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