form over substance in documentation guidelines, e.g., the temptation to require specific language, such as “learning disability.” Clinicians’ training or philosophical approaches may result in their use of euphemistic phrases, rather than specific diagnostic labels; this practice should not be automatically interpreted to suggest that a disability does or does not exist.

  • Presented documentation can be augmented through interview

    Service providers are encouraged to contact the evaluator, as necessary, for clarification of any information (test results, conclusions, recommendations, etc.) contained in documentation. An interview, filtered by the service provider's professional judgment, is extremely valuable in substantiating the existence of a disability, understanding its impacts and identifying appropriate accommodations.

  • Determination of accommodations is an interactive process

    The individual with a disability is an excellent source of information on strategies that maximize access. In the context of documentation and accommodation planning, the individual is a rich, reliable, and valid source of information on the impact of the disability and the effectiveness of accommodations. The individual with a disability may be provided with his or her first choice of accommodation or an alternative, effective accommodation determined by the institution. While objective confirmation (documentation) is legitimate, so are the lived experiences of individual.

  • Documentation of a specific disability does not translate directly into specific accommodations

    Reasonable accommodations are individually determined and should be based on the functional impact of the condition and its likely interaction with the environment (course assignments, program requirements, physical design, etc.) As such, accommodation recommendations may vary from individual to individual with the “same” disability diagnosis and from environment to environment for the same individual.

  • Disability documentation should be treated in a confidential manner and shared only on a need-to-know basis

    Disability-related information should be collected and maintained on separate forms and kept in secure files with limited access.

  • Information on the individual’s disability is only one component of providing access

    Many barriers to full participation reside in the environment (physical, curricular, attitudinal, informational) where proactive redesign can favorably impact sustainable access. Service providers are encouraged to work to increase overall accessibility through system change that makes the institution more inclusive and reduces the need for individual accommodation.