Standardized examinations and other high-stakes tests are gateways to educational and employment opportunities. Whether seeking admission to a high school, college, or graduate program, or attempting to obtain a professional license or certification for a trade, it is difficult to achieve such goals without sitting for some kind of standardized exam or high-stakes test. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) ensures that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to fairly compete for and pursue such opportunities by requiring testing entities to offer exams in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities.


This publication provides technical assistance on testing accommodations for individuals with disabilities who take standardized exams and other high-stakes tests. It addresses the obligations of testing entities, which include private, state, or local government entities that offer exams related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary (high school), postsecondary (college and graduate school), professional (law, medicine, etc.), or trade (cosmetology, electrician, etc.) purposes

What Kinds Of Tests Are Covered?

Exams administered by any private, state, or local government entity related to applications, licensing, certification, or credentialing for secondary or postsecondary education, professional, or trade purposes are covered by the ADA and testing accommodations, pursuant to the ADA, must be provided.

Examples of covered exams include:

  • High school equivalency exams (such as the GED);
  • High school entrance exams (such as the SSAT or ISEE);
  • College entrance exams (such as the SAT or ACT);
  • Exams for admission to professional schools (such as the LSAT or MCAT);
  • Admissions exams for graduate schools (such as the GRE or GMAT); and
  • Licensing exams for trade purposes (such as cosmetology) or professional purposes (such as bar exams or medical licensing
  • exams, including clinical assessments).
  • What Are Testing Accommodations?

Testing accommodations are changes to the regular testing environment and auxiliary aids and services2 that allow individuals with disabilities to demonstrate their true aptitude or achievement level on standardized exams or other high-stakes tests.

Examples of the wide range of testing accommodations that may be required include:

  • Braille or large-print exam booklets;
  • Screen reading technology;
  • Scribes to transfer answers to Scantron bubble sheets or record dictated notes and essays;
  • Extended time;
  • Wheelchair-accessible testing stations;
  • Distraction-free rooms;
  • Physical prompts (such as for individuals with hearing impairments); and
  • Permission to bring and take medications during the exam (for example, for individuals with diabetes who must monitor their blood sugar and administer insulin).
  • Who Is Eligible To Receive Testing Accommodations?

Individuals with disabilities are eligible to receive necessary testing accommodations.  Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity (such as seeing, hearing, learning, reading, concentrating, or thinking) or a major bodily function (such as the neurological, endocrine, or digestive system).  The determination of whether an individual has a disability generally should not demand extensive analysis and must be made without regard to any positive effects of measures such as medication, medical supplies or equipment, low-vision devices (other than ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses), prosthetics, hearing aids and cochlear implants, or mobility devices.

A person with a history of academic success may still be a person with a disability who is entitled to testing accommodations under the ADA.  A history of academic success does not mean that a person does not have a disability that requires testing accommodations.  For example, someone with a learning disability may achieve a high level of academic success, but may nevertheless be substantially limited in one or more of the major life activities of reading, writing, speaking, or learning, because of the additional time or effort he or she must spend to read, write, speak, or learn compared to most people in the general population.

What Kind Of Documentation Is Sufficient To Support A Request For Testing Accommodations?

Examples of types of documentation include:

  • Recommendations of qualified professionals;
  • Proof of past testing accommodations;
  • Observations by educators;
  • Results of psycho-educational or other professional evaluations;

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