College & Career Guide for Students with Disabilities

College students with disabilities have rights that allow for specific accommodations to help them succeed in school. Learn about legal protections, scholarships, technologies, and other assistance available to students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities made up 19.4% of enrolled undergraduate students in the U.S. according to the most recent data release from the Department of Education (DoE). However, many of these students may be afraid to or not know how to advocate for themselves and obtain the assistance they need. Data on graduation rates for students with disabilities can be hard to come by, but based on a recent study by the DoE National Center of Education Statistics, only 54.2% had graduated with a bachelor's degree after six years. One possible reason for this low graduation rate is that only 35% of students with disabilities chose to disclose those disabilities to the college or university they attended, and only 24% chose to utilize accommodations. This guide is intended to help students with disabilities learn about their rights, the laws that protect them, and the resources available to help them see through their goal of obtaining higher education.

Rights of College Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities enrolled in college or university have certain rights that are recognized by law. These rights are enumerated in several different laws and cover topics like the right to an appropriate education, rights to privacy, and rights to reasonable accommodations to assist in their education. However, these laws also define 'disability' differently, which can make figuring out exactly what applies fairly complex.

Laws Protecting Students with Disabilities

There are three major laws which protect and define the rights of those with disabilities throughout the U.S. The first is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Title II of the ADA mandates that public areas, including public schools and universities, cannot discriminate and must provide reasonable accommodations for those with disabilities. Title III covers private schools, requiring much the same.

The second law is Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prevents any program or activity that receives federal funding from excluding individuals who are still qualified to participate. Since federal funding is quite pervasive, particularly through education, this applies to a huge variety of programs and institutions.

The third law is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires that states identify and evaluate children with disabilities within their borders, guaranteeing them a 'free and appropriate education.' This law largely governs students in public schools and may have helped provide accessibility and accommodations that you utilized from elementary to high school.

There are also other laws that may be relevant to students with disabilities. The Assistive Technology Act exists to promote the use of and access to 'assistive technologies,' which range from wheelchairs to hearing aids to accessibility adaptations in public spaces, such as grab bars and ramps. The intention is to allow Americans with disabilities of all ages and at all stages of life to more fully participate in society. The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of a student's educational records, providing rights to parents and students, once they turn 18. Students of age and their parents have the rights to access education records maintained by the schools they attend, the right to request changes to those records, the right to control whether records are disclosed (with consent), and the right to lodge complaints against a school should they violate the protections enshrined in FERPA.

If you believe that you are experiencing discrimination in violation of the above laws, there are measures you can take to preserve your rights. The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) has information on the rights of protected classes and information on filing complaints. While students experiencing discrimination may have the option to file a grievance through internal complaint offices, they are not required to in order to file through the OCR. Complaints to the OCR can be filed through an online form, mailed forms, or email, and should include as much information as possible about the discriminated party, the incidents of discrimination, and where and when they took place. Complaints can be submitted by witnesses or individuals acting on behalf of someone who's been discriminated against, but must be submitted within 180 days of the last act of discrimination.

For additional assistance when experiencing discrimination, consider consulting the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), a nonprofit organization established to advocate for the federal protection of Americans with disabilities. NDRN was created by the U.S. Congress to act on behalf of those with disabilities, and the organization is active in all U.S. states and territories. The NDRN places education at a high priority and is quick to challenge legal changes that may impact those with disabilities negatively.

What Qualifies as a Disability

Disabilities are defined in two different ways, depending on which law is most relevant to the situation. IDEA, which primarily deals with public education from elementary through secondary school, applies to students who have been diagnosed with one of 13 particular conditions. A 'child with a disability' as recognized by IDEA has one or more of the following conditions:

  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Hearing impairments (including deafness)
  • Speech or language impairments
  • Visual impairments (including blindness)
  • Serious emotional disturbance
  • Orthopedic impairments
  • Autism
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Other health impairments
  • Specific learning disabilities (dyslexia, developmental aphasia, etc.)

