ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) - Students (Title II)

Q. What kinds of modifications to programs does the ADA require?
A. An institution must determine modifications on a case-by-case basis. Nonetheless, some examples of possible modifications include changing the length of time permitted for completion of degree requirements or substitution of a course for a required course.

Q. What kinds of modifications to examinations does the ADA require?
A. Once again, the institution must determine these modifications on a case-by-case basis. Some common modifications include using large print testing materials, providing a scribe or reader, permitting the test to be taken in a "quiet room," extending the time for completing the test, or administering an oral test.

Q. May my institution charge a surcharge for providing a reasonable accommodation?
A. No, but your institution may charge a student with a disability for optional services, such as physical therapy, or for accessible parking, if the charge for parking is comparable to that paid by other students.

Q. Do extracurricular activities and student housing have to be accessible to disabled students?
A. Yes.

Q. Is my institution responsible for providing auxiliary aids and services for disabled students?
A. Yes. Public institutions must provide auxiliary aids and services for individuals with a disability as accommodations for the programs offered. However, this does not include personal devices or services, such as eyeglasses, a wheelchair or readers for personal use or study.

Q. Is my institution responsible for paying for documentation of a disability?
A. No. The student is responsible.

Q. Does the institution have to provide the accommodations favored by the student or the student's health care provider?
A. No. The institution may choose among effective accommodations. However, the institution should work with the student to obtain necessary information to determine the type and nature of a reasonable accommodation. The institution does not have to choose the "best" accommodations or the accommodation requested by the student.

Q. How current does documentation of a disability need to be?
A. The best practice is to obtain the most up-to-date medical documentation in order to effectively process an accommodation request. Depending on the type and nature of the disability, information should be no less than three (3) years old. However, institutions must conduct individualized evaluations of documentation in each case. For example, certain disabilities may not change over time, making it unnecessary to obtain updated documentation.

Q. What if parents call and request information or ask to be involved in the accommodation process for their child?
A. Access by parents to information about a student is limited by the federal Family Educational Records and Privacy Act (FERPA) and the Wisconsin Public Records Law. Parents generally may not access information about their student without the student's consent (unless, for example, the student is a dependent of the parent for tax purposes).

Q. What kind of documentation should an institution accept?
A. The best practice is to obtain up-to-date medical documentation from a treating physician or medical professional that directly evaluates a student’s disability in light of the educational standards and/or academic requirements. Evidence from some other proceeding or process is not enough (such as a social security determination of disability benefits). An institution may consider Individual Education Plans (IEP's), 504 Plans and other types of documentation, but these are not conclusive and do not constitute medical documentation. It is important to remember that the fact that someone provided an accommodation in the past is not a documentation of a disability.

Q. What should an institution do if questions arise regarding the validity of the documentation?
A. The institution should obtain a written release from the student as part of the disability services intake process which allows the institution representative to contact the health care provider directly.

Q. Are individuals who have a record of or are regarded as having a disability eligible for accommodations?
A. No. An institution is only required to provide a reasonable accommodation to a student with a documented and current disability so as to allow the student to participate in and benefit from the institution’s educational programs.

Q. May an institution consider mitigating measures, such as a medication that corrects the impairment, in determining whether a student has a disability?
A. No. In accordance with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, an individual’s use of one or more mitigating measures (except ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses) cannot be considered in determining whether an impairment substantially limits a major life activity (note that negative effects can be considered). This includes measures such as medication, equipment, devices, hearing aids, use of assistive technology, auxiliary aids or services, among others.

Applicable Laws and Policies

Federal Law

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination on the basis of a disability. (42 U.S.C. § 12101) The ADA protects persons with disabilities from discrimination in the areas of employment and access to state and local government programs and services. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. §§ 701-796) provides similar protections against discrimination in regard to programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

University of Wisconsin System Policy

In accordance with the ADA and Section 504, the University of Wisconsin System has adopted a policy that prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals. This policy details the responsibilities of University of Wisconsin System institutions and the rights of students and members of the general public (Regent Policy 14-10). If you have a specific question or concern, please consult Regent Policy 14-10 and/or contact the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.

Students in General

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits any government body, including the University of Wisconsin System, from denying any qualified individual with a disability an equal opportunity to participate in any program, service or activity offered. In addition, an institution must provide reasonable accommodations, when necessary, to allow an individual with a disability the opportunity to participate in the institution’s educational programs, service and/or activity.

