Documenting Your Disability for an Educational Institution

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By law, if you meet a school's admission requirements, the school cannot refuse to admit you -- even if you require accommodations for your disability. You do, however, have to document your disability in order to be eligible for those accommodations and other disability-related services at the school. This page will help you determine what you need for documentation and how to get it. 

What qualifies as a disability?

In order to be considered disabled, your mental illness must substantially limit one or more "major life activities." For someone with a mental illness, that might include the following:

bulletlearning
bulletthinking
bulletconcentrating
bulletinteracting with others
bulletcaring for yourself
bulletspeaking
bulletperforming manual tasks
bulletworking
bulletsleeping

Who provides the documentation of my disability?

Documentation needs to come from a licensed psychiatrist, a psychologist with a Ph.D., or another qualified mental health professional who has treated you, either as an individual patient or through a community agency. If you've seen several licensed professionals, ask the one you believe will have the most accurate picture of your abilities and needs. 

What should the documentation include?

Your documentation must include information about your diagnosis, your specific functional limitations, and how they might affect you in an academic setting. It must also include the reasons why your requested accommodations are necessary. In addition, the person writing the letter needs to mention when you started seeing him or her, when you stopped, what his or her credentials are (including license or certification), and his or her area of specialization or expertise. 

Your documentation does not need to include how your disorder affects you or the side effects of any medication you may take -- but having that information could be quite useful to the school's disability services counselor. 

Who has access to this information?

Disability-related information must be treated and handled as medical information: collected and maintained on separate forms and stored in secure files with access limited to members of the disability services office. The information is not allowed to be shared with other people outside the school. Even within the school, people not in the disability services office can only access the information with your permission or if there is a compelling reason to do so. 

Faculty members should not have access to your disability records! In general, the most they will know -- and then usually only if you tell them -- is that you have a verified disability and need accommodation. You need not give them any further details.

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1997, 1998 Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation, Boston University

January 27, 2006

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