These students are required to be provided with a transition plan to help them move from grade school to post-secondary institutions, and this may impact eligibility for accommodations and services. Once a student enrolls in a post-secondary institution, they are no longer protected by IDEA, and instead will fall under section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 504 and the ADA both define disabilities in a similar way. Rather than having a list of conditions, an individual with a disability is defined as anyone who has a physical or mental impairment that affects major life activities, has documentation proving such, and would generally be regarded as impaired by others. Both the ADA and Section 504 protect students from discrimination, both during the admissions process and while attending, although students who need accommodations are responsible for identifying themselves to the school's office of disability services.

Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are conditions that make it difficult for a student to participate in a normal classroom setting and are the most common type of disability among students at post-secondary institutions. They are not indicative of low intelligence or a lack of drive and are generally diagnosed when a student struggles with particular areas over a long period of time. Disorders such as dyslexia (difficulties reading), dyscalculia (difficulties with math), and dysgraphia (difficulties with writing) are among the most common learning disabilities, and are usually recognized at a young age. Students with learning disabilities might require accommodations in the form of policy changes, such as extra time on tests or help with taking notes. Other learning disabilities include language processing disorders, which make speech difficult to comprehend, and non-verbal learning disorders, which involve issues with visual-spatial tasks, such as drawing or reading clocks.

Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities

Intellectual and developmental disabilities are those that affect a variety of systems in the body in a negative way and are usually present from birth. Intellectual disabilities cause difficulty with reasoning, problem solving, and learning, and/or struggles with social and life skills. Developmental disabilities can be intellectual or physical, or both, and cause issues with the normal course of development in various aspects of the body, such as the nervous system or metabolism. Again, individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities are not always of low intelligence; a person with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), for example, may be of average or even above average intelligence. One of the most common intellectual disabilities is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, which affects about 24% of students with disabilities in college. Individuals with ADHD have difficult focusing on tasks or experience poor impulse control.

Intellectual and developmental disabilities can also affect memory, particularly working memory, that helps a person keep track of new information that will be used shortly, such as in an extensive math problem. Metabolic diseases, such as phenylketonuria or hypothyroidism, can cause intellectual and developmental disabilities as well, if not adequately treated at an early age. Another possible cause of intellectual disabilities is a degenerative disorder, although many of these will not show symptoms until middle age. Psychological and psychiatric disabilities, such as depression, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and eating disorders are also sometimes considered part of this umbrella. Individuals with psychiatric disabilities may need accommodations in the form of extra time on tests, or special conditions for class participation.

Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities are those conditions which affect the functioning of aspects of the body, such as blindness, deafness, and missing or limited use of limbs, among other conditions. A physical disability can be present alongside an intellectual, developmental, or learning disability, or may exist on its own. Physical disabilities can be congenital, such as spina bifida or cerebral palsy, or acquired later in life from injury or infection. Some conditions can go through periods of activity and remission, as is the case with multiple sclerosis, which impact the severity of impairment. Physical disabilities can have a wide range of impairment, from low severity, such as being quick to exhaustion, to more severe, such as those conditions which restrict an individual's ability to move unaided. Conditions that affect coordination, such as dyspraxia, or executive functioning, which involves planning, organization, and inhibitions, can also fall under the category of physical disabilities if they impact an individual's ability to move and operate in the world.

Services for Students with Disabilities

Students who choose to disclose their disabilities to a post-secondary institution in which they're enrolled may be able to obtain special services that can assist them in their classes. These services may be modifications to existing policies, assistive technologies that can help compensate for disabilities, special housing accommodations, modified testing procedures, and vocational rehabilitation. The exact services available can vary by institution, so consult with your college's office of disability services to find out what your options are.

Accommodations & Modifications for Students with Disabilities

Accommodations and modifications are made in a number of different ways, which can be general or specific. General accommodations and modifications exist to improve accessibility, for example having ramps or elevators alongside stairs, or access windows and desks at a height that can be reached from a seated position. These are independent of any particular student's need and are constructed in accordance with the ADA. Specific accommodations and modifications are done to aid a particular student in a certain way. Students may receive accommodations that allow them to participate in the regular classroom environment, such as note-taking aides or sign language interpreters, receiving or turning in assignments in a different format (i.e. electronic), or assistance in group projects.

Modifications are exceptions and changes to the standard rules to make things more accessible for students with disabilities. Modifications could include allowing a service animal, providing alternative tests or testing environments, adjusted attendance policies, or allowing smaller class loads.

Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities may benefit from the use of assistive technology devices, of which there exist a variety of devices suitable for different disabilities. Included within the realm of assistive technology are devices like wheelchairs and canes, which allow for increased mobility. Those who have a visual disability may require a screen enlarging device or software that can read text to them. Students who have learning disabilities may be allowed to use calculators, spellchecking software, or audio recording devices to allow them to listen to the lecture again. Students who are hard of hearing can benefit from assistive listening devices, and deaf students may be able to utilize captioning software. Individuals who experience difficulty speaking can utilize voice synthesizer programs.

Depending on the nature of the assistive technology you need, you may be able to make use of resources at the college or university or be allowed to bring in your own assistive technology. Wheelchairs and canes, for example, are not likely to be provided. To find out what assistive technology you may be able to obtain from your university, contact your school's office of disability services.

Testing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Testing accommodations for students with disabilities can be made in a number of ways. The most common accommodations are fairly small, such as extra time or extra breaks on tests, or slight modifications to the tests themselves, such as large print versions. Students can also be allowed to take their tests in different locations to minimize distractions. Alternate test forms are sometimes an option as well; a visually impaired student may need a test in braille, or an orally administered exam may be written for a student with a hearing disability. A student with difficulties writing may be allowed to use a computer to type answers. Some students may have disabilities that require smaller, more frequent tests rather than major mid-term or final exams, or otherwise have a completely different type of exam if the standard form of the test would be too difficult. Tests can also be split across multiple days, if possible.

In order to receive testing accommodations, it will be necessary to disclose the nature of your disability, and you may need to explain how the testing accommodations will assist in your education. Students, professors, and the school's office of disability services will work together to determine what the most reasonable accommodations that can be provided on a case-by-case basis.

Housing Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities who reside on campus may also receive more accessible accommodations. A student in a wheelchair, for example, may be allowed to have a room on the first floor or in a building with an elevator. They may also be granted single-occupancy rooms, rather than sharing a dormitory, and have bathrooms equipped with accessibility features, such as grab bars and larger doorways. Students with service animals may also be able to get exceptions that allow their service animal to live on campus as well. Housing accommodations can also go beyond things that are used daily, such as special flashing alarm systems to alert hard-of-hearing students to emergency situations. Students with disabilities may also be granted special exceptions relating to mandatory on-campus residency requirements and be allowed to reside off-campus, if the university is unable to accommodate.

Special accommodations relating to food, such as on-campus dining hall services, may also fall into this category. Students with dietary restrictions or metabolic disabilities may need to contact dining hall services to ensure that food that can meet their needs are available to them. While each school will have its own deadlines that must be met to ensure accommodations, do not be afraid to consult with the office of disability services for help with resolving these issues.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services for Students with Disabilities

Vocational rehabilitation services exist in each state for the purpose of helping individuals with disabilities enter the workforce. For students, vocational rehabilitation services can provide assistance with work-study jobs, on-campus employment, or finding summer jobs while school is out of session. They can also provide services such as job placement assistance, job readiness training, training with the use of assistive technologies, free or loaned assistive technology devices, and more. As part of an evaluation of the employment prospects of an individual with a disability, vocational rehabilitation departments may assist those individuals in obtaining the necessary education to reach a career goal. Vocational rehabilitation services can also assist in the transition from school to the workplace, helping students adapt to the expectations and responsibilities they may face there.

Students who are leaving high school may be able to receive help getting in touch with vocational rehabilitation services through their guidance counselors. The rules for applying for vocational rehabilitation will vary from state to state. The process generally involves determining eligibility, assessing an individual's needs, creating a plan to help the individual with disabilities find employment, implementing that plan and supporting the individual throughout the implementation. Often, for students with disabilities to receive funding from vocational rehabilitation offices, they must be able to go through all standard sources of funding, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Signing up with vocational rehabilitation services is free, and there are protections in place to prevent individuals receiving social security disability benefits from losing their benefits while attempting to find employment.

