There are significant barriers asking and negotiating disability supports and accommodation at a college/higher education level. There is also a lack of awareness and education of the rules and expectations on both the learner and the educator.

A recent question seemed to describe a disruptive student who did not want to accept supports due to parental disapproval. There was some confusion whether FERPA rules covered disability notification and whether parents are routinely contacted when disability accommodations are requested.

There might also be barriers if students require new assessment documentations as their childhood assessments may not be recent enough. Access to healthcare may mean that parents are notified by health providers. Students may also need to request accommodations when they are not fully aware of their limitations and available supports.

I guess I am keen to clarify the rules around FERPA and parental notification: to what degree is notification required?

  • You have stated it as a "shopping question" I'm afraid. I suspect that there is such research, but this is not the venue to search or it.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 12:40
  • I am happy to spend time and answer the question if there is no interest and people with the expertise that can help out
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 12:42
  • I am not sure how to make the question less of a shopping question
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 12:42
  • 1
    I have attempted to improve the questions by editing to focus on the parental notification question, which is specific and answerable.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 13:47
  • This is an easy question to ask FERPA...
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 14:48

1 Answer 1


Students who are over 18 or attending college (often times 17 year olds) have control of their educational records under FERPA. The individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is consistent with FERPA so that the student controls access to this information too.

Students can waive their FERPA rights and often do so. Since parents are typically paying some or all of the cost of college, they can effectively force the student to waive their FERPA rights. Many parents do this so that they can monitor their child's grades.

Another issue is that in order to get disability accomodations a student will normally need a medical diagnosis. Students who have reached the age of majority (18 in most states) can see a provider and get a diagnosis without parental consent or notification. By default, this is confidential under the HIPAA (the federal law on privacy of medical records.)

However, there's also the issue of how the student could pay for this medical diagnosis. Since there's a potential conflict of interest for the college to provide the diagnosis (because of the costs of accommodation they might want to avoid diagnosing a disability) or just because it costs money, colleges often won't provide this service to students through their clinics. The student would have to see an outside provider. The parents' insurance might pay for this, but then the parents would know that the child was getting medical care (but not the specific medical information which still is protected under HIPAA.)

  • 2
    Thank you so much Brian. This is exactly the complex dynamic that educators may not appreciate. Parents can refuse to pay for college if they do not have access to grades and also able to discourage and block their children's access to disability support. Parents would usually get broad descriptors for medical diagnosis which is also another barrier. The lack of privacy means it is hard for students to access disability support.
    – Poidah
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 15:00
  • 3
    I'm a bit skeptical about the last paragraph - I would think university clinics operate independently of the rest of the university and are bound by medical ethics rather than a fiduciary duty to the university. Can you reference the concept that university clinics can't provide a diagnosis appropriate to determining accommodation?
    – Bryan Krause
    Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 16:50
  • 3
    My institution refuses to offer diagnosis of learning (or other) disabilities to students. Clearly the University of Wisconsin is willing to do this. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:02
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    I have to say that in my own experience as an advisor, rather than parents being opposed to the student getting accommodations, it's more often the case that the student doesn't want the stigma associated with "disability" while the parent is pushing for the student to get accommodations. It's not uncommon for students to tell me that they were being treated for and getting accommodations for a learning disability in high school but that they don't want to continue this in college. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:12
  • 3
    Also, as an instructor and advisor, I'm in no position to tell a student that they have a learning disability or that they should seek accommodations. Commented Aug 31, 2019 at 17:13

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