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Student health 101

Eligibility Overview

The Disability Resource Center (DRC) is charged with providing services and accommodations to students with disabilities. DRC staff make decisions and provide recommendations to faculty and staff regarding determination of legally mandated service or accommodation. They do this in the context of: "We have made a review of this student's documentation of impairments and have concluded the student is, in fact, disabled under the law and due services and accommodations as prescribed within the ADA."

With this in mind we come to the following conclusions:

  1. Is a diagnosis a disability?
    No. A diagnosis is the opinion obtained from the act or process of identifying or determining the nature and cause of a disease or injury through evaluation of patient history, examination, and review of laboratory or assessment data. A disability results when the impact of the physical or mental condition limits a person's ability to perform one or more major life activities, in comparison to the average person.
  2. To determine if a limitation is disabling, do we compare students to the "average person" (adults) or to their "peer group" (other college students)? (Meaning: if the major life activity is reading, do we compare the student's reading ability to the average adult or to the average college student to determine if they are substantially limited?)

    In general, we compare students to the average college student, within their appropriate age group. Therefore, a student with a 10th grade reading level would read at a level lower then "the average college student". An older adult student would be compared to adults their age, not to 18-21 year olds.

    An impairment that limits a major life activity is disabling at the point the impairment causes limitations in comparison to those experienced by the average person. If an average person experiences similar limitations then the impairment is not disabling. For example, an average person can walk 200 feet or more without stopping to rest; or can walk without the use of, or assistance from, another person or brace, cane, crutch, prosthetic device, wheelchair or other assistance device. The average person is not restricted by lung disease to the extent that forced expiratory volume for 1 second when measured by spirometry is less than one liter or the arterial oxygen tension is less than 60 mm/hg on room air at rest. Regarding learning disabilities, a student needs to demonstrate that learning is limited in comparison to the average college age student's aptitude and achievement expectations.

  3. How do we view outcomes? If a student has a 3.5 GPA and is now presenting documentation of a learning disability, ADHD or mental health condition, do we assess how academically successful he or she has been without accommodation? Is it possible the student could be determined "disabled" but not eligible for any specific accommodations because there is no link between the disability and academic performance?

    In order to determine an individual is substantially limited in the major life activity of learning (which includes reading, thinking, attending, concentrating, etc.), there needs to be:

    • Evidence through psycho-educational assessment, or another valid method, linking the processing deficit to the requested accommodation, that learning processes are significantly impacted.
      For example, if more time on exams is requested there should be evidence of a statistically relevant deficit in reading or processing rate; or,
    • Reflection in the academic record that learning is significantly affected.
      A GPA that is substantially lower than average, or a history of academic probation, in addition to a valid diagnosis and statement that learning is impaired, may be sufficient for demonstrating a substantial limitation in learning.

      Assessment of the academic record should be both in comparison to the individual student and to their peer group. Peer groups should be considered students within the same college or major, and their class level.

      The high school academic record needs to reflect the impact of the diagnosis if a student is a freshman and does not have an established college profile yet. Or, if the student has one or two college semesters, the GPA should be significantly lower than their HS GPA.

      Impact can also be demonstrated by lack of progress. If, due to their diagnosed condition, a student is deficient in units, it may not matter what the GPA is if they are not making notable progress toward a degree.
    • Clear and convincing evidence, when the academic record is satisfactory, that the individual's qualify of life is substantially affected by the impairment, for which there is a valid diagnosis.
      For example, there is evidence a student studies substantially more than the average student, is adversely affected by his/her efforts (relationships, ability to work, etc.), or health conditions are exacerbated as a result of efforts to maintain satisfactory academic performance. Quality of life assessments or activities of daily living assessments can be used to measure how substantial the impact is.
    • For more information, please see:
  4. Must a student be "currently limited" or is the potential and/or past history of a significant limitation sufficient? (e.g. psychiatric condition controlled with therapy and meds; diabetes, etc.).
    For the purposes of protection from discrimination, a person who satisfies the second and third prong of the disability definition (a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such impairment.) is disabled. This means the individual cannot be discriminated against either because they have had a disability in the past, or if they are being treated as if they have a disability). Examples would be denying a student admission into a graduate program because the student previously had cancer and there is concern about the student's future work prospects, or denying a facially disfigured student from performing in the school band because of concern regarding appearances.

    However, for the purposes of services and accommodations, a person needs to be currently limited in a major life activity to receive services or accommodations. For example, a student with an LD diagnosis from 7th grade is not currently disabled unless there is more current documentation. An individual with a history of a mental health condition who is currently functioning well is not disabled, unless there is specific evidence to the contrary (see above).

  5. What is a "functional limitation"?
    An individualized assessment to determine if the student is limited in a major life activity, especially for impairments in which the symptoms vary greatly from person to person, is essential. A person must have limitations on abilities that are "central to daily life," not just to life in the workplace or in school; the limitations must also have a "permanent or long-term" impact. Students wanting ADA coverage because they are limited in the major life activity of performing manual tasks must be able to show that these limitations are for activities that are central to most people's lives -- performing household chores, bathing, brushing one's teeth and dressing, as well activities related to education. Documentation should be ample, considerable in importance, value, degree, amount, or extent; and demonstrate that the limitation is true or real; not imaginary.

  6. Do we look at the manner, condition or duration of the impairment on the person to determine a "functional limitation"? (Meaning: a student has a 3.5 GPA but studies 12 hours a day and lives in constant anxiety.)
    Yes. For example, a student diagnosed with ADHD may have documentation stating they are impaired with concentrating and attending; however, there needs to be some evidence that concentrating or attending is functionally impaired. Evidence could be psycho-metric data or reflected in the academic record (after ruling out other factors such as poor study habits, not attending class, alcohol or drug use, etc.) Also, as stated in #3, there should be either reasonable evidence of impaired manner, condition, or duration, or a poor academic record that could be attributed to the diagnosis.

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Location: Bldg 124 (Student Services, across from Spanos Stadium)
Phone: 805-756-1395
Fax: 805-756-5451
Email: drc@calpoly.edu

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