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Initial Interview & Documentation

What is current practice?

Institutional requirements specify the type of medical, psychological or psycho-educational documentation that students must present to qualify for accommodations. Some institutions specify individual protocols for a variety of conditions. The disability professional receives and reviews documentation before meeting with the student and makes initial notes on potentially appropriate accommodations. If the documentation doesn’t meet institutional guidelines, students are contacted and told to bring in more information before scheduling a meeting. Once the documentation protocol is satisfied, the student is scheduled for an intake interview with the disability services staff. During the intake, the disability service professional clarifies information contained in the documentation and gathers further information about the student’s condition and functional limitations in order to determine eligibility for services and establish accommodations.

Typical documentation guidelines require:

  • Specific credentials of the evaluator
  • A diagnostic statement of the existence of a disability
  • A description of the diagnostic methodology used
  • A description of the student’s current functional limitations
  • A discussion of whether the disability is progressive or stable and whether medication is indicated
  • A description of past and/or current accommodations the student has used
  • Recommendations for accommodations or other supports the institution should grant for the student

Traditional Sample 1: Documentation Guidelines

Before registering with the Disability Support Services Office, students are required to provide diagnostic documentation from a licensed clinical professional familiar with the history and functional implications of their disabilities. 

Disability documentation must:

  • Adequately verify the nature and extent of the disability in accordance with current professional standards and techniques 
  • Clearly substantiate the need for all of the student’s specific accommodation requests.
Please Note: 
  • Each disability type has its own requirements so refer to full details for your specific disability below.
  • All documentation must be submitted on the official letterhead of the professional diagnosing the disability.
  • If the documentation is incomplete or inadequate to determine the extent of the disability or reasonable accommodation, the disability office has the discretion to require additional documentation.
  • Students requesting accommodations for multiple disabilities must provide documentation of all such conditions.
  • A history of accommodations does not in itself warrant the provision of similar accommodations.

The final determination of eligibility for services rests with disability office.

(Many offices then have links to more lengthy explanations of what is needed for specific conditions.)

Traditional Sample 2: Disability Intake Process 

An accurate diagnosis of a student’s problem can facilitate effective accommodation planning and ensure the student meets the institutional eligibility criteria for disability supports. Steps: 

  1. Student reviews the institutional documentation guidelines specific to his or her disability. 
  2. Student acquires appropriate documentation either from medical or psychoeducational professionals and submits it to the office. Required documentation may be available from previous educational institutions or may require an appointment with a certifying professional to update or create required documentation. 
  3. Student is assigned a case manager.
  4. Case manager reviews submitted documentation to confirm it meets guidelines and informs students of the need for additional or updated documentation if necessary. 
  5. Case manager notes the student’s functional limitations in the academic environment and anticipates accommodations that may be appropriate. 
  6. Student contacts office to schedule an appointment.
  7. During the intake, the case manager discusses the accommodation requests with the student relative to the student’s specific disability. 
  8. Student receives confirmation of the accommodations they are qualified to receive once the accommodation plan has been completed by the case manager and approved by the Disability Services Director. 
  9. Students are required to attend an orientation session at the Disability Services office during which policies and procedures, expectations, and responsibilities are described. 
  10. Student obtains a letter to deliver to each course instructor
  11. Students meet with their case manager at the beginning of each semester to discuss additional needs and receive faculty accommodation forms for each class. 
  12. If there are changes to the disability, updated documentation may be required. 

What are the implicit messages? 

  • Disabled students’ self-report is not reliable. Even when students are able to clearly articulate their experiences and identify accommodations that will be effective, their requests must be legitimized through paperwork and an expert’s interpretation. 
  • The disability service offices is an essential gatekeeper that ensures accommodations are not “given” to anyone without extensive evaluation criteria being met.
  • Only external evaluators are qualified to establish disability and determine accommodations.
  • Access is an individual problem caused by a student’s bodily difference. The design of the course, activity or system is not addressed. 

How might this be different?

Thinking about documentation through the lenses of diversity, social justice, and equity will move professionals to appreciate that information is needed, not for eligibility, but to understand if accommodations are necessary and reasonable. This requires less attention to traditional third-party documentation, while placing more importance on the experiences, judgements, and perspectives of disabled students. 

Additionally, conversations will ultimately focus on environmental barriers as problematic instead of individual impairments. 

Refocued Sample 1: Documentation 

The Disability Resource Center invites students who request reasonable accommodations to meet with an Access Consultant to discuss their past use of accommodations and any disability-related barriers they anticipate or are experiencing at the University. While no external paperwork may be necessary to establish accommodations, medical records, psychoeducational testing and school records (such as an IEP or 504 Program) may help guide our conversation and provide information about specific requests. If this type of information is available, you can upload it when you complete the online DRC New Student Form to request accommodations or bring it to your first meeting with an Access Consultant. Please don’t delay meeting with the DRC out of concern for not having appropriate paperwork. 

Note: Other colleges and universities may require more extensive external documentation. Testing agencies, which administer standardized tests such as the GRE and LSAT, often have strict documentation guidelines. If you need information about how to prepare for transition to another college or sitting for an exam, the DRC staff are available to consult with you.

Refocused Sample 2: Initial Interview Process

The student and disability resource professional partner to identify strategies, including accommodations, that can reduce or remove access barriers. An initial meeting provides the opportunity to understand the student’s disability experience and accommodations that have been successful in providing access. The process will be informed by the student’s self-report, the disability professional’s experience, and any paperwork that the student presents. Based on the discussion, the disability resource professional may implement accommodations, set up provisional or temporary accommodations while waiting for additional documentation, or request documentation specific to establishing a connection between the disability and the barrier. 

Steps: 

  1. The student schedules a meeting with the disability resource office. 
  2. The student and disability professional meet to discuss the student’s condition, experience, current or anticipated barriers, educational history, and accommodations that have been effective in providing access. 
  3. Through discussion and using knowledge of the institution’s academic environment, the disability resource professional determines whether the request for accommodation is consistent with requirements of the course or activity and with the student’s described disability experience. 
  4. When the condition and its impact are readily apparent or comprehensively described, the disability professional will move forward and will explain to the student how the accommodation will be implemented. 
  5. If the meeting with the student fails to provide the information necessary to connect disability, barrier, and accommodation, the disability professional will review the presented documentation to answer remaining questions. 
  6. Accommodations will be implemented if a connection can be established. If the professional is unable to clearly understand how the disability is connected to a barrier and how the accommodation would provide access, the student will be asked to obtain additional information focused on illustrating that connection. 

What is the potential impact of this change?

  • Students’ self-knowledge is respected, trusted and valued. 
  • Students are less burdened. They are not required to obtain expensive testing when their requests are clearly supported through past educational experiences and their personal report of what will be effective. 
  • The disability resource professional has the opportunity to know the student as an individual without the preconceptions that might come from an initial review of the documentation. 
  • Students and disability resource professional can identify campus barriers and solutions free from recommendations made by external evaluators who are not typically familiar with higher education environments.
  • The disability resource professional’s expertise on the intersection of disability, higher education and access is respected.

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