Learn How to Navigate Learning Disabilities in Law School
If you have a learning disability or attention disorder, adjusting to the academic demands of law school may be intimidating. Whether you are applying to law school now or are preparing for your 1L year, it is important to know your rights.
The two big laws to be aware of are Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects students who attend schools that receive federal financial assistance from being discriminated on the basis of “specific learning disabilities.” Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 allows for reasonable accommodations to be granted to people with disabilities.
Students who have been diagnosed with a specific learning disability, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or executive functioning disability may be eligible to receive accommodations. The purpose of such accommodations is not to give students with learning disabilities an advantage over their peers but rather to put them on a level playing field.
For prospective law students who have learning disabilites, here are four questions you need to ask before requesting accommodations.
1. What accommodations are available? Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, extended time on exams or written assignments, use of a computer or private room during examinations, reduced course load and a designated note taker or option to record lectures.
Accommodations are granted depending on your particular diagnosis, documented history and need. Requests can be denied if an applicant does not meet the standards the law school has deemed sufficient to warrant an accommodation.
Law schools are not required to make adjustments to the curriculum or degree requirements. Nor must schools provide accommodations that would pose an undue financial or administrative burden.
2. How do I request accommodations? First, determine what office provides disability services at your law school. Some programs, like Cornell University’s Law School, have a Student Disability Services center that facilities accommodations for all students on campus, not just those in the law program.
In contrast, a Committee on Disability Accommodations manages individual accommodation requests at Loyola Marymount University’s Loyola Law School Los Angeles.
Next, contact the school’s disability service coordinator to introduce yourself and inquire about processes for requesting accommodations.
Most programs will require applicants to formalize their accommodation requests in writing, provide a medical diagnosis to substantiate the need for the requested accommodation and submit documentation of any previous accommodations received. Applicants may also need to meet with a member of the disabilities services office or the university psychologist as part of the evaluation process.
Keep in mind that 1L performance can impact postgraduate employment, so if you have a diagnosed disability, it is prudent to explore accommodation options before you begin your courses. Do not wait for pending exams to request an accommodation, since the process for approval typically takes several weeks once you have submitted the appropriate documentation.
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