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Academic Accommodations for Mental Health Problems: Know Your Rights
Academic Accommodations for Mental Health Problems: Know Your Rights

This post about academic accommodations was first published in May 26, 2010. Today, March 2016 we have updated the content and the links to help parents and young adults with mental health issues or other special needs to know their right to academic accommodations while pursuing courses in community colleges, university, and any other post-secondary education.

Parents of 5 year old children going off to primary school, think it is difficult to see their little one leave the nest. Seeing an older teen with mental health problems going off to university can make parents sick with worry. For all of you who are about to face the same situation, read on to find out the kind of academic accommodations university students with mental illnesses are entitled to as are students with many other disabilities or challenging needs.

Academic accommodations for student with special needs are your right,
universities are not doing you a favor.
Once advised of an individual’s disability, the school/university must put in place an arrangement to support a student with a disability. They must make reasonable modifications in their rules and policies to accommodate the special needs of the student. You will be evaluated using the same standards as everyone else. Your courses won’t be watered down. The changes are to level the playing field and keep you afloat every day while dealing with what life has dealt you. Some arrangements will only be used during the rough patches. It is like insurance.

When you first start searching for an establishment of higher learning, also include searching for their program of support offered to a person with mental health issues. Even if you are feeling well at the time, put all in place for the duration of your courses. In the middle of a semester, in the middle of a crises, is not the time to arrange academic accommodations.

Look for their disability services center and speak with the disability services coordinator or its equivalent like an academic advisor, counselling center, health center. Do not stop until you are satisfied that support will be easily accessible when needed.

Put Everything in Writing and Keep RecordsTo establish the academic accommodations you will need, you will have to put everything in writing

To establish the academic accommodations you will need, you will have to put everything in writing and so should they. Moreover, you will have to provide a medical professional’s documentation about your disability, including the nature of the disability and how it affects your ability to participate in and benefit from the academic program. Also listed should be your current medication and how that medication might affect your academic performance. All this takes time, start the year before you go to university. In some universities their disability service centers may be closed during the summer months. 

Professors and universities are usually very amenable and experienced in accommodating students with disabilities. As part of the American Disabilities Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act, they have an obligation to fulfill reasonable accommodations requests.

Examples of Academic Accommodations for Various Learning Disabilities

The goal of academic accommodations is to give the student with a disability equal access to the learning environment. Individualized accommodations are not designed to give the student an advantage over other students, to alter a fundamental aspect of the course, nor to weaken academic rigor.

A specific learning disability is unique to the individual and can be manifested in a variety of ways. Therefore, accommodations for a specific student must be tailored to the individual. Accommodations may be for the classrooms, the assignments, and the examinations.

The following are a few examples of academic accommodations students with special needs have a right to have:

  • Provide written notes of lectures.
  • Allow students to audio record lectures.
  • Allow additional time to complete tests, exams and assignments.
  • Provide a private room or location in which to take exams and tests.
  • Exam broken into segments with rest breaks
  • Provide preferential classroom seating.
  • Provide retroactive withdrawals from courses if academic difficulties were due to depression or another mental health condition.
  • The goal of academic accommodations is to give the student with a disability equal access to the learning environment.Allow the student to work from home.
  • Academic coach or tutor.
  • Provide assistance with proofreading written work.
  • Give the option of an oral exam.
  • Allow to use spelling and grammar assistive devices for essay exams.
  • Allow to use a calculator for exams.

In the booklet titled Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights! we learn:
“Your school officials should provide an environment conducive to your mental health. This includes working to reduce stigma and discrimination; training staff to better recognize warning signs and assist students with mental illnesses; reducing barriers to mental health services; adequately staffing the mental health or counseling center; and maintaining active relationships with providers in the community who offer care to students. The school should appoint an individual and implement a coordinating group with the responsibility and authority to work toward these goals.”

Parents whose children with special needs have made it to university cannot hang up their apron just yet as there are still many obstacles to overcome. However, if all these years you have shown your growing child to self-regulate and self-advocate, you can stand tall the day he/she graduates. If they don’t make it to the finish line? Participating in the race also has invaluable benefits for the rest of their lives.

Need Help Right NOW Call to speak to a counsellor:

Ready to talk? Phone 1-800-668-6868

If you are not ready to talk, Ask Them Online might be the place for you.

More information about Academic Accommodations for Mental Problems ~ Know Your Rights

READ about College Life and the changes you may encounter when you begin post-secondary education on the web site.

What do you think is the most difficult adaptation a student has to face when he leaves for university? Leave us a comment.


  • Lee Carty Posted May 27, 2010 11:43 am

    The Bazelon Center has just changed its website, so the link you have should be changed to

    Thanks for the good coverage.

  • Pierrette and Lorna dEntremont Posted May 27, 2010 1:12 pm

    Thanks to Lee Carty who told us The Bazelon Center had just changed its website and she gave us the new one which we now have posted. Lorna

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