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Determining a Learner's Need

Determining a learner’s need for accessible formats is the first step of the decision-making process. 

In PreK-12 settings, determination of need is typically made by decision-making teams. Examples of decision-making teams include IEP teams, 504 plan teams, and teams related to a school’s multi-tier system of supports (MTSS). Parents and caregivers are also key team members and the learner is an active participant.

Postsecondary learners, whether in higher education or workforce training programs, must independently self-disclose a disability and request academic and other program accommodations, including accessible formats. The decision-making process in these settings should be interactive between the learner and the disability services support personnel. For students just exiting high school, navigating this new system can be challenging - both for them and their families. In some cases, students have reached postsecondary without knowing they have a disability, such as an undiagnosed learning disability. Still other individuals acquire disabilities later in life and need to learn the system for requesting reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Determination Process in PreK-12

The team providing services to a PreK-12 learner uses a variety of student data in the decision-making process. This can include reading assessment scores, diagnostic evaluations, achievement, teacher observations, and conversations with the learner and parents/caregivers.

The team considers three possibilities when determining a learner’s need for accessible formats:

  1. Evidence shows that the learner can read and access information from the same text-based instructional materials in the same format used across the curriculum by all students. In this case, accessible formats are not needed at this time.
  2. Evidence shows that the learner is experiencing difficulty reading or accessing some or all text-based materials due to the formats used in the curriculum. The team anticipates that the student will make adequate progress if exactly the same information is presented in one or more accessible formats. In this case, one or more accessible formats are needed at this time.
  3. Evidence shows that the learner needs modified content, such as a lower reading level or a change in what the student is expected to learn. In some cases, a learner may need modified content in an accessible format(s). The team determines whether the learner needs modified content only, or a combination of modified content and accessible format(s).

Our Need for Accessible Formats FAQ has helpful information for navigating the three options.

Determination Process in Colleges and Universities

Learn about Juna, a postsecondary student who needs accessible formats to support her learning.

To ensure that students with disabilities are aware of their right to request accommodations under the ADA, the process for accessing the Disability Support Services office should be clearly communicated through multiple means (website, faculty syllabi, brochures, email notifications, etc.).

Disability Service Providers (DSPs) use a deliberate and interactive process to determine reasonable accommodations, including a student’s need for accessible format(s) of course materials. The process should start with direct communication with the student about their need for accessible formats. Questions might include:

  • “What is the impact of your disability on reading and accessing text-based materials?”
  • “Do you have a history of using accessible formats?”

Based on the answers to these and related questions, DSPs may request additional information to make a final determination of a student’s need for one or more accessible formats. Every institution has a procedure for requesting an appeal of a reasonable accommodation decision.

Determination Process in Career Training Agencies

Agencies that oversee career training programs have varied ways for clients with disabilities to request accommodations under the ADA. In some cases, this service is provided by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (VR). In other cases, a program’s Department of Human Resources (HR) may have this responsibility. Regardless, the process for requesting accommodations should be clearly communicated to all clients through multiple means (website, course information, brochures, email notifications, etc.). The process for determining a client’s need for accessible formats is the same interactive, deliberative process used by Disability Service Providers (DSPs) in colleges and universities. Every agency has a procedure for requesting an appeal of a reasonable accommodation decision.

Once it is determined that accessible formats are needed, the next step is to select the most appropriate format.

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