Know the laws that impact your transition from high school to college

Assuming responsibility as you transition from the IDEA to the ADA.

Part of the College Readiness Resource Center, by College Success @ Perkins

By: Leslie Thatcher, Director, Program Development and Strategy, Perkins Transition Center

Your first team 

As a student learning with a visual impairment in elementary, middle and high school, you have had access to many supports and services that would ensure your access to classroom materials and learning. Think of everyone who’s been there to support you!  Classroom teachers, special educators, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs), therapists and other service providers have been part of your “team,” planning and discussing your Individualized Education Plan (IEP), monitoring your progress, stepping in and making adjustments when needed. 

If you needed a worksheet transcribed in braille at the very last minute? Your TVI embossed it and gave it to your paraprofessionals to hand to you in time for class. Your grades were slipping in Geometry? Your IEP team had an interim meeting to assign additional time per week with your TVI. In fact, the IEP team probably also added additional time to take tests to your list of accommodations. Whether you knew it or not, many important decisions were made for you, with or without your input. As you begin to consider your next steps after high school, it’s important to know and understand how these supports are all about to shift.

Below, we have broken down the complex and often confusing differences that exist between the services and protections for students with visual impairments in the K-12 setting, which fall under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, from those of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which applies to post-secondary education, the workplace and community environments. 

Let’s have a look.

Differences between the IDEA (high school) and the ADA (college) supports

Elementary / High school
K-12 under IDEA or 504 plan 
College / University under ADA 
Disability information The student’s school district identified the visual disability or student’s parents provided the district with documentation on student’s disability. The student is responsible for disclosing information about their disability and need for accommodations to the Disability Services Office (DSO) in order to receive services. 
Service provision / Legal documentation Student’s school district developed Individual Education Plan (IEP) and provided services determined by IEP. The student initiates discussions and requests for disability services and accommodations. 
Implementation of IEPThe school district and identified individuals (TVI, Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists) are responsible for implementing the IEP goals. There is no IEP. The student bears responsibility for requesting and following up on services needed to access course materials, testing accommodations, housing accommodations, etc.
Rights to services Services (accommodations, modifications) are identified in the IEP or 504 Plan. The DSO and student work together to determine availability and access to services. Keep in mind, every DSO is different and will determine eligibility for and provision of services differently. 
IEP meeting Directed by the student’s school district.  There is no IEP and no IEP meeting. 
Who advocates? The student’s team of teachers/TVI, therapists, and parent advocates.  College student is his /her own advocate. 
Right to personal services Transportation, personal attendant, nurse are provided if needed.No personal services provided.

Source: Gavilan College Accessible Education Center, “Transition to College for Students with Disabilities”

It’s critical to start thinking about how these changes will impact you in college and career. You might consider using the College Readiness Checklist, to begin to evaluate and understand the areas where you may need to start building skills. In the next article in this two-part series for students, we will explore how you can best understand and create your relationship with your “new team,” the college’s disability support office. Learn more about how college disability services offices work in this article.

Stay in the college readiness conversation.

Our team is committed to changing the way students with blindness and visual impairment prepare for life after high school. Stay up to date about the latest insight, research and resources.


Filling the gaps: How to plan a Gap Year

Classroom desk with scantron answer sheet, pencil and paper.

Things to know about disability accommodations

three people looking at a sign post with arrows pointing in different directions.

Eight things I’m glad my TVI taught me about transition