Online Education for Students with Disabilities

For many students with disabilities, taking courses online can be quite beneficial. Online degrees and courses can be taken from home, which provides students with privacy and minimal distraction. Many students with disabilities find it easier to perform with the flexible scheduling of online courses, since they do not have to rush to keep up with a lecture. They can take breaks as needed and perform coursework when they feel they are at their best rather than at a particular time. Using their own computers at home, students will also have easy access to features, such as screen reading software or the ability to increase font size, which can help them to complete the course without disclosing their disability. Accommodations can still be made available in online classes, if desired; examples of accommodations online might include extended time on tests, longer deadlines, or on-screen or printed copies of notes and transcripts of video lessons. Students with disabilities who wish to receive accommodations in online courses will still need to reach out to their university's office of disability services and contact their professor regarding the specific accommodations.

List of Resources for Students with Disabilities

There are numerous resources available for students with disabilities. Financial aid services are willing to help students with disabilities find funding for college, and there are scholarship and grant opportunities which are specifically designed for students with disabilities. There are also apps and tools that can help students with disabilities keep up with their classes and assist them with getting through school. This list is not exhaustive, but it should provide a good starting point for students with disabilities to begin their own search for resources.

Scholarships & Grants for Students with Disabilities

Scholarships for students with disabilities may be available to any student with a documented disability, or specifically for students with certain conditions. Students may need to be majoring in particular areas in order to qualify for some scholarships. Students with disabilities may also eligible to apply for more general scholarships, based on merit, need, their race or ethnicity, or community service participation. Before applying for any scholarship, make sure that you meet all the requirements and expectations of the awarding organization.

Google Lime Scholarship
The National Center for Learning Disabilities' Anne Ford Scholarship
The Microsoft disAbility Scholarship
The Joseph James Morelli Legacy Foundation Scholarship
The American Council of the Blind Scholarship Program

Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities

All students, including those with disabilities, can utilize the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students with intellectual disabilities may be able to receive funding through programs like the Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, and federal work-study programs, provided that they are part of a comprehensive transition and post-secondary program, maintain satisfactory academic progress, and meet the basic federal student aid eligibility requirements.

In order to apply for FAFSA, you'll need the following:

  • Your social security number (and your parents' social security numbers,if you are a dependent)
  • Your driver's license number (if you have one)
  • An alien registration number (if not a U.S. citizen)
  • Federal tax information for you, your spouse (if married) and/or parents (if dependent)
  • Records of any un-taxed income you and your parents gained
  • Details on other assets such as savings and investments.

Once the application is complete, the information you provide will be reviewed. After the review, you'll receive a report detailing what kinds of loans and grants you may be eligible for. The results of a FAFSA application can also be used to demonstrate financial need for need-based scholarships, in most circumstances.

As noted above, financial aid may also be available to students with disabilities through the state's Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. If a student with a disability applies through the vocational rehabilitation office, and the office determines that college would be beneficial to achieving career goals, then funds may be made available to a student towards reaching that goal. Contact the vocational rehabilitation office in your state for help devising a plan for employment that works for you.

Educational Apps for Students with Disabilities

In the age of smartphones, accessing applications that can help students with disabilities has never been easier. Some apps are free, while others require payment to use, either one-time or through subscriptions.

Evernote
Dyslexia Keyboard
Be My Eyes
JABTalk
Blindsquare
Android Accessibility Suite
iPhone Accessibility Features

Career Planning for Students with Disabilities

Individuals with disabilities can enter the workforce directly after high school or choose to earn a college degree as preparation for their career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that just over 19% of all adults with disabilities participate in the workforce. Although there is no data available to show which of these individuals have a degree and what their earnings are, there is substantial data on the value of a college degree. BLS reported median weekly earnings for individuals as $712 (high school graduate, no degree), $1,173 (bachelor's degree), $1,401 (master's degree) and so on. Individuals who have disabilities can improve their career options and earnings by obtaining a college degree in their chosen field.

Laws & Accommodations for Employees

Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 30 years ago, individuals with disabilities have had equal access to employment and accommodations by law. The specific accommodations available to individuals with disabilities depends on each individual and their needs. The ADA requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and forbids inequal treatment. Employers cannot give preference in the hiring process to those without disabilities or dismiss applicants with disabilities.

In addition, employers cannot treat employees different because they have a disability or have family members with disabilites. Employees with disabilities are also protected in other areas of employment, including earnings, benefits, training options, job promotions and more. More information about ADA and the rights of individuals, see the Disability Discrimination page provided by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Examples of Accommodations

As noted above, accommodations for individuals with disabilities vary by individual. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation, but what does that look like? Some examples of accommodations and why they might be used are listed below.

