Education Accommodations for Students with Multiple Sclerosis
Being in high school or college can be challenging for anyone, but especially so for students living with multiple sclerosis (MS). While teenagers and young adults already have many things on their plate, you should also be aware of your educational rights as a student with a disability.
Knowing what your educational rights are can help you advocate for the accommodations and modifications you need to thrive in the school environment.
What constitutes being disabled?
In order to be classified as having a disability, 1 or more major life activities has to be significantly limited due to your condition. Major life activities include, but are not limited to:1
- Caring for yourself
- Doing manual tasks
If your MS impairs 1 or more of these major life activities, schools must take into consideration how your impairment affects everyday life and your ability to learn. Your school also needs to consider what you need to ensure you have an equal opportunity to fully participate in school activities just like anyone else.
Know the laws that protect you from discrimination
There are federal laws that protect students with disabilities from discrimination. Being familiar with these can be helpful to ensure you get the protection and accommodations you need.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974, commonly just referred to as Section 504, protects the rights of people with disabilities in programs and activities that get federal financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Education.1
Title II of the ADA
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability. It also protects students with disabilities on the state and local level regarding government services, programs, and activities – including public schools. This law applies whether the school gets federal financial assistance or not.1
The ADA Amendments Act
The ADA Amendments Act (AA) occurred in 2012 when Congress amended the ADA and Section 504 by enlarging the potential group of people with disabilities. The ADA AA also clarified terms and interpretations of “disability.” This means that the burden of “proof” is not on students anymore – the school must meet the needs of the student.1
Creating a working plan
Section 504 requires that schools provide a “free and appropriate education” to any qualified students with a disability. If a student with a disability, including MS, is identified, then a documented plan like a Section 504 plan or an individualized education program (IEP) needs to be constructed. The school must provide the services stated in the plan. This is a working document, which means it can change over time depending on your evolving needs.1
Accommodations you may be able to get
Depending on what your specific needs are, you may be able to get accommodations such as:1
- Preferential seating during tests
- Large-print test booklets
- A private room
- Extended testing time
- Frequent breaks
- Tape-recorded responses
You may also need to have additional aids and services provided, including:1
- Having the school bus stop directly at your house
- Providing recording devices for class lectures
- Providing assistive-listening devices
- Specialized gym equipment or other accommodations for gym
- Calculators or keyboards with large buttons
Considerations for college students with MS
In college, there may be additional hurdles or challenges requiring testing accommodations or modifications, and you may need additional aids. Accommodations may include:1
- Priority registration
- Reducing your course load
- Providing e-readers, talking calculators, or videotext displays
- Extended time for testing
Colleges do not have to provide services or devices to help with personal care, so those things are not included.
Tips for navigating the education system and your needs
In college, it is your responsibility to let the school know about your disability. They are not required to identify any disabilities, nor do they have to assess your needs. It is up to each student to let the school know about their disabilities and what their needs are. They may ask for additional documentation about your MS and your past accommodations, and they may require you to be newly evaluated.1
Work with an advisor
If your school is not providing enough accommodations or they are not working for you, find the disability services coordinator or office at your school. They can work with you to get the assistance you need. If you are unable to come up with a resolution yourself, each school should also have a grievance procedure.1
Build a relationship with your advisor. They can help you navigate confusing processes at school and be an advocate for your needs.
Who can relate? "Just because I could do something last year, last month, last week or yesterday doesn’t mean I can do it today. Also, it doesn’t mean I can’t."