What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

What are accommodations?

Accommodations are defined as changes in instruction or assessment practices that reduce the impact of an individual’s disability on his or her interaction with the material. Accommodations can include changes to the setting in which instruction is presented or assessment tasks are given, the amount of time allocated to a student to learn a concept or complete a task, the format of the information that is presented, the method through which the student responds to questions or the materials or equipment that support the student in his or her ability to interact with the material. To be considered effective, accommodations should reduce construct-irrelevant variance caused by the individual’s disability without changing the construct targeted by instruction or assessment. (Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone, 2006)

What is a Reasonable Accommodation?

Under both the Americans with Disabilities Act, as recently amended, and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, a reasonable accommodation is considered to be a modification or adjustment to a course, program, service, or facility, which ensures that a qualified student with a disability is not excluded, segregated, or otherwise treated differently.

This can all be easily misinterpreted.

That is because neither of these federal laws actually dictates a prescribed list of reasonable accommodations. Rather, the two statutes provide a broad description of the necessary actions that institutions must consider. So in defining just what is “reasonable,” in the context of higher education, it is often easier to define what is not reasonable.

Case law has dictated that a modification or adjustment is not reasonable if it would do any of the following:

  • Fundamentally alter the essential nature of the course, curriculum or program
  • Constitute services of a personal nature (such as private tutoring)
  • Result in an undue administrative or financial burden for the institution
  • Result in posing a direct threat to the health or safety of self or others

What are Fundamental Alterations?

Substantial changes to admissions criteria, the way a course or program is delivered, or the way an exam is administered, is not required by colleges and universities if any of these changes would fundamentally alter what is being taught or measured. K. Johnson, 2012)