    • Accessible facilities - Employers will provide more accessible workspaces and worksites/entrances for people who have mobility, attention, and other disabilities.
    • Exceptions for dress code - Employers that have dress codes might make exceptions for employees who have medical conditions which are worsened by the required attire.
    • Mentoring - Employers may provide more mentoring for individuals who have learning, attention and other disabilities affecting their mental capabilities.


    Internship & Job Placement Programs for Students with Disabilities

    Internships help prepare students for careers in various industries and the work that they plan to do. This excellent opportunity gives them more credentials for their resumes. Additionally, an internship can give someone confidence in their work and help them to build a network of professional connections.

    Students with disabilities can find internship opportunities and resources through a variety of sources. The first place that students can look for internships is at their schools or student career offices. Schools may have more local and program-specific internship resources than national programs. However, students can also find countless internship and employment opportunities through national organizations that specifically focus on assisting people with disabilities. Although this list is far from comprehensive, some of the organizations that provide student internship and employment resources for those with disabilities are discussed below.

    disABLEDperson, Inc.
    Workforce Recruitment Program
    American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)
    Lime Connect
    The National Business & Disability Council (NBDC)


    Career Counseling for Students with Disabilities

    As students prepare for graduation and the careers they are hoping to obtain, services such as career counseling can be invaluable. College can be challenging at times, and students may not think much about preparing for their careers until they have graduated. However, students who begin researching their careers before finishing their college programs will be more prepared for their jobs and might even have increased employment opportunities once the time comes.

    Just about every college provides services and resources for students relating to career preparation. These student career centers can be an essential tool for readying students for work. Career counselors can work with students to identify student interests and strengths and help students determine if their desired careers are suitable for them. For example, a student might pursue business with the intention of becoming a wealthy chief executive officer and find out, 10 years after graduation, that they are miserable in the business industry. Career counselors can help students avoid this type of outcome by assessing individual strengths, weaknesses, and interests as well as providing guidance and preparation for their targeted careers.

    Unions and Agencies for Workers with Disabilities

    Unions and agencies give employees several benefits, including networking, community, and advocacy. Unions are organizations composed of employees that help to ensure employees are receiving fair and proper treatment. This can include making sure appropriate safety measures are taken by employers, organization in the workplace and ensuring fair wages. Some of the unions and agencies that are available to individuals who work in certain industries or careers are discussed below.

    National Education Association (NEA)
    The Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA)
    Utility Workers Union of America (UWUA)
    American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME)


    Job Interview Advice for New Grads with Disabilities

    Getting ready for job interviews can be intimidating for any college graduate, and individuals with disabilities might experience even more anxiety about the experience. However, individuals with disabilities can help to prepare for interviews and make them more successful by following some of the tips listed below.

    1. Research
    2. Getting ready for the interview
    3. Making a strong first impression
    4. Speaking with an interviewer
    5. Discussing a disability
    6. What to do if asked about a disability in an interview

    Expert Answers to Common Questions about Resources for Students with Disabilities

    Ask the Experts

    Making decisions about your college education is exciting, but it can also be confusing and difficult. At Study.com, we're committed to making education accessible to all students, especially those who have historically been underrepresented such as students with disabilities. In order to help you navigate your educational experiences, we posed the following questions to coordinators, professors, and student leaders in the fields of Education, Disability Student Services, and Disability Studies.

    • What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to go to college?
    • What tips and tricks do you have for easing the financial burden of a college education?
    • Would you recommend that a student disclose their disability to their college or university? Why or why not?
    • What tips do you have for a student advocating for accommodations and modifications?
    • How do you recommend students with disabilities find community on college campuses, particularly in non-diverse spaces?
    • What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to enter the workforce?

    You can read their biographies and responses below.

    Jamie Juhl, M.A.

    Jamie Juhl is a Professor of Special Education at the University of Sioux Falls in South Dakota. She earned her M.A. in Special Education from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota and her B.A. in Special Education & Elementary Education from Boise State University. Jamie is a member of multiple councils with a professional background of ten years of K-12 educational experiences.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to go to college?

