What You Need to Know About College as a Student with a Disability

The transition from high school to college can be both a scary and exciting time for every student. College is a whole new world, and unlike anything most students have yet experienced.

 

Before heading off to college, students have questions and concerns about their future. Most students probably wonder about their major, whether they will like the school they have chosen, and what their new friends will be like, but for students with disabilities, the questions can often be a little more complicated.

 

Students with disabilities may wonder about accommodations, accessibility, services and supports, and getting help with everyday needs. And these questions may not be easy to answer.

 

As someone who’s a former college student, and an individual with a disability, I wanted to share some of the things that I wish I had known freshman year in hopes that it may make your transition a little bit easier.

 

Self Advocacy Is Key:

Growing up, it was typically the responsibility of your parents, teachers, or other administrators to make sure you got the accommodations and supports you needed to be successful in school. But, in college, it becomes primarily your responsibility.

 

Self-advocacy is always important but becomes especially essential when navigating college. College is often the first time students have lived away from home, and it is important to remember that you are your own best advocate: there are lots of supports in place to help you be successful, but you have to be proactive and reach out so that the people around you know what you may, or may not need.

 

Most schools have Offices or Departments of Disability Services in place to help students with disabilities get the accommodations they need, such as note-taking support, extra time on exams, or any other reasonable academic accommodation, but nobody from the office is going to seek you out, especially if they don’t even know you’re there.

 

Make a point to become familiar with the services and supports that exist on your campus. Talk to the disability support staff to work on a plan for your accommodations to help ensure success from day one. You are in college now and, like your peers without disabilities, there are still people there to help you, but for the most part, you are in the driver’s seat now!

 

The Laws Are Different:

K-12 education for students with disabilities is mandated under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), this means that students with disabilities are entitled to public education and that it is the responsibility of the school to see that all students are getting an appropriate education. Colleges don’t fall under IDEA, and therefore, are not required to make accommodations to the same degree as the public school system.

 

In college, students with disabilities are protected from discrimination, such as inaccessibility of buildings, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Schools must provide reasonable accommodations such as notetakers or extra time on exams, but they don’t have any obligation to modify coursework to accommodate students with disabilities or provide additional supports such as assistance with personal care or activities of daily living to ensure a student is successful.

So, if you are, for example, a wheelchair user who needs help to get in and out of bed or perform other daily activities, the ADA requires your school to provide you with an accessible dorm room, but there is no legal obligation to provide you with an assistant or other types of personal care support.

 

This is important to know because it means that you will need to set up the supports you need on your own before you head off to school. Some schools have programs to help students with personal care needs, but this is not a requirement for all schools. Look into what your school offers to figure out what kind of supports may be available.

 

For more information about the difference in laws governing K-12 education and college check out the resources below:

 

https://umaine.edu/disability/accommodations-high-school-vs-college/

 

https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transitionguide.html

 

https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/auxaids.html

 

 

It’s Okay to Reach out for Help and Support:

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or struggling more than you thought you would, there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. Mental and emotional well-being is just as important as physical health, and academic support.

 

Most colleges have a variety of services to support students from health centers, to counseling and other mental health services, and wellness programs, in addition to academic supports. Take advantage of the support and community that exists around you, and don’t be afraid to reach out.

 

Additionally, there are lots of groups and activities on college campuses, and many colleges even have organizations run by and for students with disabilities. These organizations may or may not be support oriented. Many of them may just be social groups, or groups focused on advocacy and activism.

 

Whether or not they are disability focused, student organizations and extracurricular activities can be another great place to find support in college.

 

 

Transition Is Not One-Size-Fits-All:

Everybody is unique, which means that everyone’s experience in transitioning from high school to what comes after will look, feel, and be, very different. Whether you’re planning to go to school far away, attend college close to home, or do something else after high school, it’s important to remember there is no right way to transition from high school to beyond.

 

Whatever you decide to do after high school graduation, focus on making sure that it’s the right option for you, rather than worrying about whether it’s what other people expect.

 

For more information you need to know,  check out the topics below:

What You Need to Know About Preventative Care and Disability
What You Need to Know About Sexual and Reproductive Health and Disability

Innovators with Disabilities to Pitch to Major Corporations

UCP’s Life Labs Holds Innovation Lab at USBLN National Conference

 

Washington, D.C. (September, 21, 2015) – United Cerebral Palsy has partnered with USBLN, a national nonprofit that helps businesses drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion, to host an Innovation Lab during USBLN’s 18th Annual National Conference & Biz2Biz Expo in Austin, TX at the end of September.

