What are Accommodations and Modifications in Special Education?

Students in a classroom on their tablets using accommodations and modifications.

Have you ever watched the movie Roxanne with Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah? There is a scene in that movie that I think will help you to understand the difference in accommodations and modifications.

I will describe the scene to you and how it relates.

Steve Martin has an extra-long nose (like really long!). He finds it hard to drink from a wine glass in the traditional way. Steve asks Daryl if she has a straw, but she does not.

So, he begins trying different angles to drink from the wine glass. But every time, his nose gets in the way.

Finally, he gives up and sucks it up through his nose.

Ouch! I bet that hurt!

Using his nose (or straw if she had one) is an accommodation allowing him to still “drink” the wine in the same way as everyone else. He didn’t change the wine in any way. He just finds a way to consume it differently.

Alternatively, say he froze the wine or turned it into jello to eat. That would be modifying the form of the wine. This would be different than what everyone else has. This is an example of a modification.

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What are Accommodations and Modifications in Special Education? 


Many times parents, students, and educators are easily confused when discussing accommodations and modifications.

Most people think these two words have the same meaning in special education.  In all actuality, they have very different meanings.

Accommodations refer to “leveling the playing field”. Modifications refer to “changing the playing field”.


Special Education Accommodations 

ANY student can have accommodations, not just students with a 504 plan or an Individualized Education Program (IEP). When utilizing accommodations, it is important to remember it as a way “to make it fit”. This is because it is an adaptation that one does to the learning environment. 


These adaptations can be used to describe how students are included in instruction and participate in the classroom. Accommodations make learning accessible to all students and allow the students to demonstrate what they know. 


Accommodations are just basically the physical and/or environmental changes that a teacher makes in his/her classroom. There are over 500 special education accommodations that your child can possibly have.


Examples of accommodations (this is not an exhaustive list)

  • Extended time
  • Frequent breaks
  • Changes in the classroom including varying activities
  • Preferential Seating
  • The physical arrangement of the room
  • Copies of notes/guided notes/study guides
  • Computer/Calculator/Word Processor/Large Print
  • Peer Tutoring and/or teacher tutoring
  • Shortening test length or making changes to a test (such as multiple choice vs. fill in the blank)
  • Verbal Responses
  • Read aloud-computer and/or teacher
  • Testing Accommodations

Accommodations use grade-level curriculum standards via a different path (i.e., differentiated). When an accommodation is put into place, it allows the student to be successful at the benchmark. 


These accommodations allow for a change to occur. This will help the student overcome or work around a learning difficulty.  

Fitting accommodations to a student’s needs is a lot like finding a good pair of jeans. You may have to try a few out before you find them “just the right fit.”


Special Education Modifications


Modifications are generally made for students with significant cognitive or physical disabilities. A modification does not alter content knowledge.

Instead, it creates a learning environment for that specific student. And change the core program by using a parallel curriculum that does not include all grade-level standards.


Modifications may include a change in the:

  • Course of the student
  • Standard
  • Location
  • Timing
  • Scheduling
  • Expectations


All of these and more help provide access for the student. Consequently, by honing in on the student’s strengths, the student’s needs are met.  


Special Education Modification Examples (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Modifying curriculum
  • Grading is subject to different standards (i.e., 12-point grading scale) based on IEP
  • Assignments are changed: lower-level reading, worksheets, simplified vocabulary 
  • The student is involved in the same theme/unit but provided different tasks/expectations
  • Eliminate specific standards
  • Individualized materials

You may also find content specific modifications to support your child.  


Which does my child need accommodations or modifications? 

Accommodations and modifications are both necessary for special education students to be successful within the general education curriculum.

Within the context of the classroom environment, both must be utilized in a way that makes the specific student successful.

There will be times when only accommodations or modifications will need to be utilized. Then, there will be other times when both need to be utilized.

Knowing and understanding the student’s special needs is the critical piece in knowing what should be used. Accommodations and Modifications are put in place to help the student be successful.

This is done in a way not to harm, hurt, or belittle the student in any way.


How do we get Special Education Accommodations and Modifications? 


The best way is to know your child’s needs and advocate for them in IEP meetingsTry out different accommodations and modifications to be sure all your child’s needs are met.  

Need help with your child’s IEP or with their education?

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Boys at school using tablets for their specific accommodations and modifications in the general education classroom.
You may think that Accommodations and Modifications are interchangeable words that mean the same thing in Special Education. Here’s how they are different.

Picture of Shannah Holt

Shannah Holt


  1. Great informative post. I’ve never before thought about the differences between accommodations and modifications. This breaks it down nicely.

  2. You gave a great explanation between accommodation and modification. The details really help understand between the two…thanks for sharing!

  3. I really like how you broke down the differences between modifications and accommodations. The movie you referenced is a great analogy.

  4. I love your analogy and it totally makes sense of the two terms! To be honest, I think they can be be transferred to adults too – what works for one may certainly not work for another. You have made the steps really easy of how this can all be adapted in schools, just wish our school would take note of these steps sometimes! They definitely think a one size fits all! 🙁 Sim x

  5. This is a really great list. Thanks for pointing out these special education tools that anyone can use

  6. We have only been through one IEP meeting so far with my daughter but I’ve been trying to learn more about how we can get her what she needs.

  7. This is a great article! I really enjoyed learning the difference between modification and accommodation with understanding special ed needs. Wow! You share such valuable examples. Thanks!

  8. I love that you used a movie to explain the difference between accommodation and modification. That brought out the message in a clearer way. Thanks for the information you provided about special childhood education. I hope more schools would adapt measures to make it easier for children with special needs to attend regular school.

  9. I have worked with the special ed students in our district for a while now and I love that while they do not learn in the same ways, it allows the teachers to become creative to help these kids learn the same information the other kids in their grade are learning. Just because they need help doesn’t mean they can’t learn the same thing, they just need a different approach.

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