Home Academics Services & Resources Student Access Services What is a disability? What are accommodations?

What is a disability? What are accommodations?


A “person with a disability” is defined as any person who:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (see definition below) when compared to the average person.
  • Has record of a significant impairment.
  • Is regarded as having such an impairment. 

Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.  

This definition of a disability is frequently different from a clinical diagnosis because a diagnosis does not necessarily describe how significantly a person might be impaired. A mild impairment may not necessarily qualify as a disabling condition in need of specific accommodations. 


  • Students with disabilities may experience barriers that put them at an unfair disadvantage compared with classmates who do not have disabilities.
  • Accommodations provide different ways for knowledge to be accessed or demonstrated. 
  • Accommodations level the playing field between students with a disabilities and students without disabilities. 
  • It is important to note that accommodations may not fundamentally alter the nature of the course or modify the outcomes.

Accommodations refer to any service, equipment, or special arrangement that is put in place to decrease barriers to education that a student might experience as a result of the intersection of their disability and the limitations of the environment.

Objective of Accommodations

  • Accommodations are granted to create a “level playing field,” rather than to help a student reach his or her greatest potential. 
  • It is important to understand that services vary from college to college.  Students transferring from one post-secondary institution to another may experience differences in the level of service offered.  Any student with questions should contact Student Access Services at or (703) 284-1538.