Innovation Lab, part of UCP’s Life Labs initiative. brings together innovators from all walks of life to compete on teams to dream up the next big idea for people with disabilities. Using human-centered principles of Universal Design, the teams work with mentors and facilitators to tackle problems ranging from mobility to communication in an effort to help improve the every day lives of people with disabilities.

At the conference, Innovation Lab teams will consist of participants of the Career Link Mentoring Program. The program is a collaboration of USBLN and Cornell University’s Employment and Disability Institute, which provides a 6-month career mentoring opportunity to college students and recent graduates with disabilities through linkages to business professionals from USBLN member companies.

“Rather than continuing to retrofit our world to accommodate people with disabilities, there’s no reason why we can’t encourage future designs to work for people of all abilities,” said Gabriel Forsythe Y Korzeniewicz, Life Labs Program Manager. “Past Innovation Lab events have included people with and without disabilities – from students to engineers, to physical therapists and people from a variety of backgrounds. We’re excited that this will be our first Lab in which all of the competitors have disabilities. We’re interested to see what kinds of unique ideas will come from this group.”

From September 27-29 the Innovation Lab teams will compete for one of two opportunities to pitch their ideas “Shark Tank”-style to major corporate players such as IBM, Sprint, Verizon, 3M and Mitsubishi – all part of USBLN’s membership of 5000 of the top companies in America. On September 30, each team’s idea will on display at the Bizt2iz Expo so conference attendees can vote on which two ideas to elevate to the level of a pitch to potential investors.

UCP Visits the Abilities Expo!

UCP made a trip to Edison, New Jersey for the New York Metro Abilities Expo a couple weeks ago. The Abilities Expo brings together vendors, organizations and disability-centered initiatives for three days for those to explore the latest and greatest in all things disability related. Staff from UCP National visited the Expo on May 2nd and 3rd, networking with several organizations and fellow Expo-goers.

 

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UCP Staff with the crew from the [dis]ABLED InsideOut collaborative.

Some of the highlights from the Expo included: The Panthera X, a carbon-frame chair that weighs only nine pounds with the wheels attached, with the frame itself only weighing four pounds. Other cool and notable technology included Smart Drive, which allows a manual wheelchair user to be able to steer their chair by just tapping on the wheels.

The UCP Staff hadopportunity to be apart of the large-scale and collaborative art project [dis]ABLED InsideOut, which is being lead by French actress and activist Leopoldine Huyghues-Despointes and artist JR. The goal of the project is to help bring awareness to disability, as well as to play a role in helping to challenge stereotypes that those with disabilities often face. The staff members who participated in the project were all born with Cerebral Palsy and were honored to be apart of the [dis]ABLED movement.

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Some of the assistive devices on display at the Expo.

 

The biggest highlight of the Expo was, without a doubt, getting to meet and connect with so many wonderful and like-minded people with disabilities. There was great camaraderie and conversation. It’s an amazing thing to see such a strong amount of activism in one space.

If you have a chance, go check out the Abilities Expo when it comes to your city!

 

 

Enabled by Design-athon from an OT’s Perspective

Guest post contributed by Clarice Torrey, occupational therapist and winner of UCP Life Lab’s recent Design-athon People’s Choice Award. 

 

Clarice Torrey

I nerded out a bit when I first saw @UCPLifeLabs tweet about the Enabled-by Design-athon in DC. I had already become familiar with Enabled by Design and UCP Life Labs through the wonderful world of Twitter, but this event was exactly what I’d been looking for. I’m an occupational therapist who works primarily with children who have cerebral palsy, and I want to blend my knowledge of disability with my passion for designing and making. Over the past 10+ years as an occupational therapist, I have designed and fabricated many adaptive aids and splints. The Design-athon felt like it was made for me.

Even so, I didn’t exactly know what to expect. Thursday morning I walked into the event at Google’s DC headquarters and was assigned to a team consisting of Jessica Bonness, an interior designer, educator and our team facilitator; Jessica Denson, an interior design student; Emily Flax, an industrial designer; Patricia Torres, a universal design student; and Reem Bagais, an interior design student. We started with empathy exercises to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to have a disability. For instance, we put on gloves to search for items in our purse and used earplugs/headphones to simulate a hearing impairment. The exercise that resonated the most with us was doing activities with limited dexterity and only having the use of one upper extremity.

