A Guide for Students with Disabilities

How to Prepare for and Succeed in College

By  
  |  

More than ever, students with disabilities are able to participate equally in higher education. A combination of amended legislation and auxiliary devices has transformed the landscape for college students with disabilities. In addition to their legal rights, these students have multiple resources available to them to ease the transition from high school to college. See what colleges are doing to set up students with various disabilities for success, including resources and specialized support services.

Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities

The government, as well as numerous colleges and organizations, are dedicated to helping students with disabilities pay for a college education. Whether you're looking for financial assistance to cover an undergraduate or graduate degree program, chances are there's a scholarship or grant opportunity available to help you achieve your academic goals. Find out more below.

Finding a Job After Graduation

Once you've earned your degree, the next step is finding a job. This process can be difficult for anyone, but people with disabilities are up against a different set of challenges. Fortunately, there are federal and state laws in place to ensure that job-seekers - and workers - with disabilities have access to equal opportunities and are not discriminated against. Learn more about these laws and how they affect you.

Types of Disabilities

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), "disability" is the legal term for an individual who has a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits at least one major life activity. Take a closer look at the most common disabilities that college students are managing, including how each disability impacts academic attainment and what accommodations and assistive technologies are available to ease the process.

Strategies for Success

Before College

Transitioning from high school to college is a pivotal time in many students' lives, but it can be more challenging for those living with a disability. Preparation is key. Here are some tips for succeeding academically and socially in a college environment from Allison Miller, who lost the ability to hear in her left ear.

1

Understand your rights

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects the rights of students with disabilities, and colleges are responsible for meeting these requirements. Says Miller, "I reviewed Section 504 often over the course of my education, and I still refer to it."

2

Gather the required documentation

Colleges may request specific documentation as proof of your disability in order to use assistive services. Make sure you have all the required paperwork and records organized and ready.

3

Know where to go for help

Colleges and universities typically have dedicated departments to help students with disabilities. Find out the name of the department that offers assistance, and where it is located on campus. For instance, some colleges call the department "Special Services" while others may call it "Disabled Student Services."

During College

Below are some tips to help you thrive as a college student and successfully get to graduation day.

1

Make sure you understand the academic expectations

Most instructors clearly spell out their expectations in the course syllabus, so read it carefully and ask questions if you need clarification about anything. Be sure to also let your instructors know about any special accommodations you need. "I always made it a point to speak with each professor before classes began in order to explain my situation," explained Miller.

2

Make sure you receive the proper accommodations

Each college has its own accommodation process, but students can expect the following typical steps:

  • Register with the disability support services coordinator (DSS) on campus and provide the required documentation.
  • Discuss your accommodation needs, including what you have worked with in the past and what you expect to need in college. Keep the DSS apprised of any changes that need to occur.
  • Speak with your professors about the best way for you to receive accommodations at the beginning of each semester.
3

Be open and get involved

It can be tough to adjust to any new environment, but it's important to remember that all new college students—whether or not they have a disability—are facing many of the same issues, such as making new friends, discovering and cultivating interests, and balancing the demands of school and a social life. Get involved in clubs or activities that reflect your interests, whether it's attending basketball games or joining a campus political organization.

Also be open about discussing your disability, and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. Many people are willing to offer assistance but need your input on what will be helpful. Finally, don't forget about your "old life." Keeping in touch with your family and close friends from high school will help you stay grounded.

4

Be your own advocate

Whether needing extra classroom assistance or help with access to a campus activity, self-advocacy is essential for anyone with a disability. "I had to learn to become my own advocate," said Miller. "The more you stand up for your rights as a student with a disability, the easier it gets." It will be entirely up to you to register with the college's disability services office, request necessary accommodations, and arrange for support services.

5

Utilize all your disability resources

Support staff can assist you in working toward the goals you have for college, including social and life skills, financial literacy and self-advocacy. Guidance counselors can also help you:

  • Practice using auxiliary aids and services.
  • Effectively explain your disability to peers and instructors so they understand your unique needs.
  • Meet other students with disabilities through groups, organizations, or events.
6

Take advantage of other resources that are available to you as a student

College campuses have multiple resources to support their student bodies. Some of the most common support services that may be particularly helpful for students with disabilities include:

(Campus Center: Services)

  • Counseling Center: Consultations, Counseling sessions.
  • Learning Services Center: One-on-one tutoring, Study groups.
  • Writing Center: Teach writing strategies, Writing workshops and assistance.
  • Career Center: Prepare for job interviews, Career counseling and assessment, Help with resume writing.

Q&A: Understanding Your Rights

What are your basic rights as a student with disabilities, and how can you find out more? This section offers an overview of what you need to know.

Other Important Legislation

Americans with Disabilities Act
Title II of the ADA regulates state and local governments, and provides protection against disability discrimination in services, activities, and programs provided by public institutions.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
This act has regulations that cover children and young adults through age 21, including transition services for future college students.
Assistive Technology Act
Provides eligibility for state organizations, including colleges, to receive grant funding for assistive technology programs.

Interview with a College Graduate

  1. What is your disability?
  2. How did hearing loss affect your college experience, both academically and socially?
  3. What were some of the biggest challenges or frustrations you experienced as a college student with hearing loss and how did you overcome these challenges/frustrations?
  4. Did you use any assistive devices during college? If so, what?
  5. Did your disability play a role in determining which colleges to apply to and eventually attend? If so, how?
  6. What advice would you offer college students who have a disability?
Marijoyce Naguit
Marijoyce Naguit

Epidemiologist

Tips for Parents of College Students with Disabilities

As a parent of a child with disabilities, it's natural to worry. Here are some tips to help manage the transition into college.

1

Contact the college's disability support office

The disability support office will likely play an important role in your child's transition to college. Each school often has specific guidelines for documenting a disability, so be sure to find out early on what will be required to qualify for accommodations and services.

2

Make sure you understand Section 504

Know what rights your child has in case you need to help him or her receive all services and accommodations available or in case you need to help them understand certain laws and regulations. It will be up to you and your child to initiate the registration process and ensure all needs are being met properly and according to the law.

3

Encourage and allow your child to be an advocate for him or herself

As a parent, you want to make things easy for your child, but college students need to learn how to make mistakes - and how to correct them. Show your child that you're there for support and backup when necessary, but put the primary responsibility on him or her to ask for help when it's needed. In addition, parental rights typically cease when children reach the age of majority, so it's a good time to let your child begin advocating on his/her own.

4

Allow your child to choose which college to attend

You might want to keep your child close to home or may feel a particular college is better than another, but remember that it's your child who will be attending the school, not you. The most successful college students - with or without a disability - are those who are highly motivated. Let your child figure out which campus he or she is excited about. That excitement can help make the transition a little less scary and can also serve as motivation.

Life After Graduation

Students with certain disabilities may qualify for a total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge of federal student loans, which means they will not be required to repay their federal student loans. Find out more details about the program, including an overview of the supporting documentation required in the guide below.

Resources

About the Author


expert-profile

The MoneyGeek editorial team has decades of combined experience in writing and publishing information about how people should manage money and credit. Our editors have worked with numerous publications including The Washington Post, The Daily Business Review, HealthDay, and Time, Inc., and have won numerous journalism awards. Our talented team of contributing writers includes mortgage experts, veteran financial reporters, and award-winning journalists. Learn more about the MoneyGeek team.