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Understand What Documentation the College Requires

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Why You Need Documentation

Postsecondary institutions require appropriate and timely documentation of a disability when you seek special considerations in the admissions process or after enrollment, when you seek appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services. This documentation serves two primary purposes in postsecondary education:

Documentation establishes that you have a disability, and therefore protects you from discrimination.

The documentation describes the current functional impact of your disability in order to identify potential appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services.

The impact of your disabilities on your academic performance forms the basis for provision of academic adjustments as well as auxiliary aids and services. Therefore, it is reasonable for a postsecondary institution to require recent documentation that establishes this foundation.

Remember that each institution of higher education determines if you qualify as a student with a disability. The procedures and requirements to make this determination may vary among institutions of higher education. Nationally, most institutions of higher education use guidelines developed by the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

AHEAD: Guidelines for Documentation of a Learning Disability in Adolescents and Adults, available at

ETS Disabilities and Testing page has guidelines for documentation for learning disabilities, ADHD, and psychiatric disabilities. Available at

Know What Your Documentation Should Include

Documentation of a disability consists of an evaluation by appropriate professionals. Included should be:

  • A clear statement of the diagnosis
  • The basis for the diagnosis
  • The current impact of the disability as it relates to requests for appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services

The Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) developed a document that describes best practices for developing and maintaining consistent, comprehensive and appropriate guidelines for documenting disabilities and requests for appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services. Many institutions in Virginia and nationally use the AHEAD document as the framework for their institutional policies.

General Documentation Guidelines

As appropriate to the disability, the documentation should include the following elements:

A diagnostic statement identifying the disability, date of the most current diagnostic evaluation, and the date of the original diagnosis

A description of the diagnostic tests, methods, and/or criteria used, including specific test results (including standardized testing scores) and the examiner's narrative interpretation

A description of the current functional impact of the disability. There should be a description of how the individual's identified impairment substantially limits a major life acitivity. The description may be a narrative or an interview with the individual with a disability, but it must demonstrate a rational relationship to the results of a diagnostic assessment For learning disabilities, current documentation should include information from diagnostic assessments using adult norms to process the data where available or appropriate

A statement indicating treatments, medications, or assistive devices / services currently prescribed or in use, with a description of the mediating effects and potential side effects from such treatments

A description of the anticipated progression or stability of the disability over time, particularly the next five years

A history of previous academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services and their impact

The credentials of the professional(s), if not clear from the letterhead or other forms
Diagnosing professionals shall not be family members or others with a close personal relationship with the individual

Documentation prepared for specific non-educational venues (i.e., Social Security Administration, Department of Veteran's Affairs, etc.) may not meet these criteria

An IEP or a 504 plan is usually not sufficient documentation, unless it includes adequate documentation of the current impact of the disability

Institutions make decisions concerning academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services on an individual basis (with the student) and consider the impact of a particular student's disability within the context in which the student must function.

Beyond the more objective determination of a disability and its impact provided by external documentation, institutions recognize that input from the student is also a rich and important source of information on the impact of the disability and on the effectiveness of requested academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services.

Note: It is essential to consult with each individual institution and obtain its particular documentation policy for individuals with disabilities.

Know How to Obtain Appropriate Documentation

After acceptance to college through the regular admissions process, contact the disability services office at the institution you plan to attend to discuss documentation needs and future plans. If additional documentation is required, ask the college for assistance in identifying a qualified evaluator.

  • Select an evaluator who has experience working with adults with your disability, and who has worked with the service provider at the institution you plan to attend.
  • Be forthcoming, thorough, and honest with information about your disability and its impact in the learning environment.
  • Discuss the results and recommendations with the evaluator, and request a written copy of the final report.

  • Maintain a personal file of your records and reports.

  • Allow the college or university a reasonable amount of time to evaluate the documentation and arrange for the appropriate academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services.

Excerpted from Virginia's College Guide for Students with Disabilities (2003 Edition).