Qualified Individual with a Disability

A qualified individual with a disability is a person with a disability who is applying for admission to or participation in a program, service or activity of the institution or who is currently participating in a program, service or activity of the institution and who, with or without reasonable accommodations, meets the essential eligibility requirements for participating in those programs, services or activities.

Reasonable Accommodation

A reasonable accommodation means any reasonable modification of the institution’s rules, policies or practices, environmental adjustments (such as the removal of architectural or communicative barriers) or auxiliary aids and services. An accommodation is not reasonable if it would result in an undue financial or administrative burden or hardship; require a fundamental alteration to the program, service or activity; violate accreditation requirements; or require the waiver of essential program or licensing requirements. Some examples of a reasonable accommodation include modification of examinations, training materials or policies, or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, such as qualified readers or interpreters. Because determining a reasonable accommodation is often complex and fact-specific, please contact your institution’s Disabled Students Services Coordinator for assistance. If that person is unable to assist you, please contact System’s Affirmative Action Officer. Any questions that remain should be directed to the Office of General Counsel or to Campus Legal Counsel.

Interactive Process for Reasonable Accommodations

The accommodation process should be an interactive process which provides for give-and-take between the institution and the student. However, remember that, while the student’s preference should be considered, the institution has the ultimate discretion to determine what accommodation will be provided. The institution does not have to choose the best accommodation, but rather the accommodation that is sufficient to effectively meet the program-related needs of the student.

Complaint Process

Institutions must have a complaint process for students to appeal an accommodation decision or to file a complaint of disability discrimination or harassment. Please review your campus policies and procedures for additional information.


Except in very limited circumstances, an institution may not inquire about possible disabilities before deciding whether to admit an individual. If an applicant for admission includes materials about a disability with his or her application, the institution may not consider these materials in deciding whether to admit the applicant. However, all institutions must notify admitted students of the institutional processes for disclosing disabilities and requesting reasonable accommodations.

An institution must not use admissions tests to screen out disabled applicants. An institution must administer admissions tests to individuals with disabilities as regularly as it does other admissions tests. An institution must provide reasonable testing accommodations to disabled individuals. The individual with the disability must, however, make his or her special needs known in a timely manner.

Finally, recruitment and eligibility criteria should not screen out applicants who would otherwise be qualified for admission. Eligibility criteria should be reviewed to ensure that they are fundamental and essential to the program. Institutions may be required to waive non-fundamental requirements that bar applicants with disabilities who are otherwise qualified for admission.

 Documentation of Disability

Once accepted for admission, a student who wishes to receive accommodations for his or her disability must identify the disability. The institution should then require the student to provide recent, supporting documentation of the disability from an appropriate treating professional that is relevant to the requested accommodation. This documentation should include a diagnosis of the disability, the major life activities that the disability impairs, the disability’s severity, any functional or educational limitations caused by the disability and recommended accommodations.

Note: The office that stores and maintains documentation of a student’s disability should keep the documentation separate from other educational records and ensure that the documentation is only disclosed to those persons who have a legitimate need to know about a student’s disability. Before disclosing disability documentation, a disability services employee may wish to consult the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel.

Campus Programs and Activities

Academic Requirements

In modifying academic requirements to provide reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, institutions should ensure that the modifications do not fundamentally alter educational programs or compromise educational standards. Academic requirements that are essential to programs of instruction (such as mathematics for an engineering major) are not discriminatory under the ADA. Consult with the Office of General Counsel or Campus Legal Counsel and appropriate faculty to determine which academic requirements are essential to programs of instruction.


Students with disabilities must request test accommodations as soon as possible, preferably at the beginning of a course or according to the procedures the institution has outlined. The institution should determine appropriate accommodations individually, based on documentation of the nature of the disability.

Physical Education Requirements

An institution may not exclude a student with disabilities from a physical educational program if he or she can meet the fundamental requirements of the program with or without a reasonable accommodation.

Off-Campus Programs and Activities

If an institution does not actually administer or operate a program, service or activity but nonetheless requires student participation, the institution must ensure that the program or activity provides an equal opportunity for the participation of students with disabilities.

Access to Facilities

An institution does not have to make structural changes to existing facilities if other methods of accommodation will provide reasonable access to a program or course for a student with a disability. For example, moving the program, service or activity to an accessible building is acceptable. However, if there is no way to provide the program, service or activity at an alternative location, the institution will have to make existing facilities accessible. Furthermore, each new facility must be designed and constructed in such a way that it is readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.