Bridges Resource Library

Life After IEP—Changes in Rights to Accommodations and Modifications

Updated as of February 4, 2024.

Once high school ends, so do IEPs. Find out more in our Bridges Resource Library “Life After IEPs—When Do Things Change, and Why?” entry.

Let’s delve into the difference between accommodations and modifications and why that difference is really important after IEPs end.

How Are Accommodations and Modifications Different?

As an initial matter, it’s helpful to distinguish between accommodations and modifications:

Accommodations refer to providing access to the program/curriculum. Examples of accommodations include braille and enlarged print texts, tactile graphics, non-visually accessible digital materials, audio-described videos, and more. The key is that the accommodation does not change the content or purpose of the original material; it just allows that material to be accessed by individuals who cannot access it the original materials effectively or efficiently.   

Modifications refer to changes in the program/curriculum itself. Examples of modifications include decreasing the number of problems in a homework assignment, reducing the number of paragraphs or pages required in a writing assignment, or excusing an individual from an activity, like the driving portion of a Drivers’ Education class.

Find out more in the Bridges Resource Library’s Accommodations Versus Modifications entry.

Please note that many individuals will need both accommodations and modifications at some point in their lives. The key difference is in the individual’s RIGHT to have an accommodation, a modification, or both.

Rights to Accommodations and Modifications Under IEPs

Schools must provide any necessary accommodations AND modifications for disabled students to receive FAPE (free appropriate public education). This means that the school must modify the curriculum or other aspects of its program, even if that modification fundamentally changes the nature of the program. Additionally, this means that the cost of a needed accommodation or a modification does not matter; if the accommodation or modification is needed for the student to receive FAPE, the school is legally required to provide it.

Rights to Accommodations and Modifications Under Section 504 and the ADA

As noted in other articles in this series, the protections of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) required the individual with a disability to provide proof of the disability and to affirmatively request disability-related accommodations.

Notably, while Section 504 and the ADA permit reasonable accommodations, both laws require that the accommodation does not constitute a “fundamental alteration” of the program or service. In other words, reasonable accommodations are required; modifications are not.

Moreover, accommodations under Section 504 and the ADA must be “reasonable.” Reasonableness depends on several factors, and cost is one of these factors. Another factor is whether the reasonable accommodation will be an “undue hardship” to the entity to which the request is made (this typically refers to cost and difficulty in light of the resources of the entity). Thus, a requested accommodation might be reasonable for a successful chain of restaurants but might be unreasonable for a small, local restaurant (though a different, lower-cost accommodation might be reasonable for that local restaurant). 

What Does This Mean?

Individuals with disabilities are not entitled to modifications after they leave high school. Additionally, while reasonable accommodations are required, under Section 504 and the ADA, the school, employer, business, governmental agency, etc. does not have to provide the reasonable accommodation you request if doing so would cause an undue hardship.

**Please note that other laws, including Section 508, state laws, and local ordinances may provide additional rights that may not be available under Section 504 and the ADA that are not addressed in this Bridges Resource Library entry.

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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