Bridges Resource Library

Accommodations Versus Modifications

Updated as of January 18, 2024.

For individuals with disabilities, accommodations make the difference between access to opportunities and being shut out of those opportunities. Accommodations, while vital, vary from individual to individual and depend on many different factors. Join the Bridges Helpdesk as we explore understanding, identifying, and advocating for accommodations in the area of assessments, including quizzes and tests, state-required tests, and tests required for college admission and for earning college credit.

What are Accommodations?

The first step in understanding accommodations is knowing where the right to accommodations comes from. While accommodations can and are listed in a student’s IEP, the right to accommodations is not based on the law that governs IEPs, the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act).

Instead, the legal right to accommodations comes from two federal civil rights laws: Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The IDEA focuses on providing both access and educational and instructional services for individuals with specific disabilities. In contrast, Section 504 and the ADA focus on access for all individuals with a great variety of disabilities.

Accommodations focus on access to programs, materials, etc. However, accommodations CANNOT change the nature of the program or activity. For example, using a computer with screen reading software on an assessment (test, quiz, etc.) is an accommodation, but using that computer with spellchecking software might NOT be an accommodation if spelling is part of the assessment itself.

How do Accommodations Differ from Modifications?

Defining modifications

Unlike accommodations, modifications change some portion of the program or activity. For example, on an assessment, having fewer questions per page is an accommodation while having fewer multiple-choice answers to pick from is a modification.

Modifications limited to K-12 school (IEPs)

Modifications are permitted and sometimes required in the IEP of a student in public school. Even on tests in school, modifications can be provided, even if they change the nature of the assessment. However, the right to modifications is limited to a student’s IEP. Individuals do not have the right to modifications outside the school arena; even extracurricular school activities do not need to make accommodations if the activity is competitive, such as a sports team that requires tryouts. Also, the school does not need to offer modifications that would fundamentally alter the nature of that extracurricular activity. 

The right to modifications is limited to public school attendance and the IDEA. Thus, once a student graduates from or otherwise leaves public school, the student no longer has the right to modifications.

Accommodations for a Lifetime

Accommodations are not tied to the educational environment or to school attendance. “Reasonable accommodations” are available to all individuals with qualifying disabilities in most environments, including in most public places and employment. There are some restrictions, and the “reasonableness” of a proposed accommodation is not always clear. Nevertheless, individuals of all ages with qualifying disabilities have the right to “reasonable accommodations” under both Section 504 and the ADA.

Defining the accommodations you need is important, even while you are in school. Designating these accommodations in an IEP as accommodations is an important transition planning step because you can request these reasonable accommodations after you leave school. Additionally, you will benefit from identifying modifications and developing a plan to move toward accommodations that you will have the right to request long after you leave school.

Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information

This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.

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