Glossary And Terms

Below are some basic terms and definitions that students and parents will actually encounter when dealing with a college and their disability services.  These are among the most common concepts I’ve encountered over nearly 15 years when helping students in U.S colleges.

If you have any questions about these please feel free to ask.  Jeff

504 Plan

  • An accommodation plan developed to help a student overcome the impact of a disability on their studies during high school. 504 plans are not used in the college setting, and are not considered documentation of a disability by many colleges because they are plans, not an assessment by a professional that leads to a diagnosis and recommendations.


  • A general term for the “adjustments” that a college will make to offset the impact of a student’s disability on their academic studies and overall life functioning.

Advanced Notice Of Assignments

  • A type of accommodation in which the student receives the assignment instructions or prompt in advance so they have enough time to complete it. Useful for students who tend to take longer to complete assignments, papers, or projects due to their medical condition.

Accommodation Letter

  • A letter issued by some schools that notifies a Professor that the student is eligible for the specific accommodations that are approved by the Disability Office. Typically multiple letters are issued for each of the student’s Professors and must be hand delivered by the student. Despite being approved for accommodations, the student cannot use them for a class until the student delivers the letter to the Professor. Some Disability Offices use an electronic format of these letters and will email the student’s Professors directly.

Access To Professor Lecture Notes

  • A type of accommodation in which the student is given a copy of the Professor’s lecture notes to ensure their notes are complete for a course. Useful for when a student has difficulty keeping up with taking notes in a particular class.

Assistive Technology

  • A general term for electronic devices that aid the student in some way. This can include recording devices that can be used to record lectures, specialized note taking devices, laptop or tablet computers, and many others.

Appropriate Documentation

  • A policy term specifying that documentation of a student’s disability must be provided in accordance with professional standards applying to their condition. For example, if the condition is an intellectual disability, an evaluation from a Neuropsychologist that performed intelligence testing or other assessments would be seen as appropriate documentation for the diagnosis given. Similarly, for some disorders a Psychiatrist would be the applicable professional to conduct an evaluation.

Disability Office

  • A general term for the campus office that coordinates services for students with disabilities. At larger colleges there may be a dedicated department that handles disability requests and other services provided to students. At smaller colleges, there may be only one or two disability counselors, and at even smaller ones disability requests may be handled by a single person, such as a Dean or other designated individual.

Documentation Of A Disability

  • The actual report by a Physician, Psychologist, Psychiatrist, or other professional that shows their evaluation of the student and diagnosis issued based on that evaluation. Most colleges will require at least a diagnosis to issue accommodations, and some will require statements about the functional impact of the disability on the student as well as recommendations for accommodations. All documentation is subject to the school’s policy on the recency and appropriateness of the documentation, as well as any other guidelines they establish.

Documentation Guidelines

  • The requirements established by a college for the documentation of a disability that must be met in order for a student to receive accommodations. These guidelines can be simple or very extensive, and can differ by student medical condition. Documentation requirements can typically be found at the school’s website, or they can be requested from their Disability Office.

Documentation Review

  • The process of a college’s Disability Office examining the documentation submitted with a request for accommodations by a student. Colleges require that this documentation be sent for review a number of weeks prior to the date the student wishes to use the accommodations. The result of the review is that the student will be either approved for the requested accommodations, partially approved, or denied in full. Students can appeal the denial of an accommodation request, however, they may need to attend classes without accommodations until the reasons for denial or resolved.

Extended Testing Time

  • A very common accommodation issued by colleges in which the student is allowed extra time to complete exams.

Extended Project Deadlines

  • An accommodation in which students are given extra time to finish projects, papers, or similar tasks.

Functional Impact Of The Disability

  • The impact of a disability on a student in terms of how it limits their life functioning, including their academic studies.


  • A specific statement contained within a report by a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Physician or other professional stating specifically how a disability affects a student’s life and academic studies.


  • An Individualized Education Plan developed to help a student overcome the impact of a disability on their studies during high school. IEPs are not used in the college setting, and are not considered documentation of a disability by some colleges because they are plans, rather than an assessment by a professional that leads to a diagnosis and recommendations.

Interim Accommodations

  • The temporary issuance of accommodations by a college for a student. This is usually the result of a student request for accommodations being denied by the college, and while the student is correcting the documentation deficiencies they temporarily issue accommodations as a courtesy. Colleges are not required to issue interim accommodations, and many will not do so.

Medical Withdraw

  • A request by a student to withdraw from their courses due to a medical condition. This is commonly used when the established last day to withdraw date has passed and the college requires a substantial reason to allow a student to withdraw.


  • A complete withdrawal from enrollment at a college due to medical reasons. Some colleges will require students to show a physician certification of health before re-admitting them if they have medically withdrawn from the college.

Medical Leave Of Absence

  • A time period away from active classroom attendance due to medical reasons. This usually occurs per semester, quarter, or other attendance timeframe that a school uses. Some colleges will require a student to have a physician certification of health before attending courses again if they have taken a medical leave of absence.

Neuropsychological Evaluation

  • An evaluation by a Psychologist that specializes in neuropsychology. These evaluations are very lengthy and detailed, and can assess intellectual, cognitive, and organic aspects of mental processes. Areas covered can include working memory, reasoning, intelligence, and many others.

Note Taker

  • An accommodation in which a student is provided with the notes of a peer in a specific class.

Oral Test Presentation

  • An alternative testing method in which a student is verbally asked the test questions rather than having to answer them in written form.

Psychological Evaluation

  • A general term for an assessment performed by a Psychologist, which is usually clinical in nature.

Psychoeducational Evaluation

  • An evaluation performed by a Educational Psychologist that is focused on intelligence, academic aptitude, or other areas.

Preferential Course Registration

  • An accommodation in which a student is given first choice of courses or early registration for a particular term.

Preferential Dormitory Assignment

  • An accommodation in which a student is given first choice dormitory rooms for a particular term.

Preferential Classroom Seating

  • An accommodation in which a student is given first choice of where they wish to sit in a classroom for a particular term.

Professor Notification

  • The mandatory notification of a Professor by a student that they have been issued accommodations by the Disability Office. See also “Accommodation Letter”


  • A section in the assessment submitted by a student as documentation that demonstrates the medical need for accommodations. Some colleges require that the recommendations section of the assessment specifically recommend the accommodations requested or they will not authorize them as medically necessary.

Reduced Course Load

  • A kind of accommodation in which a student is permitted to keep full-time status yet take fewer courses than what full-time status requires.

Retroactive Medical Withdrawal

  • A request by the student, after the semester ends, to withdrawal from courses for that term. This process works in the same way as a regular withdrawal from courses, and converts all earned grades in to a “W” which also negates the impact of those grades on their cumulative GPA. The process of a Retroactive Medical Withdrawal is not universal across U.S. colleges, and some schools will not accept such a request. See also “Medical Withdrawal”

Recent Documentation

  • A common requirement that the documentation submitted to justify an accommodation request is dated within the last two to three years of making the request. This usually means that documentation from grade or middle school will not be considered recent, and that the student must submit more recent documentation in order to be approved for accommodations.

Student Self-Advocacy

  • The concept held by colleges that, while the school makes resources and accommodations available to students, they must self-advocate and use them on their own. For example, if a student is approved for extra time to take exams as an accommodation, they may need to arrange for a room outside of the classroom in order to use this accommodation. The school will not arrange this for them, the student must do it for themselves.
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