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RISE Act aims to empower college students with disabilities

If you’re a college student with a disability, what kind of assistance and accommodations you receive really depends upon where you’re entering or enrolled. State law requires every public postsecondary institution to have a policy about how to work with students with disabilities, but policies are far from uniform, as are what documentation each school requires.

Rep. Jessica Hanson (DFL-Burnsville) is hoping to change that with HF4565.

Coined the “Minnesota Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act,” it would replace current law and require institutions to give more information to students and have more detail about what documentation a student may submit to establish that they have a disability.

The bill, replaced with a delete-all amendment, was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger higher education policy bill.

“Every student should feel like they belong in college, and getting help with accommodations can be daunting and require a lot of courage and support to advocate for themselves on campus,” Hanson said. “This bill will make securing accommodations on campus less discouraging, more welcoming, more supportive and consistent, and less burdensome, with simplified documentation and re-evaluation requirements.”

“About 21% of undergraduate students are reported to have a disability,” said Tyro Devolites, a student at Normandale Community College. “Only about 8% are registered with their disability services on campus. The process is needlessly confusing and long. Students need to reapply each semester and this puts unnecessary stress on students.

“Under the RISE Act, a student may use their previous IEP [Individualized Education Plan] or 504 plan as documentation of their disability. And students wouldn’t be required to be reevaluated for the presence of a permanent disability. More importantly, students who are denied accommodations would be allowed to withdraw from a class without facing any academic or financial penalty.”

Rep. Kim Hicks (DFL-Rochester) praised the legislation as “long overdue” and something that would have been very valuable when she was a student with a disability.

Two Republicans expressed concern that some bill language is too vague: Rep. Kristin Robbins (R-Maple Grove) said she’d like “relevant licensed professionals” to be more clearly defined, while Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) asked for more detail on the definition of “accommodations.”

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