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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Americans with Disabilities Act undergoes changes

As of March 15, new amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will take effect, imposing stricter guidelines on the processes colleges and testing agencies use to grant students eligibility for disability accommodations.

The amendments, although designed to help disabled students across the nation, will not have an immediate impact at UC Davis.

“It may impact some of the kinds of documentation that we gather,” said Jeanne Wilson, UC Davis Student Disability Center (SDC) director. “But we [already] look at the whole picture as opposed to just new tests.”

The regulations come on the heels of a recent settlement between the United States Department of Justice and the National Board of Medical Examiners, which was prompted by a complaint made by a Yale University student. He claimed the board denied him the special accommodations he needed to complete the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination.

The new ADA includes multiple additions to the section on examinations and courses, which display the U.S. Justice Department’s aims in guarding the rights of disabled students.

“Any private entity … shall offer such examinations or courses in a place and manner accessible to persons with disabilities or offer alternative accessible arrangements for such individuals,” read the amendment.

These are private entities that offer courses or tests in applications, licensing, certification or credentialing. The same section goes on to list the expectations of testing agencies and schools when requesting medical documentation from test-takers.

“Any request for documentation, if such documentation is required, is reasonable and limited to the need for the modification, accommodation, or auxiliary aid or service requested,” it stated.

Wilson said that testing agencies’ strict approval process for disability accommodations has long been a cause for debate.

“Learning disabilities are among our most carefully measured kinds of disabilities,” she said. “What the law requires [of us] is that we make an individualized recommendation for each student’s accommodations.”

Wilson also stressed that the SDC does everything it can to provide support to students with disabilities.

“Obviously we want individuals with disabilities to accomplish everything that they can,” she said. “We accommodate several hundred exams per year [and currently] have approximately 200 students who receive some kind of exam accommodations.”

The revised ADA further states that testing agencies must take into consideration not only current documentation but the entire medical history of a test-taker when reviewing accommodation requests.

“When considering requests for modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids or services, the entity gives considerable weight to documentation of past modifications, accommodations, or auxiliary aids or services received in similar testing situations,” it said.

Christine O’Dell, learning disabilities specialist with SDC, agreed that the ADA amendments have more of a big-picture impact at this time, and that procedures at the SDC will remain unchanged for now.

“The bottom line here is that [we operate] on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “If we don’t have sufficient information, we need to request more.”

Wilson said that although the SDC does everything it can to help disabled students, accommodation for testing is a thorough process for a reason.

“The reason that these tests exist is to screen applicants, because there are many more applicants than positions,” she said. “[In refusing accommodations] the testing agency has to be able to demonstrate that giving a particular aid or accommodation fundamentally alters the measurement of the skills or knowledge needed for the examination.”

VICTOR BEIGELMAN can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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