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Pima County Community College District Standard Practice Guide

SPG Title: Disability Documentation Requirements: Establishment of Eligibility for Services under ADA/Section 504
SPG Number:  SPG-1501/AF
Effective Date:  3/9/04
Approval Date: 3/9/04
Review Date(s):               
Revision Date(s):      
Sponsoring Unit/Department: Provost/Executive VC for Academic and Student Services
Regulation Title & No.: Standards for ADA/504 Compliance, RG-1501/A
Board Policy Title & No.: Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity, BP-1501
Legal Reference:  American with Disabilities Act of 1990; Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as Amended
Cross Reference: Resolution Directing Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance; Competitive Employment, BP-4201 and RG-4201/A; Disabled Student Resources, BP-3603 and RG-3603/A

I.       Purpose

The purpose of these guidelines is to assist DSR Specialist in determining which students meet the standard for "otherwise qualified students with a disability" and what accommodations might be appropriate.  The evaluation process should include documentation that allows the College to determine that:

A)      The student meets the legal definitions for "otherwise qualified students with a disability."

B)      There is a specific rationale for providing a particular accommodation or academic adjustment.

II.        Factors in Assessment

The determination of whether a student qualifies for accommodation and the nature of the accommodation must be made on a case-by-case basis.  Students will be evaluated on their current condition at the time they request an accommodation.  The DSR Specialist will assess the effect of any mitigating measures used by the student to ameliorate the impact of the disability (i.e. prosthetics, medication, aides, etc.) and any side-effects of those mitigating measures to determine whether the individual qualifies as disabled.

A.     Elements

In general, the following elements are required in disability documentation, particularly for documentation from private (non-school) diagnosticians:

1.      Specific Diagnosis:  A clear and definitive statement of diagnosis of a disabling condition - corresponding to the regulatory definitions of the ADA/Section 504 - must be included within the documentation.  If secondary or co-morbid conditions exist, they should be reported in the same or secondary documentation in order to assist with evaluation (and such conditions must be stated, in the same definitive manner, in order to be accommodated).

2.    Rule-Out:  A diligent and overt "rule-out" of alternative diagnoses, conditions, and explanations for specific difficulties or limitations determined to be part or all of a disability in logical and necessary situations and conditions.  As a basis for diagnosis, a complete evaluation should clearly separate clinically significant impairment from developmental patterns of some non-disabled adolescents and young adults (which may include procrastination, learning difficulty, distractibility, low motivation, disorganization, boredom, academic underachievement, lack of organizational skills and discipline, etc.).

3.      Background:  A representation of background information, clinical history, and clinical interview data for logical and necessary situations and conditions must be provided.

4.      Evaluator Information:  The name, credentials and/or professional training of the diagnostic or medical professional, and the location and contact information of the practice must be provided.

5.    Signed Letterhead:  Documentation must be signed by the professional evaluator, dated, and provided on professional letterhead or report.  Material provided on prescription pad paper, scratch paper, or similar items is not qualifying, nor is material that is handwritten and illegible or incomplete.

6.      Diagnostic Procedures:  The procedures, protocols, and tests utilized to diagnose the disability, as well as the specific rationale and standards utilized for determining the presence of a disability.

7.      Scores: Test scores that led to the diagnosis in combination with narratives reflecting clinical judgment and interpretation for those circumstances and conditions under which tests with derived scores are utilized. Documentation based on scores and clinical data which are unreported may not be accepted by DSR Specialists.

8.      Documentation Updates:  Some conditions that are changeable or chronic, or which may or may not constitute a qualifying disability depending upon status or management through medication or other mitigating measures, may warrant renewed documentation or periodic updates capable of reflecting current level of functioning for the present academic term.  Such material may be required by DSR Specialists at their discretion.

9.      Feature Descriptions:  A description of the nature and extent of any behavioral, cognitive, medical, or other features that accompany the diagnosed condition and which may relate to the substantial limitation(s) and requested accommodations.

10.      Medication and Effects:  A description of any medication prescribed for the specific condition(s) to be accommodated, including side effects and resulting behaviors attributed to the medication at the present time or in the past clinical history.