    I taught 10th - 12th grade students with exceptional needs for 5 years. We discussed early and often the ability for them to go to school and all the resources there were to help assist them in getting the most out of their time at college. The best advice I could give to students preparing to go to college is to seek out options early. Talk with your special education teacher and work with your high school counselor to explore the colleges that will be the best fit for you. Have an idea of what it is you are seeking and set up a plan on how to get the degree, completion certificate or credit hours you desire! Nothing is impossible!

    What tips and tricks do you have for easing the financial burden of a college education?

    There are so many tools out there for any student to receive financial assistance for college; it’s just the act of finding them that can sometimes seem overwhelming. I worked with my students to research the best options for them. I have always found interesting sites to assist in filling out applications for scholarships, loans and grants. On this page, it gives you general information on the different types of student aid that is available. If you scroll ¼ of the way down, it specifically talks about how students with disabilities can be supported financially. I found this to be extremely helpful when assisting my own students when I was in the K-12 atmosphere.

    Would you recommend that a student disclose their disability to their college or university? Why or why not?

    I made sure the students and families I was working with knew it was up to them to disclose this or not. I did always share that I believed it is extremely beneficial to disclose information about their disability so they can receive accommodations in college courses/coursework. Now that I am working at a University myself, we have an Academic Success Center who works with students to ensure they are receiving the correct accommodations in classes and coursework. I truly believe educators want the best for all students, so understanding what a student needs to be successful is beneficial for the student to receive the best support!

    What tips do you have for a student advocating for accommodations and modifications?

    I advise students to own who they are and to advocate for themselves early and often. Make sure to not be overbearing, however - the students best understand what they need. I always told my students to not use their disability as a crutch, but to feel confident in themselves to push through. Each and every individual has barriers, and we all need “tools” to help us overcome these. I need a hammer to help me hang up a picture, just like they might need text read out loud to them to fully understand what it is they are reading, and this is perfectly fine! We all have tools, we just need to know how to use them.

    How do you recommend students with disabilities find community on college campuses, particularly in non-diverse spaces?

    There are so many clubs on college campuses that I feel students can find community in something they are interested in. The key to this is to look at the posters and talk with an Academic Success Counselor if they are needing help to find when and where these clubs meet.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to enter the workforce?

    I would say to find something you love doing and start with that. Make sure to show up on time, and if the job isn’t 100% what you were looking for, don’t throw in the towel too soon. Sometimes it takes a few months to figure out the role you play in a company. Find something each day that makes you smile and appreciate the job you have been given. It will help the days go more smoothly if you have a positive mindset!

    Nicole Nicholson, Ed.D.

    Dr. Nicole Nicholson is a Professor of Special Education at Brandman University in Santa Maria, CA. She earned her Ed.D with an emphasis in Educational Psychology at the University of Southern California. For the past 12 years, Dr. Nicholson has devoted her academic and professional career to serving students with special needs.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to go to college?

    1) Reflect on your own personal strengths and then take advantage of those strengths to address your needs. This will set you up for success! For example, if you are a very social person who struggles with organization, planning, and time management, be sure to choose a university that is known for not only having academic support but also lots of academically oriented clubs and collaborative projects. This will allow for you to work with peers who can help you and you them.

    2) Find out what supports are available at potential colleges for students with exceptionalities. Call the Student Services Office or the Office of Accessibility to inquire as to how students with special needs register with them. Be sure to also ask about how students with exceptionalities are supported on campus. Inquire about the types of accommodations you might be eligible for in case they are needed. If possible, try to talk with other students about their experiences. Do they feel supported by instructors? Is help available when it is needed? Sometimes students share this information in forums, blogs, or social media groups.

    What tips and tricks do you have for easing the financial burden of a college education?

    1) Meet with a financial aid counselor or financial specialist to calculate what the overall cost of your college education will be and only borrow what you can afford to pay back later. This will involve looking at what your estimated annual salary and your estimated student loan payment will be following graduation. Doing this will ensure that you will be able to pay your bills and still live comfortably.

    2) To offset cost, apply for grants and scholarships for which you might qualify. These are excellent forms of financial aid that you do not need to pay back later. Also, many grants and scholarships each year are not awarded simply because no one applied for them!

