Some students with disabilities need on-campus personal care attendants to assist them with daily activities such as dressing, transferring to and from wheelchairs, feeding, personal hygiene, and navigating the campus. Both college and university officials and disabled students often misunderstand the obligation, if any, of a postsecondary institution to provide personal aids or services and to arrange for, or defray the cost of, personal care attendants. Disabled graduating high school seniors, having received years of personal services for medical or physical disabilities at their schools’ expense under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), may expect these services to continue in college. Officials can be uncertain about their obligations, especially when faced with students (and parents) who cannot conceive of a circumstance under which the institution would not be responsible for providing such services. However, regardless of the nature of the disability, neither section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 nor Title II or III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require that postsecondary institutions provide personal care services. Title II of the ADA covers state-funded universities, community colleges, and vocational schools. Title III of the ADA covers private colleges and vocational schools. If a school receives federal funding, regardless of whether it is private or public, it is also covered by the regulations of section 504. 

According to the U.S. Department of Education, “personal services” include help with bathing, dressing or other personal care and are not required to be provided by postsecondary institutions. Both 28 C.F.R. § 39.160(a)(1)(ii) and the section 504 guidance read: “Recipients need not provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.”

The personal attendant care policy statement of the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and the regulations promulgated by the Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice address private higher education institutions’ access and accommodation obligations under section 504 (which prohibits discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability by any college, university, or other postsecondary institution or a public system of higher education) and the ADA. Neither requires a college or university to assume coordination or financial responsibility for personal attendant services. The OCR guidance reads: 

Personal Aids and Services

An issue that is often misunderstood by postsecondary officials and students is the provision of personal aids and services. Personal aids and services, including help in bathing, dressing, or other personal care, are not required to be provided by postsecondary institutions. The Section 504 regulation states: 

Recipients need not provide attendants, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature.  

Title II of the ADA similarly states that personal services are not required. 

In order to ensure that students with disabilities are given a free appropriate public education, local education agencies are required to provide many services and aids of a personal nature to students with disabilities when they are enrolled in elementary and secondary schools. However, once students with disabilities graduate from a high school program or its equivalent, education institutions are no longer required to provide aids, devices, or services of a personal nature. 

Postsecondary schools do not have to provide personal services relating to certain individual academic activities. Personal attendants and individually prescribed devices are the responsibility of the student who has a disability and not of the institution. For example, readers may be provided for classroom use but institutions are not required to provide readers for personal use or for help during individual study time. 

Federal regulations associated with the ADA (e.g., 28 C.F.R. § 35.135 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.306) specifically state that public entities and public accommodations, meaning public and private postsecondary institutions, are not required to “provide attendant, individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices or services of a personal nature including assistance in eating, toileting, or dressing.” In addition, both the Department of Justice’s regulations (28 C.F.R § 39.160(a)(1)(ii)) and the Department of Treasury’s regulations (31 C.F.R. §17.160(a)(1)(ii)) contain similar provisions reading: “The agency need not provide individually prescribed devices, readers for personal use or study, or other devices of a personal nature.” Specifically and definitively, personal care needs are the responsibility of the student.  

Title III of the ADA and its implementing regulations, 28 C.F.R. Part 36, apply to places of public accommodation, including any private entity that offers examinations or courses related to postsecondary education for professional, or trade purposes. (28 C.F.R. § 36.102) It also does not support the proposition that colleges and universities must pay for or otherwise defray the cost of personal care attendants. While the regulations, at 28 C.F.R. § 36.104, subpart A, state that they apply to “Housing at a place of education,” which is defined as “housing operated by or on behalf of an…undergraduate, or postgraduate school, or other place of education, including dormitories, suites, apartments, or other places of residence,” the regulations do not impose any requirement with respect to coordination or financial responsibility for personal attendant services related to housing.   

The Bottom Line:

Any college or university student who documents a need for personal assistance should procure the most appropriate attendant care services. Postsecondary institutions do have to accommodate personal care attendants in the educational and residence environment. However, colleges and universities have no legal responsibility for the cost of personal attendant care services, and they are not required to help defray or reduce personal attendant care costs to an otherwise qualified student with a disability.