11.      Accommodations:  Suggestions for accommodations in the postsecondary environment that may reasonably be expected to mediate the impact of the specific components of the disability that constitute a substantial limitation should be stated specifically and in detail.  Such indications shall be suggestions subject to review and authorization by DSR Specialists.  Only service accommodations that do not constitute "fundamental alteration" or "undue burden" in each specific context will be qualified.

12.   Major Life Activity and Functional Limitation:  Clear statements elucidating the degree of functional limitation to one or more major life activities, arising as a result of the disability or disabilities, and/or medication status for which a student requests accommodations or special considerations, should be provided.  However, at a minimum, adequate sets of diagnostic data; clinical observations; test scores; written interpretation of results (directly supported by clinical data); and descriptions of function - of such quality that logical conclusions for standard service accommodations may reasonably be drawn by DSR Specialists - is positively required.

B.      Professional Analysis and Discretion: DSR Specialists

1.      Exceptions

Individual exceptions in the acceptance of documentation that does not precisely conform to elements outlined in these guidelines may be made by the DSR Specialists with approval by the DSR 504 Coordinator and oversight by the AVC for Student Services.  Such cases shall generally be made only if there are other aspects of the primary documentation, or other secondary forms of documentation and clinical history, that clearly evidence qualification under ADA/504 and the present need for service accommodation.

2.      Obtaining Additional Diagnostic Data for Qualification

DSR Specialists may require additional diagnostic information at the student's expense if the documentation is deemed to be insufficient, or if the student requests accommodations not clearly supported by the documentation available.

3.      Contact with Healthcare Providers or Diagnosticians for Clarification

DSR Specialists may, at their discretion, obtain additional information from healthcare providers or diagnosticians to clarify a students' condition and/or need for accommodation. The additional information and rationale shall be recorded onto an addendum, attributed to the specific professional evaluator, dated, and attached to the disability documentation by the DSR Specialist.

4.      Interim Services

Pending the receipt of appropriate documentation and/or a determination of eligibility, the DSR Specialist may authorize an interim accommodation for up to 15 days.  If necessary (i.e. results of current diagnostics remain pending), the DSR Specialist may extend an interim accommodation with the approval of the DSR 504 Coordinator (see Section VI of SPG 1501/AD).

C.      Consistency of Analysis and Acceptance of Documentation by DSR Specialists

Through review at regularly scheduled DSR staff meetings and contact with and oversight by the DSR 504 Coordinator, the DSR Specialists shall maintain consistent approaches to analysis, acceptance, and rejection of disability documentation pursuant to these guidelines.  The DSR 504 Coordinator may modify specific procedures and standards for documentation review, based on institutional need or changes in case law, via memorandum.


Phrasing such as "appears," "suggests," "may be consistent with," "has weaknesses in," "has problems with," or similar wording in the diagnostic summary or statement, if not accompanied by other unqualified and definitive phrasing that directly states a primary diagnosis, do not support that a conclusive clinical diagnosis has been made.  Documentation containing such qualifications shall not be acceptable to establish a disabling condition satisfying the regulatory definition qualifying an individual for services.


A.      Differences Between Scholastic Settings

There are a variety of factors that influence the composition and extent of diagnostic documentation, particularly for students with Specific Learning Disabilities diagnosed through Special Education services provided by school systems. 

The availability of Special Education and Child Study Teams; the use of Individualized Education Plans; variations in funding, equipment, and technology; other distributed mechanisms for serving the needs of individuals under IDEA and 504; or varying diagnostic practices may result in limitations to the amount of information contained in primary psycho-educational or other documentation.

It is important to recognize that higher education constitutes a special environment: one that is legally, logistically, and educationally different from that experienced by children in public schools at the K-12 levels.  This impacts the quality and type of documentation necessary for qualification for services in higher education and may mean that documentation provided from a school system is not sufficient to satisfy College requirements.

B.      Specific Recommendations for Transition

It is highly recommended that DSR Specialists working with College students or prospective College students review the following with the student and appropriate school district officials when assisting the student for transition to higher education:

1.    Update Documentation:  Complete updated diagnostics for students that represent their current level of functioning well into a mature stage of late adolescent development, typically at 16 years of age or later.  If diagnostics can be completed when the individual is 17 or older, there is a greater likelihood that they will qualify for services at universities after transferring from Pima Community College. This is due to the fact that many universities WILL NOT accept documentation that is older than 3 years.  Many students with disabilities do not complete PCC programs in under 3 years, and most cannot afford to obtain independent diagnostic services after graduation from local school districts as time passes.  This underscores the importance for school districts to provide the most specific and updated information possible.

