The rigor of the Uniform CPA Examination is a considerable hurdle for those pursuing a career in accounting. For a subset of candidates, though, it is the testing environment itself that poses the greatest challenge. For those candidates, accommodations based on a proven need can be provided.
The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), formerly the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, requires testing entities to offer exams in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. The purpose of an accommodation is to adjust the environment, not the exam itself, to ensure candidates with disabilities have the opportunity to fairly participate in licensing exams. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Disability Rights Section, “When needed testing accommodations are provided, test-takers can demonstrate their true aptitude.”1
To be eligible for testing accommodations, a candidate must have a disability as defined by the ADAAA. Recent data shows 7% of Pennsylvanians between the ages of 18 and 39 and 13.7% of the total population have a qualifying disability.2
Once eligibility is established, candidates must demonstrate they have a current need for testing accommodations and that a reasonable accommodation can be provided. An accommodation is deemed reasonable if it meets a candidate’s need, is feasible, and does not create undue hardship on the testing administrator.
Testing accommodations for the CPA Exam are handled by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy (NASBA). Candidates who meet the criteria may request accommodations by submitting an accommodations form, which can be found at nasba.org. That form, with supporting documentation, must be sent to NASBA’s CPA Examination Services (CPAES) at least 45 days prior to the intended test date.
The required documentation must provide evidence of a substantial limitation to physical or mental functioning, as evaluated by a licensed or otherwise qualified professional with credentials appropriate to diagnose and treat the disability. Among other things, the documentation should describe the extent of the disability, the criteria for diagnosis, the diagnosis, type and length of treatment, and recommended accommodation. Due to the time needed to evaluate requests, it is critical that candidates start the process as soon as they decide to sit for the exam.
Once approved, candidates receive a Testing Accommodations Notice to Schedule from NASBA and can then arrange for their exam by contacting the Testing Accommodations Department of Prometric, the administrator of the CPA Exam. A candidate who arrives at a testing location without prior scheduling with the Testing Accommodations Department will not be offered any special accommodations.
Types of Accommodations
NASBA offers approximately 80 different testing accommodations that are standardized across testing centers.3 While candidates must pay for any evaluations required to substantiate the need for accommodations, the cost of accommodations is paid by CPAES.
Prometric provides private testing rooms for those candidates using audible accommodations, as well as for those with concentration challenges. Special headsets to cancel out background noise and additional time to complete the exam also are available.
Numerous accommodations are cited on the Prometric website, but they are not all-inclusive. Any appropriate and reasonable accommodation may be requested as long as the need is substantiated.4 Additionally, Prometric has a list of preapproved medical devices and items that can be brought into a testing center without preauthorization, such as canes and walkers, hearing aids, and certain medical devices such as insulin pumps. Other items that may be brought without prior approval include unwrapped pills, glucose monitors, EpiPens, inhalers, lumbar supports, and ice packs.5
Testing accommodations play an important role in ensuring equal entrance to the profession. As such, employers and educators are encouraged to provide this information to all potential candidates. More information can be found at nasba.org. The Prometric Testing Accommodations Department can be reached at (800) 967-1139.
1 ADA Requirements Testing Accommodations, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section (Oct. 9, 2020). https://www.ada.gov/regs2014/testing_accommodations.html
2 Disability in the Commonwealth 2013-2017, Pennsylvania State Data Center (Oct. 13, 2020). https://pasdc.hbg.psu.edu/sdc/pasdc_files/researchbriefs/Feb_2019.pdf
3 “An Acquired Passion Leads to Helping CPA Exam Candidates with Disabilities Succeed in Testing,” NASBA (Dec. 11, 2020). https://nasba.org/blog/2019/09/17/adam-herjeczki
4 Testing Accommodations, Prometric (Dec. 5, 2020). https://live-prometric.pantheonsite.io/sites/default/files/FINALTesting-Accommodations.pdf
5 Testing Accommodations Pre Approved Personal Items, Prometric (Dec. 5, 2020). https://www.prometric.com/sites/default/files/2020-03/Permissible-items_20200310_5.pdf
Elisabeth Felten, CPA, is assistant professor of business for DeSales University in Center Valley. She can be reached at email@example.com.