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Policy on Student Learning Disabilities

General Information

Equal Access to Education

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that "no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of the disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." To this end, Earlham College is committed to providing equal access to education by removing unnecessary barriers to enhance each student’s ability to demonstrate his or her academic abilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) reinforced the provisions of the Rehabilitation Act and extended coverage to the private sector with the extension of access into all aspects of campus life, including communications and other privileges and advantages by requiring that all public facilities, services, and communications be accessible to persons with disabilities and that auxiliary aids and services be provided unless such provisions place an undue hardship (defined as significantly difficult or expensive) upon the institution.

Who is Considered Disabled under these Laws?

The ADA defines an individual with a disability as a person who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of that person, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working.

Reasonable Accommodation

"Reasonable accommodation" is the term used by the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act for modifications made to an environment which eliminate or decrease, to a reasonable degree, structural and/or learning barriers which a student might encounter due to his or her disability. The law does not require that students with a disability be given "special" advantage that places them in a better position to succeed than their classmates. Reasonable accommodations are made to put students with a disability in the same starting position as their nondisabled classmates. Nevertheless, an academic unit is not required to fundamentally alter the nature of its academic program in order to accommodate students.

Earlham College is committed to providing access to all of its programs, activities and services and will either remove physical barriers or enhance access in other ways to enable qualified students to participate in such endeavors.

What is a Learning Disability?

The general term Learning Disability (LD) refers to a heterogeneous group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning, or mathematical abilities. These disorders are intrinsic to the individual and may occur across the life span. Even though a learning disability may occur concomitantly with other conditions or life stressors, a learning disability is not the direct result of those conditions or influences.

Learning Disabilities often exist with other conditions (e.g., ADD/ADHD) and we will review a student’s ADA/Rehabilitation status with consideration of all of her/her presenting conditions.

College Commitment and Support


Earlham College is committed to providing equality of opportunity to students with learning disabilities through a supportive academic and social environment. Faculty and students work together in partnership to determine students' needs and attempt to see that those needs are met. The College, however, does not provide a comprehensive learning disabilities program.


Many resources and services are available to students with learning disabilities.

  • The director of the Academic Enrichment Center (AEC) is the 504 Coordinator for students and is responsible for assisting students with diagnosed learning disabilities through reasonable academic accommodations. The director also provides access to adaptive technology provided by the College. The Academic Enrichment Center offers free peer tutoring to all students, has information on disabilities and study skills, and meets individually, on a limited basis, with any student to work on learning strategies.
  • Academic advisers help students create academic plans and provide them with information on classes and majors.
  • Classroom professors are available to all students to answer questions regarding classes, specific course content, and teaching and learning styles.

Policy and Procedures

Diagnostic Documentation

Diagnostic documentation is critical in determining suitable accommodations. It is the individual student's responsibility to identify her- or himself as a person with a learning disability and to provide the College with diagnostic documentation of the disability from an appropriately licensed professional. The documentation should demonstrate how the learning disability limits the student's ability to participate in an academic setting and must be submitted to the Academic Enrichment Center for verification before an accommodation is sought.


Earlham expects students with learning disabilities to take an active role in communicating their needs, because they can best describe their strengths and weaknesses. It is important that students inform the College of their disabilities as soon as possible, preferably before the beginning or within the first-two weeks of the semester or within two weeks of being diagnosed. This will allow sufficient time to make any necessary arrangements. Please be advised that reviewing documentation and arranging for appropriate accommodations takes time and student's delays in following through could delay receiving such accommodations.

Confidentiality and Information Release

Earlham College is committed to ensuring that all disability information regarding a student is maintained as confidential as required or permitted by law. In most instances, the College will not inform the faculty member as to the nature of the student’s disorder unless it is necessary for providing appropriate accommodations or in order to protect the health and safety of the student and/or others. Faculty are informed as to what accommodations are necessary or appropriate to meet the student's disability-related needs. A student may give written authorization for the release of diagnostic documentation if he or she wishes to share it with others.

In addition to the usual accommodations provided to faculty, the College reserves the right to release supplementary information should there be a need to know. Some common needs to know might result from, but are not limited to:

  • a request for a course substitution
  • the safety of the student and/or others
  • grievance cases
  • special financial aid considerations

Procedure for Requesting Academic Accommodations

  1. Submit current documentation (generally within the past three years) regarding the specific disability to the Director of the Academic Enrichment Center. The documentation should state, as determined by an appropriate professional, what reasonable accommodations the student needs. The documentation will be reviewed and verified and the student will be notified once that process is completed. It is recommended that the student meet with the Director of the Academic Enrichment Center to discuss the review/verification findings and the appropriate academic accommodations. The initial academic accommodations recommended for a student may be modified as directed by a change in the student's need or the nature of course requirements. It is the student’s responsibility to request the modification and to provide support for said change.
  2. Academic accommodations may be requested following the review/verification process. A faculty notification form should be completed within the first two weeks of each semester or within two weeks of being diagnosed with a disability. Students are to complete their portion of the form and then must submit the form to the Director of the Academic Enrichment Center.
  3. The Director will finalize the form and send copies of the form to the student’s EC drawer. The student must promptly give the completed forms to faculty members to receive academic accommodations. One copy of the form will be retained in the student’s disability file.
  4. Some accommodations may dictate that the student, Director, and course professor collaborate to identify an accommodation that meets the needs of both the student and professor. Should such collaboration be necessary, it is the student’s responsibility to inform the Director.
  5. Students who encounter difficulties with a professor or other College personnel regarding accommodations should follow the grievance procedures outlined in Earlham’s Disability Grievance Procedures for Students, which may be obtained from the AEC office or Web site.

