Going to College with a Disability
college can cause anxiety for most students.
From admissions deadlines to
financial aid, most students worry about
whether or not they will get into the college
they like, how they will pay for
school and whether or not they will be able to survive
on their own. College is a new environment, often away from
the comforts of our
family and home we’ve known since we were little kids. Moving into a new phase on
your own can be
intimidating! Every student worries
about succeeding in class and
meeting new people, but students with
disabilities have more concerns than just the
academics and the social
atmosphere. As a student with a
disability it is important
that you choose a school which offers a strong
academic program in your desired field
of study, a vibrant community in which
you feel comfortable and an Office of Disability
Services which makes you feel
at home and provides you with the services you need
to be successful and
teaches you methods that will go on to make you successful
Do you know what field of study interests you?
search by spending some time deciding what career field you would like to
enter. Once you have some suggestions, find people who work in that field. You could also focus on organizations that
hire people in your chosen occupation. Spend some time interviewing people who are
currently working in the field that interests you. An important piece of
information to find out from those you interview is where they went to college
and if they had the opportunity to go to college again where they would go. Also
look at corporations or organizations that hire people in the field of study
you are interested in what colleges or universities do they recruit from each
year. Now you can begin researching
schools that have strong academic programs in that field or schools that were
recommended by corporations, organizations and individuals in the field you are
interested in. Look at their admissions
standards online and email any questions to the office of admissions at each
Schedule an on-campus tour when possible!
This is extremely important for any student,
but especially important for students with physical disabilities. Getting the chance to visit campus gives you
clues to the social atmosphere, the sense of community and the ease at which
you would be able to navigate on your own.
Remember, once you are on campus you are responsible for getting
yourself to class, the dining hall and cafeteria! If you have a physical disability that makes
getting around difficult you might reconsider some of your choices after
If you schedule to attend an on-campus informational event
or campus tour call the Office of Disability Services and schedule an
appointment on the same day.Meeting with someone from disability services
will allow you to gather information about how they accommodate students with similar
disabilities, eligibility requirements for services and the types of services provided
to students with similar disabilities. Ask questions about how the department
might react to a situation where you need a accommodation and a faculty member
refuses a reasonable accommodation. Is
that a situation where you are on your own or will the staff of ODS be your advocate?
Make sure you leave with a clear
understanding of what services you would receive and how they are funded. If possible ask to have the opportunity to
communicate (by phone or e-mail) with a student who has a similar disability
and is attending that institution. Interview that student ask why they selected
their school and are they happy or do they regret their choice and why. It is
important to learn about what kind of support does you campus provide once you
graduate. Do they simply hand you a diploma and say good luck! Or do they have
work experience programs that you can begin as early as your sophomore year.
Most individuals choose to go to college so that they can be employed. Your chosen
institution should have programs in place that will assist you in achieving
Be sure you know your priorities before you narrow your list
to your top choices. Remember that you
are going to college for the academics, not to attend a party every
weekend. The social atmosphere is
important but is not the sole reason to attend college. Remember how comfortable you felt on campus
and whether you felt the office of disability services would effectively meet
your needs. Once you have reviewed all
of your choices narrow your list to two or three schools and get those
accepted!!!! Now what?
It’s great that you’ve been accepted to the college of your
choice. You can rest easy for a little
bit, the college search completed, the application essays finished. Don’t sit on your laurels for too long. Now you need to work out the details of what
you need to do to prepare yourself for this transition to college. First, make sure you understand your rights
as a college student with a disability. As
a younger student you were covered by the Individuals with Disability Education
Act (IDEA). You are covered under this
law through high school. This law states
that it is the school district’s job to ensure that you receive appropriate
special education services and that the school adjusts the curriculum to meet
your abilities. This law also says that it is the school’s responsibility to
identify students who need assistance. Once you are in college you are covered
under two different laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section
504 of the Rehabilitation Act. These
laws entitle you to “reasonable” accommodations without adjusting the
curriculum. This means that colleges
are required to accommodate you to a “reasonable” degree. You are also required
to identify yourself and provide documentation of your disability. The college you choose is not responsible for
ensuring that you take advantage of services or accommodations that are offered. It is your job to ask for services or
accommodations that will help you succeed in college.
Once you have been accepted to the college of your choice,
contact the Office of Disability Services again and inquire about any
orientation provided for students with a disability. If offered, be sure to sign up! They will provide you with important
information regarding the services or accommodations they offer and what you
need to secure those services or accommodations. Orientation schedules differ from college to
college, and some may be quite early in the summer. Be
sure not to miss your college’s orientation.
Make sure you contact your housing office and inquire as to how and to what
degree your room and bath room can be adapted to meet your needs. This will
vary from campus to campus. If you have a physical disability you want to make
sure that your room environment is one that supports your physical
Going to college not only requires you to be more
independent in terms of your academics, but also in your personal life as
well. Developing strong personal skills
prior to heading to college will make the transition much easier for you. Practice skills such as basic
personal skills, self-advocacy and communication at home.
Your will need to know how to explain your disability
to people who don’t know you as well as explain the accommodations you need
academically and personally. Get ready
by writing out a short statement explaining your disability and how it impacts
you academically and socially. Ask your
parents, teachers and counselors about services you use at school to help you
and services or accommodations you need at home. Make a chart with all of your accommodations
in one column and why you need them in another column. Familiarize yourself with both your statement
of your disability and your accommodations.
Once you feel comfortable, practice telling your parents and teachers
about your disability and the services you use and need. Practicing this way will help you not only
develop the skills to advocate for yourself, but will also improve your ability
to communicate your disability and needs clearly.
Self-advocacy is a
skill that can help you in a number of areas.
You need to be a good self-advocate to get the academic supports you
need, in your living arrangements, scheduling for PA’s and a variety of other
situations. Make sure that you are the
one asking for services or accommodations, not your parents! Be prepared to explain why you need these. Remember, once you get to college it is up to
you to ask for what you need.
Self-advocacy skills will help you in personal situations as
well. Is your dorm not suitable for
you? Are you having issues with your roommate? Being a strong self-advocate will allow you
to discuss issues like these in a productive way.
Good communication skills are also a must! If you cannot clearly communicate with your
peers, professors or other adults you will struggle in college. Make sure that you have all the tools
available to you in the communication department. Being able to express yourself clearly is an
important part of self-advocacy as well.
If you can organize your thoughts and words you will find it much easier
to ask for what you need or to explain why something is or isn’t working for
Going to college is an exciting time. Make sure that you are choosing a college
that fits your personality and will provide you with the services or
accommodations that you need to be successful!
Don’t forget to contact each college’s office of disability services and
make sure that you ask good questions about documentation and services
provided. Start planning early and your
transition to college will be much smoother!