2.      Transition Plan or Clinical Addenda:  Provide addenda, developed by qualified professional personnel, to psycho-educational or other forms of documentation that specifically addresses how outcomes determined in the public school's diagnostic processes and clinical observations may suggest the need for specific accommodation services, academic adjustments, course-work, or course substitution needs at the college level (note that there is no foreign language requirement at PCC).  Specific rationale for any recommendations should be provided.  The Transition Plan, if forwarded to PCC, may contain this information, and establish that the student is a qualified individual with a disability needing accommodation in the postsecondary setting.

3.      Prepare:  Assist students in understanding their disabilities and the concomitant patterns of strengths and weaknesses in their profiles so that they may proactively request appropriate and reasonable accommodations.  Assist them in becoming aware of what accommodation services will be like at the postsecondary level and how to obtain them following procedures.  Encourage students to come to a PCC site early to have documentation evaluated and to attend orientation and advisement sessions.

4.      Limitations of IEP Documents:  Note that IEP documents, which outline specific Special Education instructional goals and objectives under a model that is dissimilar from services at colleges, are of little value in analyzing accommodation needs at the postsecondary level.  They are NOT acceptable, in isolation, for establishing that an individual has a disability under regulatory definition, nor do they constitute evidence that an individual meets the thresholds indicating they qualify for accommodation services under ADA/Section 504.  These documents may only be provided as potentially useful supplements to formal diagnostic documentation.


A.      Specific Learning Disability

1.      Critical Components of Evaluation and Documentation

In addition to the elements outlined in Section II, students requesting documentation for Specific Learning Disabilities must submit diagnostic documentation reflecting:

a.      Aptitude:  A complete assessment of intellectual functioning/aptitude as measured by an appropriate instrument is required.  Appropriate instruments include: Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised (WAIS-R); Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitude-Adult (DTLA-A);  Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition; Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-educational Better-Revised: Tests of Cognitive Ability; and the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test.  All derived scores should be reported and interpreted. If possible, intra-cognitive discrepancies and their significance should be reported.

b.      Academic Achievement:  A complete assessment of a full range of academic achievement must be administered.  It must cover basic skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and, if possible, oral language. Appropriate comprehensive batteries include: Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-educational Battery- Revised: Tests of Achievement; Wechsler Individual Achievement Tests (WIAT); Stanford Test of Academic Skills (TASK); and the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults (SATA).  Appropriate tests for exploring specific skills areas include: Tests of Written Language-3 (TOWL-3), Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests-Revised, Stanford Diagnostic Mathematics Test, or Informal Reading Inventories such as the Analytical Reading Inventory (ARI) or the Qualitative Reading Inventory (QRI).  Specific tests may not be acceptable unless they complement comprehensive batteries, or unless the full range of core basic skill competencies have been measured individually.

c.      Information Processing:  An assessment and discussion of specific areas of information processing, such as short-and long-term memory, sequential memory, sequential and simultaneous processing, auditory and visual perception/processing, processing speed, executive functioning, motor ability, spatial processing, etc. should be provided in relation to a diagnosis.

d.    Test Behavior/Clinical Observation:  Any clinically important behavior on individual tests or subtests, and clinical observations from instruction, portfolios, or in the performance of tasks must be reported.

e.      Specific Conclusions:  Indications of how patterns in the student's cognitive ability, achievement, and information processing capacities positively indicate the presence of a learning disability must be explicitly delineated.

f.      Integrated Summary:  An integrated summary should be included that delineates the substantial limitations to major life activities posed by the learning disability; the extent to which these limitations impact the academic context for which accommodations are being requested; suggestions as to how the learning disability may be accommodated; and how the effects of the learning disability are mediated by the suggested accommodations. 

At a minimum, the data and discussion must be substantial enough lead to logical conclusions that can be derived by DSR Specialists for determination of qualification for specific service accommodations.