Appropriate Academic Accommodations and Auxiliary Aids

Appropriate academic accommodations and auxiliary aids may include, but are not limited to:

  • providing note takers, readers, and computer assistance
  • assistance in obtaining books on tape
  • extended time or testing assistance via a scribe or computer technology
  • a test-taking environment with limited distractions
  • in very limited circumstances, a different testing format
  • using computers for assignments and tests
  • the substitution of appropriate courses for the second language requirement

The substitution for the language requirement begins with the student contacting the Language Department Convener, who ultimately presents the request to the department. Other course substitutions must be discussed with the convener of the relevant department, and a petition should be sent to the Committee for Academic Programs (CAP).

Disability Grievance Procedures

Earlham College strives to provide equal access to its programs, services, and activities. Nonetheless, it is reasonable to expect instances when a student with a disability believes he or she has been unjustly denied disability status and/or equal access to a program, service or activity, which may include a provision of reasonable accommodation. When such an access issue occurs, we expect the student with a disability to use our sequential Disability Grievance Procedures: Informal Resolution and Formal Resolution. Timeliness in reporting helps to expedite resolutions with minimal disruption to the student's academic progress. To be considered timely, a student is obligated to initiate the grievance process within 30 business days of when the student knew or should have known of the alleged concern. The student's disability status and/or accommodations will continue under the status quo during the resolution process.

Informal Resolution

The student is encouraged to independently meet with the person or persons involved with the access issue. Most often matters of access are resolved independently when all parties effectively communicate with one another.

When an access issue is not resolved independently, the next step is for the student to report the issue to the Director of the Academic Enrichment Center. It is important to report access issues to the AEC Director as soon as the student becomes aware that an independent resolution cannot be achieved. If the student's grievance involves a decision made by the AEC Director, the student should report the issue to the Director's immediate supervisor who will work through steps 3 and 4 of the Informal Resolution process with the student and Director.

After reviewing the access issue with the reporting individual, the AEC Director will meet with the other person or persons involved and, if possible, meet jointly with both sides to develop a solution that preserves the student's right to equal access and participation in College services, programs, and activities while maintaining the College's commitment to its academic standards within a residential community.

If the access issue remains unresolved, the student has a right to file a formal complaint as set forth below. Please note that the person initiating the complaint maintains the right to request the complaint be dropped rather than have the complaint elevated. When a complaint is dropped, the College reserves the right to address informally the specifics of the complaint and to mandate corrections, when warranted.

Formal Resolution

The Disability Grievance Group for Students (Group) will hear and resolve disability-related complaints that are not resolved through an Informal Resolution. Membership in the Disability Grievance Group for Students is through ex-officio capacity: the Associate Academic Dean, Director of Human Resources and Operations, VP and Dean of Students, and the Director of the Academic Enrichment Center, who is 504 Coordinator for students. In the event a complaint involves a regular member of the Group, the Group has the discretion to replace the involved member with another faculty member for that particular complaint.

Filing the Complaint

The student must forward his or her complaint to the Disability Grievance Group for Students within two weeks of concluding an Informal Resolution. The complaint must include the name and campus address of the student initiating the complaint, the name and address of the person or persons who allegedly denied equal access, and a descriptive statement, including facts, about the complaint and its potential impact on the student. The student is charged with the burden of proving that equal access was wrongly denied.

The student has the right to select a person of his or her choosing from within the College community to serve as a personal adviser during the Formal Resolution; however, only the student is able to present his or her complaint. The student's personal adviser is not permitted to represent or participate directly in the resolution process.1

Reviewing the Complaint and Notification of Outcome

Upon receiving notification that a Formal Resolution has been requested, the Disability Grievance Group for Students has 30 business days to reach a decision and send written notification that outlines the facts and outcome to both parties. The Group may call upon either or both parties for clarification or request additional information during the review of the complaint. The Group may assign one or more members to conduct interviews of witnesses, etc.


A student may request a review by the College President of the grievance process and/or decision. To do so, the student must file a written appeal within ten (10) business days of the issuance of the decision of the Disability Grievance Group for Students. The written appeal must explain why the student believes the Group's conclusion was in error, i.e., lapse in process or misinformation. The President will review the appeal and issue a decision, and resolution when deemed necessary, within 20 business days of receipt.


The College reserves the right to alter any of the timelines for good cause, such as vacations, illness, and unavailability of witnesses.

1 If the student alleges that the nature of his/her disability prevents the student from reasonably advocating for themselves, the Disability Grievance Group for Students will determine whether some form of accommodation, such as permitting the adviser to participate directly in the case, is warranted under the circumstances.

The Academic Enrichment Center, along with its director, is located in the basement of Lilly Library. The office mailing address is Drawer 134, Earlham College, 801 National Road West, Richmond, Indiana 47374; its phone number is 765/983-1341. Greg Mahler is the immediate supervisor of the AEC director.

Earlham College is a member of the Association for Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and is in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Original Document: August 2000
Revised: May 2012

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