Our question became this: How can we facilitate increased independence for people with limited to no use of one upper extremity? There are so many daily activities most people take for granted that are made possible or easier with two hands. We wanted a tool that could be worn or at least easily accessible to provide the stabilization that so many two-handed tasks require. For instance when zipping up a jacket, you can complete the task with only one hand, but it will probably take you longer and you might have to use your teeth or another awkward adaptation.Empathy Exercise

As an occupational therapist, I do activity analysis so often it’s become second nature. One thing I frequently tell families is that the two hands don’t have to have equal skills in order to be functional. Almost all of us have a dominant hand that does most of the work, I usually call the other hand the “helper hand.” It’s the stabilizer. We used this information to brainstorm: How do we stabilize or grip objects? How do we attach things to our bodies?

The wall and sticky notes quickly became our friends.

As the word wearable was written on the wall, Emily saw it as “we are able” and we quickly decided that was our team name. We continued brainstorming.

Emily took the lead and we began adding to our lists and calling out some really random things. At one point, I became extremely interested in the idea of electromagnetics. I excused myself from the group for a bit to consult with some engineering/tech friends: Philip Lindsay and Darian Ahler. One of the original team ideas was a bracelet with an attachment to stabilize something. In the case of zipping up a jacket, you would reach over to one side of the jacket and activate an electromagnet to stabilize the jacket, as your unaffected hand managed the zipper and pulled it up. My friends talked me through solenoids and balloon/coffee grounds grippers. As I tried to do some research on the feasibility of something higher tech, the rest of the team continued working on other ideas.

It was a real shuffle to present to the crowd and update them on our progress. It was also a good way to keep us moving forward. It was fun to hear what the other seven teams at the event were working on. There was clearly some amazing minds coming together to come up with beautiful, functional designs to benefit all.

Our design continued to develop that first day. We had the opportunity to consult with Brett Heising of brettapproved.com. He has limited dexterity in his right hand. He told us the most difficult tasks for him were tying a tie and buttoning the top button and sleeves of a dress shirt. I simulated our design theory by using my hand to form a “clip” and stabilize the material of his shirt sleeve held together. He still wasn’t able to button the button.

I asked Brett if he had ever used a button hook, which is a common buttoning aid. He said he had, but challenged us to come up with a better design. We realized that our stabilizer had the potential to develop by adding different attachments based on the individual needs. I continued problem-solving a tool for this specific task, but it is still in development.We Are Able Prototypes

The stabilizing gripper we had designed would facilitate tying a tie though and we began to list all of the activities it would help with. It could help zip up jackets, open ziplock baggies, open other packages, hold a fork for cutting with a knife, hold paper while cutting with scissors, and hold a smartphone for the other hand to easily access.

As our first day came to an end, we felt that the palm of the hand would provide more stability than the wrist and that a low tech attachment would be more feasible. The next day we would bring various materials and clips to problem-solve what would work best. We consulted with representatives from PSC Engineering who were on hand with 3-D printers to print out a modified version of a slide clip pants hanger clip, which is the type of attachment piece we were leaning towards.

As I left the first day, I was exhausted and exhilarated. Now that we had a basic concept, I needed some hands-on inspiration. I needed to touch and feel materials and process. I walked up and down every aisle of a local Wal-Mart letting my brain work through the possibilities. I bought ribbon, chain and leather bracelets, yarn, a crochet hook, metal picnic tablecloth clips, and various other supplies we could possibly use tomorrow to put together a prototype. I knew it wouldn’t be as pretty as I would like, but I knew it might help us make a functioning tool.

Friday morning was crunch time. Patricia set to work on the computer animated design. Jessica worked on the slides for the presentation. With everyone’s “supply” contribution in the middle of the table some of us began playing with materials. We ended up using the tablecloth hooks and reformed them into a universal cuff. We covered the metal in leather and attached a slide-lock hanger clip. We covered the clip in Sugru for aesthetics and for greater stability at the latch.

Winning DesignWe were still making changes it was time to present to the judges, but we were proud of what we made in just a short time. This small tool had the ability to assist people with cerebral palsy, stroke, arthritis and other disabilities be more functional and independent. Our presentation went well, and I really felt that the judges and the people in the room appreciated and valued our hard work and what we had done in such a short time. We were awarded the People’s Choice Award and a Google Chromecast each! Brett talked to us about a friend in Arizona that could help with bringing our design to market.

For me, the Design-athon was an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded people passionate about design and disability. It allowed me to blend my knowledge, creativity, and passion. Designing and making adaptive aides has been one of my life pursuits, and with this experience, I feel confident that I am moving in the right direction.