2.      Qualified Evaluators

Documentation must be developed by a professional who has undergone comprehensive training and has relevant experience in the assessment of information processing deficits in adolescents and/or adults (e.g., clinical or educational psychologists, school psychologists, neuropsychologists, and learning disabilities specialists specifically trained in psycho-metrics).  Use of diagnostic terminology indicating the presence of SLD by someone whose training and experience are not in these fields is not acceptable.

3.    Age of Documentation and Developmental Stage at Diagnosis

a.      Documentation supplied to indicate the presence of a learning disability currently requiring reasonable accommodation must, in most cases, have been completed by the age of 16 to ensure diagnosis at a reasonably stable stage in lifespan development.  In addition, the documentation itself should generally have been produced within a period of six years prior to request for accommodations for present limitations to major life activity.

b.      Exceptions may be made by the DSR Specialists, with approval by the DSR 504 Coordinator and oversight by the AVC for Student Services, if patterns of processing deficit are elucidated in detail and are solid enough to clearly establish the life-long nature of the learning disability, and clearly convey evidence that indicates a need for service accommodations that are typically provided in higher education.  Such documentation may not sufficiently demonstrate the need or qualification for certain requested accommodations.

c.      Documentation that has been produced prior to the age of 16, or which is greater than six years in age, may be rejected at the DSR Specialist's discretion as insufficient in establishing the presence of substantial limitation to major life activity in current functioning for the individual.  Documentation which corresponds to BOTH of these deficient conditions shall generally be rejected as insufficient to establish a present and definitive qualification and need for accommodation services.

4.    Other Diagnostic Considerations for Accuracy

Establishment of information processing deficits as a result of variable processing capabilities (intra-cognitive discrepancy) is considered superior to simplistic aptitude-achievement discrepancy analysis (with less potential for confounding by deprivation, motivation, or cultural, linguistic, and socio-economic factors).  Where aptitude-discrepancy analysis is utilized as a primary diagnostic tool, it is recommended that co-normed instruments, such as the Woodcock Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery-Revised: Tests of Aptitude and Achievement, be utilized.  Alternatively, it is highly recommended that statistical regression effects be compensated for with appropriate statistical remedies to account for differences in norm samples and reduce the impact of artificially compressed or expanded discrepancies.

B.      Attention Deficit

1.      Critical Components of Evaluation and Documentation

In addition to the elements outlined in part II, students requesting accommodations for attention deficit disorders must provide documentation reflecting:

a.      Current Impairment:  Documentation should be sufficient to establish current impairment to major life activity.  Such evidence generally should indicate that the presence of organic attention difficulties manifest in more than one setting (i.e. beyond just the academic setting) as a "rule-out."  Documentation updates to indicate present levels of functioning relative to major life activity may be required to establish ongoing qualification and eligibility for services. 

A confirmation for the continued presence of the condition shall be required in attention disorders diagnosed prior to the age of 16 if no subsequent documentation exists.  A physician's confirmation with rationale and indication of the need for accommodation to mediate limitation shall be the minimum requirement to establish qualification.  Suggestions on how the condition may be accommodated in the higher education setting are highly important and should be provided by the evaluator.

b.      Medications / Mitigating Measures:  Any medications, side effects (particularly those that may impact learning performance), or other mitigating measures which may impact the determination of service accommodations must be described in detail.  Any accommodations suggested by evaluators or requested by students that relate to medication must be accompanied by an expressed rationale.

2.      Diagnostic Procedures/Standards

For attention disorders, the basis for determining the presence of the disability must be elucidated.  If the DSM-IV or later version is utilized, all five axes should be reported with the diagnosis.  If other diagnostic models or procedures are utilized, these must be reported, along with appropriate "rule-outs" of other conditions.  Any instruments or clinical observations used as diagnostic tools must be reported.

3.      Qualified Evaluators

Documentation for attention disorders must be developed by a professional who has undergone comprehensive training, especially in late adolescent and adult stages if students are diagnosed in those stages.  Evaluators must have relevant experience in differential diagnosis and the full range of psychiatric disorders (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychologists and relevantly trained medical doctors).   Use of diagnostic terminology indicating the presence of attention disorders by someone whose training and experience are not in these fields is not acceptable, except when a physician with knowledge of the individual is appropriately confirming the continuance of a condition that was properly diagnosed prior to the age of 16.

