Financial Assistance Opportunities for Students With Disabilities

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 25, 2024

ByNathan Paulus
Edited byRae Osborn

Updated: April 25, 2024

Advertising & Editorial Disclosure

Although it hasn’t always been the case, today's post-secondary schools are places where students with disabilities can flourish and reach their full potential, with most offering resources to help these students successfully navigate higher education. Many schools and organizations offer assistance to help students with disabilities reach their education goals and find meaningful employment, from tutoring to financial aid and tax breaks.

Scholarships and Grants for Students With Disabilities

There are various scholarships and grants for students with disabilities. While individual research helps students find the most suitable scholarships, finding debt-free college resources can be challenging. We've curated a list that offers a starting point, highlighting scholarships for students with disabilities and providing details on how and when to apply.

Scholarships for Students With Physical Disabilities

Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandates equal learning experiences, students with physical ailments, mobility or travel limitations and neurological conditions often incur higher educational costs. Scholarships for these students help lower financial barriers, supporting their academic and career goals.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

$1,000

Attending a two-year, four-year or graduate school program with a documented physical disability.

$500

High school and undergraduate students who are under the age of 21, with a physical disability.

$500

Currently enrolled students with a mobility disability who use a wheelchair or other mobility devices.

Scholarships for Students With Learning Disabilities

The following scholarships acknowledge that students with learning disabilities can excel in various fields despite facing challenges. They provide targeted support and help students with learning disabilities manage finances. Below is a list of scholarships tailored for students with learning disabilities.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

$10,000

Graduating high school seniors with a documented learning disability.

$1,000

Students diagnosed with dyslexia or auditory processing disorder.

$500–2,500

High school and college students with documented learning disabilities pursuing STEM fields.

$2,000–6,000

High school seniors who are Learning Ally members with learning disabilities.

Scholarships for Students With Visual and Hearing Impairments

Various organizations offer scholarships to students with visual impairments and hearing loss. Below are scholarships specifically for these students.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

$2,000–7,500

Legally blind students seeking full-time post-secondary education.

$2,000

Students who have received a cochlear implant.

$1,000

Students who are hard of hearing or deaf.

$1,000

High school seniors with hearing loss who plan to attend college.

Varies

Legally blind students pursuing post-secondary education.

Scholarships for Students With Autism and Developmental Disorders

These scholarships recognize the potential of students with autism and developmental disorders to achieve their academic goals and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

$3,000

Students with autism attending any type of post-secondary education, including vocational/technical schools.

$1,000–10,000

Adults with Down syndrome seeking post-secondary education, including vocational or enrichment classes.

$3,000

Students with an autism diagnosis attending a two-year or four-year college program.

Scholarships for Students With Mental Health Disorders

These scholarships are designed to support students navigating the complexities of mental health conditions while striving for academic success.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

Varies

Students diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or major depressive disorder pursuing a degree or vocational training.

$2,300

Students diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia attending college.

Varies

Students diagnosed with a mental health condition who are pursuing a college degree.

Scholarships by Field of Study

The following scholarships are open to students with disabilities pursuing particular fields of study or meeting certain enrollment requirements. They are not tailored to students with specific types of ability or impairment.

Scholarships
Amount
Eligibility

$1,000

Students with a disability pursuing health and disability-related studies.

$1,000

Enrolled in an accredited university, with a documented disability.

$10,000

Pursuing a computer science or technology degree, strong academic performance.

Varies

Open to students with disabilities pursuing higher education.

$5,000

High school seniors plan to attend a four-year college, pursuing a career in the technology industry.

Grants for Students With Disabilities

Grants come from various sources — including federal, state and private entities — each with its own set of eligibility criteria and application processes. Below is an overview of the different types of grants and specific grant programs that can assist students with disabilities.

1
Federal Pell Grants

Primarily aimed at undergraduate students who display exceptional financial need, Federal Pell Grants provide a foundation of financial aid to which other forms of aid may be added. To qualify, students must complete the FAFSA. The amount awarded is based on financial need, cost of attendance and full-time or part-time enrollment status. The maximum award for the 2024–25 year is $7,395.

2
State Grants

These grants encourage high-achieving students to continue their education within their home states. Eligibility often requires demonstrating financial need, residency in the state and enrollment in an in-state institution. Use the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) tool to locate grants from your state.

3
Private Grants

These grants are offered by a variety of entities, including corporations, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions, each targeting specific fields of study. To locate such grants, you should inquire directly with your chosen colleges or search organizations advocating disabilities. Note that private grants often prioritize merit and may require detailed applications.

Colleges and Programs Designed for Students With Disabilities

Some colleges and universities offer financial aid for students with disabilities. A handful of private schools focus on learners with disabilities. Here are a few of them:

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    Gallaudet University

    As a premier institution for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, Gallaudet University offers merit-based scholarships for outstanding achievers. The university also provides access to numerous endowed scholarships based on specific criteria, including awards for African or European students and scholarships targeting undergraduates from Nebraska and Wisconsin

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    Beacon College

    Dedicated to students with ADHD and learning disabilities, Beacon College offers a range of scholarships to its undergraduates. The college is designed to support students through tailored teaching methods and a supportive learning environment, enhancing their academic success.

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    Landmark College

    Specializing in education for students with learning disabilities, Landmark College prides itself on a teaching approach that caters to individual learning styles. The college's focus on inclusive education ensures that students with learning disabilities receive the support they need to thrive academically.