 

Design-athon Revised Header

 

UCP’s Summer Interns Soak In Affiliate Visit

by Kyle Khachadurian, External Affairs Intern, Kaitlyn Meuser, External Affairs Intern and Michael Wothe, Affiliate Services and Public Education Intern at UCP’s National Office

 

outside pathways academy

Recently, we took a trip to UCP of Central Pennsylvania (UCP of CPA) in order to get a taste of what an affiliate does and how it operates. The first thing we noticed is that UCP of CPA is huge! Working in UCP’s national office, we interact with people through referring them to their local UCP affiliates and/or other resources. Seeing, firsthand, an affiliate that treats the slogan “life without limits” in such a direct way refreshed all of us.

 [Left: Staff from UCP National and UCP of Central Pennsylvania at Pathways Academy]

The work going on at UCP of CPA is quite spectacular. We were able to visit several of their departments and programs: Pathways Academy, a residence for adults with disabilities that is fully equipped with SmartHome technology. The SmartHome technology consists of sensors on all of the windows, doors, and even chairs and beds to let the house staff know if any of the residents may have left and need assistance. 

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[Right: Interacting with children at the Capital Area Children’s Center]

Our next stop was at their Capital Area Children’s Center, which is a preschool for young children, ages six weeks to five years old, with and without disabilities. The school has 75% of its students without disabilities and 25% with a range of disabilities. Aside from various therapies, which happen in the classroom, the children with disabilities are taught the same things, at the same pace, as the children without disabilities– and it works. When we visited, a 4-year-old girl came up to us and said hello. She started telling us how she was graduating the following day. We later learned she was non-verbal when she began school there! It was absolutely incredible to be able to see the “real world” results from the programs at UCP of CPA.

The last stop on our UCP of CPA journey was at their Assistive Technology/Changing Hands Center. There, we seemingly saw every kind of assistive technology you could possibly think of, and several that you’d never think of, such as a button shaped like a face. There was also a pile of board games that were all in braille. After that, we saw the Changing Hands Center that was a sort of “exchange” for mobility aids and devices. If someone needs a type of device, he or she calls and asks for it. If UCP of CPA has one available, the device gets cleaned, and the person comes to pick it up free of charge. You can also donate old equipment that you no longer need to the Changing Hands Center.

AT includees games

[Left: Checking out board games in braille]

The striking thing about the work this UCP affiliate is doing is that their passion for what they are doing is apparent and absolutely infectious. It was great to see the positive impact technology can have on the lives of individuals with various disabilities, as well as the positive impact that early intervention and inclusion can have on young children — seen from the bright, smiling faces of the kids enrolled at UCP of CPA’s Children’s Center. Nearly all of the staff we met has a connection with cerebral palsy or other disabilities, be it a family member, friend or loved one. They treated us like we belonged there, and we truly felt welcomed. UCP of CPA is a shining example of the great work UCP affiliates are doing across the United States, in Canada, and Australia!

 

Website Reviews Apps for People with Disabilities

SNApps4Kids or Special Needs Apps for Kids is a community of parents, therapists, doctors and teachers who share information about how they are using popular mobile devices like the iPad, iTouch and iPhone with children who have special needs.  These Apps allow children and adults with disabilities to communication, learn new skills and have fun. Browse through the site to find Apps categorized by device type, skill (color recognition, manual dexterity, decision making) or broad category such as math or reading.

New Free iPhone App Gives Parents Information and Strategies to Advocate for their Kids

Developed by a Professor of Education at Syracuse University, iAdvocate provides parents with both information and strategies in regards to their educational rights and getting their child’s needs met. The goal of iAdvocate is to share and develop specific strategies with parents for working collaboratively with a school team to improve their children’s education and to provide the most inclusive and meaningful educational environment for students with disabilities.

iAdvocate provides suggested responses to the obstacles parents commonly face when dealing with the school system. The responses include links to the related IDEA section, court cases, and suggested books, articles, and websites for more information. iAdvocate is available free of charge from iTunes.

Bookshare–Making Print Accessible

Bookshare® is a searchable, online library of digital books available free of charge to people with print disabilities. The collection includes textbooks, novels, periodicals and assistive technology tools for readers of all ages. Users can have memberships through their school, organization, and/or an individual membership for use at home.

Reading materials are downloaded electronically and then read using compatible adaptive technology, typically software that reads the book aloud (text-to-speech) and/or displays the text of the book on a computer screen, or Braille access devices, such as refreshable Braille displays. There is even an app for use with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Find out if you or your child qualifies for the free Bookshare membership, browse the vast collection, and learn more about this wonderful resource.