Requesting a Reasonable Accommodation from a School

A Simple How-To for Parents and Students

This publication is intended to provide a general overview of your child’s rights to reasonable accommodations under federal law and is not legal advice. 

1.  What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights law that provides protections to individuals with disabilities.  It guarantees individuals with disabilities equal access to public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. 

Title II of the ADA governs public entities which includes any state and local government and any department or agency of a State or State and local government.  This includes public schools.

Under Title II, a public school must ensure that its services, programs, and activities are accessible to students with disabilities.  A school may be required to

  • change the participation criteria for  its programs, activities, and services if those criteria prevent students with disabilities from accessing the programs, activities and services.  A school is not required to change its participation criteria if it can establish that the requirements are necessary for the provision of the service, program or activity.
  • reasonably modify its policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discriminating against students with disabilities; and
  • make school buildings physically accessible to students with disabilities 

2.  What is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

Section 504 is a federal law that prevents any program or activity that receives Federal funds from discriminating against an “otherwise qualified individual with a disability” solely because of that persons disability.  Section 504 applies to public schools because schools receive a variety of federal funds.

Under Section 504, a public school must ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to educational services.  A school may be required to make modifications to educational services or provide a reasonable accommodation to a student with a disability.  The school is not required to provide your student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) under Section 504. 

3. Who can request a reasonable accommodation from a school?

A qualified student with a disability can request a reasonable accommodation.  A parent can make the request on the child’s behalf.

4.  Who is a qualified student with a disability? 

A qualified student with a disability is someone who (a) is a person with a disability under the law and (b) is otherwise eligible to access the school’s services or programs. 

A person who has a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities (such as walking, talking or learning) is a person with a disability under the law.

A qualified student with a disability must be the same age as a non-disabled child who receives the service; the age that it is mandatory under state law to provide service to persons with disabilities; or a person for whom a state is required to provide a Free Appropriate Public Education under the IDEA. 

5.  What is a reasonable accommodation? 

Discrimination may take many forms.  One example is when a school does not change its practices and policies to make sure it provides a similar level of service to student with disabilities as it does for others.  The change or modification of practices and policies are called reasonable accommodations

Schools are required to make reasonable accommodations unless they would fundamentally alter the nature of the goods, services, or operations. 

Health and Safety Exception:  A school may set safety requirements that are necessary for safe operation when a student poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others.  Safety requirements must be based on actual risks and not on stereotypes or generalizations about the ability of students with disabilities to participate in an activity. 


Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

a. Accessibility

Students with disabilities must have the same or substantially similar use and enjoyment of goods and services that are enjoyed by students without disabilities.  Schools must provide students with disabilities access to school buildings, activities and programs, as well as access to effective communication. 

b. Auxiliary Aids and Services—Interpreters

Auxiliary aids and services are considered reasonable modifications under Title III.  Examples: qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, note takers, written materials, qualified readers, taped texts, and Brailed or large print materials. 

c. Removal of Barriers

In order to provide students with disabilities the same or substantially similar use and enjoyment of goods and services that are enjoyed by individuals without disabilities, Title II requires the removal of barriers in existing buildings if removal is not too expensive or difficult.  Title III requires the removal of architectural barriers, such as narrow walkways, round doorknobs, and steps, as well as the removal of communication barriers that are structural in nature. 

d. Alterations to Existing Facilities and New Construction

The ADA Accessibility Guidelines contain general design (“technical”) standards for building and site elements, such as parking, doors, entrances, drinking fountains, bathrooms, signs, telephones, fixed seating and tables, and dressing rooms.

e. Service Animals

A “service animal” is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding individuals with vision disabilities, alerting individuals with hearing disabilities to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items. 

The ADA authorizes the use of service animals for the benefit of individuals with disabilities.  While the ADA does not limit the type of disability a person must have in order to use a service animal, there must be a direct link between the task an animal performs and the person’s disability. 

The ADA does not mandate that service animals be specifically identified with certification papers, a harness, special collar, or any other form of identification.  The ADA regulations merely establish minimum requirements for service animals, namely, that an animal (1) is individually trained and (2) works for the benefit of the individual with a disability. 

Schools must modify policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by a student with a disability, unless the school can demonstrate (1) that making such modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the school’s goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations; (2) the safe operation of the school would be jeopardized; or (3) such modifications would result in an undue financial or administrative burden.    

Guidance and Practical Tips on Requesting Accommodations

Parents and students are responsible for letting the school know if an accommodation is needed.  Schools are not required to provide accommodations if they are not aware of the need.

  • You are not required to request an accommodation in writing, but putting it in writing might be useful in documenting accommodation requests, in the event there is a dispute about whether or when you requested accommodation.
  • Your request should:
    • Identify your child as a person with a disability
    • State that you are requesting accommodations under the ADA
    • Identify your child’s specific needs
    • Suggest an accommodation
    • Request that the school suggest an accommodation if they believe your suggestion is unreasonable
    • Refer to attached medical documentation if appropriate
    • Ask that the school respond to your request in a reasonable amount of time

This document contains general information for educational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.  This information is provided to help you advocate for yourself and your child.   It is not intended to be a comprehensive statement of the law and may not reflect recent legal developments. 

If you have specific questions concerning any matter contained in this document or need legal advice, we encourage you to consult with an attorney.

 Created in 2010 by Disability Rights NC.