Equal access to a college education can be challenging for someone with a disability – but there is help through campus disability services offices when you know how to effectively request services and accommodations.
Sometimes your academic needs can be overlooked If you’re a student with a disability. For full disclosure I have cerebral palsy and am very familiar with disability services at the college level. During my college career I earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree but without proper accommodations this would not have been possible.
If you're intent on going to college, I encourage you to start looking your junior year of high school. Doing so will allow you sufficient time to get all the necessary paperwork in order and to explore the reputation of your preferred universities' disability services offices. You may be asking what kind of paperwork will I need? This documentation may include Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), psychological or medical evaluations, or a note from your doctor documenting your disability. That's what I did when I first applied to college. For the most part the disability services offices of most campuses are very easy to work with. If they cannot provide you the exact accommodation you used in high school, they will do their best to meet your needs without giving you an unfair advantage over other students.
You may also be wondering what types of accommodations are available at the college level. Although every college is different there are some accommodations that are universal, such as sign language interpreters, extended time and alternative formats for test-taking, note-takers and typists, course substitutions or waivers, wheelchair ramps and elevators, and disabled parking. These are not all the available accommodations. It is recommended that you keep an open line of communication with your campus’s disability services office throughout the process. They are there to assist you but they can only provide assistance to those that ask for it.
Since I have cerebral palsy and low vision, I needed several different accommodations to level the playing field in the classroom. I needed a scribe or aide to take notes and assist me with in-class writing assignments, as well as taking tests. For a large portion of my academic career, I relied on other students to take notes and only had an aide for tests. Disability services offices will often pay students in your classes who sign up to be note-takers. This is really helpful because these student scribes have a vested interested in taking good notes because they will also be using them to study.
Campus disability services offices also enlist the help of teaching faculty to assist students by, with the student's permission, helping to recruit scribes or increasing the font on slides and other materials. Staying in touch with faculty on your needs and the approved accommodations you need is vital to success.
As a final thought college can be overwhelming for everyone when they first start out so don’t let your disability prevent you from having an amazing college experience. Your disability is only part of who you are. I'd love to hear your experiences with college disability services offices. Please share them in the Facebook comment area for this article.