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Accommodating Students With Disabilities in the Title IX Process

Janet Elie Faulkner
October 2020
Factors for higher ed institutions to consider when evaluating requests

Disability accommodations are intended to eliminate or minimize barriers to services. In the context of Title IX, your college or university must consider requests for disability accommodations to help students report sexual violence and misconduct or respond to claims made against them, participate in the investigation and adjudication process, and determine which interim or supportive measures to implement.

This can be tricky, since your institution has a duty to provide a fair process that gives both parties the same procedural opportunities. The following steps and considerations can assist your institution when a party requests an accommodation during the Title IX process. Note that while these considerations can help with evaluating accommodation requests, they do not address whether a student’s alleged disability is a substantive factor in the sexual misconduct claim.

Address Accommodations in Title IX Procedures

To incorporate reasonable accommodation into your Title IX procedures:

  • List the accessibility services office as an available resource.
  • Proactively engage in discussions between the accessibility services office and the Title IX coordinator allowing student referrals to be timely and seamless.
  • Link to accessibility services in Title IX FAQs.
  • Consider potential auxiliary services that students may need to report an incident or to contact the Title IX office, including communications services and website accessibility.
  • Offer help in complaint filing to qualified disabled students.
  • Offer respondents help in the initial communication providing notice of the claim.
  • Adopt language from your general student conduct procedure stating that accommodations may be available in a Title IX grievance setting.

While maintaining flexibility for unique situations, identify clear, prompt deadlines for providing medical information, evaluating that information, and interacting with the student. The evaluation and accommodation process may affect deadlines; consider adding “arranging reasonable accommodations” to your procedure’s reasons for extending the projected time for completing a Title IX investigation.

Consider Requests and Evaluate Potential Accommodations

Confirm the disability.

After receiving an accommodation request, evaluate whether a student has a disability. Require medical documentation to support the disability claim.

The Title IX coordinator may initiate this request for documentation but should not receive or evaluate medical documentation. Investigators who receive disability accommodation requests should refer them promptly to the Title IX coordinator. If a party provides medical information to an internal advisor, this information also should be referred to accessibility services.

In addition, the situation should evaluate accommodation requests and related medical documentation through the accessibility resources administrator and/or the coordinator for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Identify potential accommodations.

If you confirm a disability, consult with administrators such as the dean of students, academic support advisor, residence life staff, or health center treatment providers (to the extent confidentiality allows) to identify appropriate accommodations.

Determine whether previously approved disability accommodations, such as use of an assistive device in class or extended time on assignments, may be allowed in the Title IX process — but only if this does not give the student an unfair advantage.

Accommodations to consider include:

  • Extra time to review and respond to documents
  • Longer or more frequent breaks during interviews and/or hearings
  • Auxiliary aids or assistive devices, including an interpreter, note-taker, recording device, or copies of documents

Consider providing a support person, distinguishing between that role and that of an advisor allowed in your Title IX process. Remind the support person of requirements and restrictions on participation.

Carefully evaluate requests.

Assistance providing a preferential advantage over another party is an unreasonable accommodation.

Be precise in language used during the Title IX process. The term “accommodations” should be used for actions taken to address disability-related needs. Using the term to describe supportive measures implemented elsewhere in the Title IX process may confuse parties and their advisors. It should be rephrased.

Document your rationale.

The Title IX coordinator should document accommodations considered and granted, as well as the rationale for each decision. Consult with counsel about how best to capture and preserve this documentation.

Provide Accommodation

Once you approve any accommodation, the Title IX coordinator or accessibility services representative should notify the student in writing. (If the accessibility services office provides the notification, the Title IX coordinator should review the notice first. This protects the other party’s due process rights.) If deadlines are affected, notify the other party while maintaining confidentiality about the requesting party’s disability.

In addition, keep the Title IX investigator informed of deadline changes and any other accommodations affecting the Title IX process. Don’t disclose the medical condition. At each meeting with the student, investigators should identify and document the accommodation provided. They also should update the other party if it affects deadlines.

Avoid Due Process Issues

Ensure the accommodations do not fundamentally alter the grievance procedure. The process must remain equitable for both parties. For example, if one party receives extra time or may copy documents, the other party may request the same modifications, citing fairness.

With thoughtful planning, receptiveness, and flexibility, consideration and implementation of reasonable accommodations can be integrated smoothly.

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