Invisible Victims: Combatting the Consequences of the College Admissions Scandal for Learning-Disabled Students

By Susannah G. Price

In a recent college admissions bribery scheme, a network of wealthy parents paid entrance exam proctors, admissions insiders, and medical providers to rig the system that enables students with disabilities to receive testing accommodations. By purchasing false disability diagnoses, these parents procured testing accommodations and facilitated cheating on standardized tests — all in an effort to gain admission to top-tier universities. As a result, disability rights advocates fear a backlash against students with legitimate needs for disability accommodations in the college admissions process.

The purposes of this Note are to explore the practical consequences of the scandal for students with learning disabilities and to present a legal framework for preserving disability rights. This Note proposes: (1) adopting a purposive statutory interpretation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as amended in 2008 to ensure that the rights of learning-disabled students are not violated; and (2) implementing this interpretation through legislative and regulatory amendments as well as judicial construction. The Note begins with a summary of the college admissions scandal and its exploitation of disability accommodations. Part II examines the legislative framework and case law that govern testing accommodations, including the ADA and its 2008 amendments (ADAAA). Part III outlines the trend of treating prior receipt of accommodations as a quasi-prerequisite for future accommodations, and how this trend discriminates against disabled students with recent diagnoses. Part III also details how the emphasis on prior receipt of accommodations is contrary to the purpose of the ADAAA and proposes adopting a purposive statutory and regulatory interpretation to ensure that first-time applicants for accommodations are not unduly penalized. Part IV identifies concrete methods to implement this interpretation and adequately safeguard the rights of learning-disabled students, including legislative amendment of 42 U.S.C. § 12102, regulatory amendment of 28 C.F.R. § 36.309, and corresponding judicial construction.

Download Article