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

Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District: Students With Disabilities and “Meaningful” Education

January 11, 2016 marked a momentous day for individuals with disabilities throughout the United States with the Supreme Court hearing arguments for Endrew v. Douglas County School District. The debate revolves around the interpretation of the 1982 Board of Education of the Hendrick Hudson Central School District v. Rowley case, relating to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975 (IDEA).

A family in Colorado and their son Endrew argue that IDEA was intended to provide children with disabilities the access to a meaningful education which also allows for “significant educational progress.” The school district, however, interprets that IDEA has no set standard, and simply ensures that the child receives personalized education which is sufficient (i.e. “merely more than de minimus”). Endrew’s family is concerned that the Douglas County school district did not offer adequate resources for children with disabilities to achieve. After Endrew completed the fourth grade in the Douglas County School District accompanied by his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), his parents disagreed with the proposed IEP for his fifth year and made the decision to put him in a private school. Endrew and his parents argued that he was not being sufficiently provided a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE), as mandated by the IDEA, and were seeking reimbursement for the tuition of his private school.

Although Endrew and his family lost this case, over the course of administrative hearings and lower court cases, the family and the school district have been arguing over the measure of “some academic progress” and whether the district must meet a “merely more than de minimus” requirement. The federal government supports Endrew and his parents, drawing on Rowley which indicated that a FAPE must provide meaningful access to education which is much higher than “merely more than de minimus.”

Through the course of the Supreme Court’s oral arguments, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. summarized that the main issue at hand is whether or not IDEA places emphasis on the word “some” or the word “benefit” in the phrase “some benefit”, each resulting in both contrasting and notable meanings that has manifested into the current argument: Providing some benefit would achieve the goals of the school district in distributing education that is merely better than nothing; whereas providing some benefit implies that the education be meaningful and allow for academic progress, which Endrew and his parents seek. Justice Elena Kagan also reminded the school district’s attorney of the precedents set in previous cases in which “some benefit” was repeatedly intended to have “some bite.”

The outcome of the Court’s decision will define the quality of education for students with disabilities for years to come. Those interested in following the case, can find a copy of the transcript from this week’s arguments here. United Cerebral Palsy, along with other organizations, has signed to an amicus brief which can be viewed here. We will continue to monitor this case, and will be interested to see how the Court decides.

The RISE Act of 2016

RISE Act – The Respond, Innovate, Support, and Empower Act of 2016 (Bill S.2203)

Students living with a broad range of disabilities are enrolling at 4-year institutions more than ever before, but not all are completing their education. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, students with learning disabilities (LD) enrolled at 4-year colleges or universities are completing their degrees at a rate of only 45%. For their non-disabled peers, the rate of completion for a 4-year degree currently stands at 53%. There are multiple factors that could be contributing to this rate. A new bill, The Respond, Innovate, Support, and Empower Act – or RISE Act, was introduced in the Senate on December 7, 2016 by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Bill Cassidy (R-LA). This bill seeks to remove some of the most common barriers faced by students, and their families s, by requiring 4-year colleges and universities to adopt more transparent policies for their disability services – making it easier for students to obtain accommodations, services, and the supports they need throughout their college experience.

The RISE Act would amend the Higher Education Act (HEA) to clarify the types of documentation institutions of higher education must accept from students who are enrolling who have a disability. This would allow students to submit the same form(s)of documentation for proof of disability as they have done throughout their K-12 education. As stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, sufficient documentation for showing a student’s disability includes:

  • Previous documentation of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), including plans that may be both current and out-of-date;
  • Documentation of a 504 Education Plan;
  • Private school documentation of services;
  • A plan or record of disability from another institution of higher learning

In addition, the RISE Act would authorize $10 million in funds from the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities (an already existing program under the HEOA). The funds would go towards helping to better equip professors, teachers, and other facility and staff at colleges and universities to meet the growing needs of students with disabilities, including providing training, strategies, and help with providing accommodations. The RISE Act would also require all institutions of higher learning to adopt transparent policies regarding their disability services, and require them to widely share and disseminate that information to parents and families.