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    University of Iowa's REACH Program

    This innovative program offers a two-year certificate for students with multiple disabilities, focusing on academic enrichment, career development and independent living. Despite not offering credit towards a traditional degree, the REACH program equips students with the skills and preparation needed to pursue further education or enter the workforce.

Navigating Tax Deductions for Students With Disabilities

Certain educational expenses — especially those related to managing or alleviating a disability — may qualify as deductible medical expenses. Here's a breakdown to help students with disabilities navigate potential tax deductions and breaks pertaining to their education:

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    Deductible Expenses

    In some cases, the IRS considers tuition a deductible medical expense. In addition to the costs you'd expect, such as long-term care premiums, the IRS says you can deduct "costs for a school that furnishes special education if a principal reason for using the school is its resources for relieving a mental or physical disability." This includes the cost of teaching Braille and lip-reading and remedial language training to correct a condition caused by a birth defect.

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    Deduction Threshold

    Taxpayers can deduct medical expenses surpassing 7.5% of their adjusted gross income (AGI) for the year. This means if your medical expenses (including tuition) exceed this percentage, you may qualify for a deduction.

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    Tax Adviser

    Consult with a tax adviser before claiming any deductions. They can provide personalized advice based on your situation, ensuring you comply with tax laws and maximize your benefits. Also consider exploring resources discussing tax guides for students and parents.

Student Loan Forgiveness and Discharge Options

If you become disabled after graduation, you might be eligible for loan forgiveness. The U.S. Department of Education offers complete discharge of Direct Loans, Federal Family Education Loans and Perkins Loans to borrowers deemed to have a total and permanent disability (TPD). Student loan policies and forgiveness programs may evolve, so staying informed about current regulations and opportunities for loan forgiveness is crucial.

1
Qualification Criteria
  • Medical Certification: To be eligible for a TPD discharge, a doctor must certify that the borrower has been unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death, has lasted for at least 60 months, or can be expected to last for at least 60 months.
  • Acceptable Proof of Disability: The Department of Education also accepts disability determinations from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs as proof of eligibility for a TPD discharge. This includes SSA documentation of your SSDI or SSI benefits award or VA documentation of a service-connected disability determination.
2
Applying for a TPD Discharge

To initiate the process, borrowers must apply along with the necessary documentation of their disability to the Department of Education's designated TPD servicer.

3
Post-Discharge Monitoring Period

Following the approval of a TPD discharge, there is a three-year monitoring period during which the borrower must meet specific requirements, such as not taking out any new student loans and not earning an income above a certain threshold.

4
Explore Other Forgiveness and Cancellation Programs

Various forgiveness programs cater to different professions or circumstances, such as Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) and Teacher Loan Forgiveness.

How to Find and Apply for Disability Scholarships and Grants

A focused and strategic approach can significantly improve your chances of success. Here are actionable tips that can guide you through the application process for disability scholarships and grants:

1
Begin With Comprehensive Platforms

Start your search on Scholarships.com, Fastweb.com or Finaid.org. These sites aggregate a wide range of scholarships, making it easier to find those tailored to students with disabilities.

2
Explore Local and Regional Opportunities

Don't overlook scholarships available in your state or community. Local organizations, state education websites and community groups often offer less competitive scholarships than national awards.

3
Check With Prospective Colleges

If you have a list of colleges in mind, explore their specific scholarship databases. Many institutions offer awards directly to students with disabilities enrolled in their programs.

4
Seek Out Disability-Specific Scholarships

Look for awards from organizations that support individuals with your specific disability. These scholarships understand your unique challenges and can offer financial aid and a supportive community.

5
Organize and Plan

Create a detailed plan including deadlines, required materials and eligibility criteria for each scholarship. Staying organized can prevent last-minute rushes and ensure you submit your best application.

6
Prepare Your Documents

Collect all necessary documentation early on, including transcripts, letters of recommendation and medical documentation if required. Tailoring these documents to each application can make a significant difference.

7
Prioritize Quality Over Quantity

Focus on scholarships for which you're a strong fit rather than applying to as many as possible. Tailoring each application to the specific award can increase your chances of success.

8
Ask for Feedback

Before submitting your applications, ask a mentor, teacher or counselor to review your materials. Constructive feedback can enhance the quality of your applications.

9
Follow Up

Follow up with the scholarship committee after submitting your applications to ensure they have received all necessary materials and express your continued interest.

Additional Resources

We've curated a list of additional resources that offer information, support and tools designed to empower students with disabilities to make informed decisions about their education and financial planning.

  • ADA.gov: Managed by the federal Department of Justice, this website provides in-depth information on the Americans with Disabilities Act, a critical piece of legislation ensuring equal rights.
  • CareerOneStop Scholarship Finder: A resource from the U.S. Department of Labor that allows users to search for scholarships by disability, geographic location and study level.
  • Disability Rights Office: A federal office dedicated to protecting the rights of people with disabilities, offering resources and assistance on a wide range of issues.
  • Federal Student Aid: Published by the U.S. Department of Education, this page contains comprehensive details on loans, grants and work-study options. It features helpful guides for preparing for college, avoiding scams and managing debt.
  • Understood: An organization that provides support, resources and community for people who learn and think differently, including students with disabilities preparing for or currently in college.

About Nathan Paulus


Nathan Paulus headshot

Nathan Paulus is the Head of Content Marketing at MoneyGeek, with nearly 10 years of experience researching and creating content related to personal finance and financial literacy.

Paulus has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of St. Thomas, Houston. He enjoys helping people from all walks of life build stronger financial foundations.


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