Rethinking Admissions: Impact of Disability Rights / ADA


Academic programs are currently noting a rise in the numbers of students requesting disability support services, and long-range projections indicate this trend will continue. Students’ and applicants’ requests for accommodation offer a distinct challenge to academic programs when determining to what capacity, if at all, accommodations can be supported. To this end, academic programs must ensure familiarity with best-practices, case law, and the ethical principles involved in such decision-making.

Methods and/or Description of Project

This session will present a foundation upon which academic programs can build informed practices using the guidance of disability law. Grounded in federal guidelines and case law, an expert panel will share insights and implementation considerations from multiple perspectives, namely that of University general counsel, director of University Disability Support Services, director of physical therapist admissions, and director of clinical education. Guidance impacting policies such as technical standards, pre- and post-admission disclosures, and legal admissions interview questions will be discussed. The panel will ground the presentation in case law and precedents informing the determination of reasonability with regard to accommodation requests.


Participants will benefit from discussion of the compliance requirements of academic programs through direct interaction with legal and disability support service experts. Disability law and ethics will be considered through scenarios common to admissions and academic matriculation. From discussions, best practices of admissions practices/policies for physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs will be identified, as well as approaches to avoid common pitfalls.

Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: Through the Looking Glass: Transforming Physical Therapy Education

Given a growing number of students with disabilities hoping to gain entry to the physical therapy profession, admissions committees are increasingly charged to determine the ability to accommodate the registered disability. Programs must determine when and if flexibility can be exerted to enable the applicant to be a successful matriculant, both during the didactic and clinical phases of education, and when disabilities cannot be accommodated. Using a moderated-panel approach with representation from legal and disability support services, this session will enable participants to reconsider individual academic program admissions practices in light of current disability law.


Disability Compliance for Higher Education.Support students with disabilities in medicine and health care programs. Website.; published and/or updated 2015; accessed April 10, 2017.

Ferguson PW, Hopwood JD, Sinatra GM, Wallmann HW. Selected legal issues influencing evaluation of physical therapist graduate student professional behaviors in the academic environment. Journal of Physical Therapy Education. 2005; 19(1): 16-20.

Jeffries MN, Barclay SM, Stolte SK. Academic entitlement and academic performance in graduating pharmacy students. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2014; 78(6): article 116.

Course Objectives

At the conclusion of the session, participants will:
1. Define applicants’ rights with respect to disability law, and discuss impact of disability rights / ADA on PT admissions processes, philosophies, and practices.
2. Analyze admissions and subsequent student matriculation practices for alignment to the law & to academic program philosophy.
3. Consider the value of inclusion of students with disabilities in physical therapy education.
4. Structure individual academic program practices for admissions using best practice / evidence.

Instructional Methods

Lecture, large group active reflection / discussion, panel-led discussion based on real-world scenarios from admissions

Tentative Outline/Schedule

Overview of issue: 5 minutes
Overview of disability laws: 10 minutes
Application vignettes: 55 minutes
Question/answer with panel: 20 minutes

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  • Control #: 2751406
  • Type: Educational Session
  • Event/Year: ELC2017
  • Authors: Ellen Wruble Hakim, Anne Jannarone, Jennifer Becnel-Guzzo, Carrie Foeller
  • Keywords:

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