C.      Psychological Disabilities

1.      Critical Components of Documentation and Evaluation

In addition to the elements outlined in part II, students requesting accommodations for psychological disabilities must provide documentation reflecting:

a.      Current Impairment:  For most conditions (determined by DSR Specialists), documentation older than one year old will require a letter of update from a qualified professional confirming the diagnosis and providing a description of the individual's current level of functioning, and a rationale for accommodations requested. 

b.      Specific Diagnosis and Symptomology:  A specific and current psychiatric diagnosis as per the DSM-IV or later edition, with relevant axes described (especially I and II) with presenting symptoms and their nature, frequency, and severity are necessary.  A simple statement of condition is insufficient to establish that the condition is one that constitutes a substantial limitation for a given individual.  A history of Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED), or similar broad categories utilized in Special Education at the school-age level, is insufficient to establish the qualification for ADA/504 services in postsecondary education - a specific diagnosis is required.

c.      Medications / Mitigating Measures:  Any medications, side effects (particularly those that may impact learning performance), or other mitigating measures which may impact the determination of service accommodations must be described in detail.  Any accommodations suggested by evaluators or requested by students that relate to medication must be accompanied by an expressed rationale.

2.      Qualified Evaluators

Evaluators for psychological disabilities must have undergone comprehensive training and have relevant experience in differential diagnosis in the full range of psychiatric disorders (e.g., licensed clinical psychologies, psychiatrists, neurologists, marriage and family therapists, licensed clinical social workers, and other relevantly trained doctors).  Use of diagnostic terminology indicating the presence of psychological disorders by someone whose training and experience are not in these fields is not acceptable.

D.      Blindness Or Low Vision

Students requesting accommodations for blindness or low vision must submit:

1.    An ocular assessment or evaluation from an ophthalmologist or other qualified physician.

2.    A low-vision evaluation of residual visual function, when appropriate.

3.      Elements outlined in part II as appropriate.

E.      Deafness Or Hearing Loss

Students requesting accommodations for deafness or hearing loss must submit:

1.    An audiological evaluation and/or audiogram

2.    An interpretation of the functional implications of the diagnostic data and hearing aid evaluation, when  appropriate.

3.      Elements outlined in part II as appropriate.

F.      Mobility, Physical, Systemic, Or Disease-Related Disabilities

In addition to appropriate elements outlined in part II, students requesting accommodations for a variety of physical and systemic conditions must submit documentation corresponding to the following: 

1.    An assessment of the functionally limiting manifestations of the condition(s) for which accommodations are being requested.

2.    Degree and range of functioning for a chronic or progressive condition.

3.      Prescribed medications, dosages and schedules which may influence the types of accommodations provided, including any possible side effects.

4.      Suggestions as to how the functionally limiting manifestations of the disabling condition(s) may be accommodated.

Exceptions to required documentation in sections 'D' through 'F' may be made in circumstances in which the disability is obvious, in which professional observation may effectively substitute, and the student is genuinely unable to obtain necessary documentation.  However, authorization of service accommodations may be affected by the lack of documentation information.

G.      Changes in Condition

If a condition is variable, chronic, or progressive, documentation updates may be required for each academic term or other determined period.  Documentation must originate from qualified evaluators who are licensed and properly trained for the condition involved (i.e. certified and/or licensed) professionals (e.g., medical doctors, neuropsychologists, or appropriately trained rehabilitation specialists).


If documentation is provided that offers contradictory information relative to functioning, substantial limitation, or service accommodations, DSR Specialists shall defer to that documentation which is more fully based on specific diagnostic tests and scores, which is more clearly elucidated and based on evidence, or which yields diagnostic conclusions most clearly congruent with data available.  Documentation that less well corresponds to these guidelines or to best practice standards for diagnostics for the particular field may be considered secondary, or may be rejected altogether as insufficient and non-qualifying.


In general, the College does not accept suggestions for accommodations from third party rehabilitation specialists, service providers, disability support personnel, counselors, and other personnel who have not performed comprehensive evaluations and have not been responsible for determining the primary diagnosis.  This is the case even if such suggestions are made in writing on letterhead with accompanying rationale.

For cases in which such third party materials are received, primary consideration will be given to original diagnostic documentation that established qualification for service accommodations under ADA/504.  DSR Specialists may accept third party suggestions for service accommodations at their discretion, particularly when they are congruent with primary documentation.