    3) Another way to make some extra money paying for college is to try and find a job on campus. These jobs tend to better accommodate student schedules than off-campus jobs. On-campus employers want you to keep academics as your top priority! This lessens any pressures associated with being asked to work overtime or requesting time off to study. These jobs also tend to be within walking or biking distance, making it easier to get to work on time and between classes.

    Would you recommend that a student disclose their disability to their college or university? Why or why not?

    Absolutely! Having an exceptionality is nothing to be ashamed of. I think that most college students with special needs would be comforted in knowing just how many students have accommodations in place at the post-secondary level. Know that you are not alone! It is important to know that by registering with the Student Support Services Office or the Office of Accessibility, you are only disclosing your exceptionality to that office when you register. Details or specifics regarding your exceptionality cannot be shared with instructors, staff, or students. Only you can share that information if you so choose. Once eligibility is determined and you have registered with one of these offices, accommodations can be created for you in case you need them in any of your classes. This office will notify your instructors that you have accommodations and share what those accommodations are, but they will not/should not disclose specific details about why you have accommodations. As I have told many students in the past, it is better to have accommodations in place and not need them than to need them and not have them.

    What tips do you have for a student advocating for accommodations and modifications?

    This is where communication is vital. You are your own best advocate. When it comes to what you need and when, only you know best. Do not be ashamed to let an instructor know that you need help and/or need to use your accommodations. Instructors cannot help you if they do not know you are struggling. Again, you do not have to share specifics...just keep in touch with them. Some of my most successful students were the ones who notified me at the start of the class that they had accommodations. If they started to struggle, they let me know immediately and we were able to problem-solve and create a plan going forward. The students who communicated with me regularly about their needs typically did very well because I knew how to support them.

    How do you recommend students with disabilities find community on college campuses, particularly in non-diverse spaces?

    Clubs on campus are a great way to find community. These clubs may be social or academic in nature. Most college campuses have a recreation center or student union. Start here and look for flyers advertising upcoming club meetings or events. Doing a search on social media for clubs, teams, or organizations based on campus is another great way to locate people with whom you share common interests, hobbies, or backgrounds. Lastly, if you can talk to current students, many of them are aware of different opportunities to connect with others on and off campus.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to enter the workforce?

    1) If possible, “test drive” your future career. Sometimes students choose a major only to find out about halfway through their 4 years of study that they are going to hate the job they are studying to get. Job shadow or attempt to get a part-time job in your future field early just to make sure this is something you really want to do. Talk to those in the field. Ask them to be honest about the pros and cons of their jobs. Sometimes major-focused clubs will have alumni come back to campus in order to speak about their experiences in the workforce thus far. Try to pick the brains of these individuals by asking them questions about your future career.

    2) Know that asking for help in the workforce is actually encouraged and not frowned upon! An easy way to do this is to choose a mentor. Some employers will do this for you as a new employee, but others may not. Find a co-worker with whom you identify and feel comfortable. Bounce ideas and questions off of him/her. I think you will find that many colleagues are eager to help those who are new to a field. Just remember...they were in your shoes once too!

    3) Be honest and be yourself! Pretending to know something you do not or pretending to be someone you are not never works out in the long run. It is difficult to go wrong when you are an authentic person with an open mind and good intentions.

    Taylor McGillis, B.S.

    Taylor McGillis is the Disability Outreach Center Community Engagement Coordinator at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. She earned her B.S. in Psychology at Western Washington University.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to go to college?

    College is scary for anyone but going in as a disabled or/and chronically ill student can be even more daunting. One of the biggest pieces of advice that I can give is to practice self-advocacy as early and often as possible. Go in knowing what you will need and make sure you find the appropriate channels to make that happen. This can mean developing a support network of other disabled/chronically ill students on campus or connecting with the disability-related offices to access accommodations. Once you have created those supports, make sure you are prepared to keep them maintained, especially accommodations. You are entitled to an accessible education regardless of how a professor may feel about your needs. Some professors see them as an inconvenience or too much work; remember that they are legally required to meet these accommodations.

    Would you recommend that a student disclose their disability to their college or university? Why or why not?

    This is different for everyone. Not all disabled folks need accommodations, so disclosure is not always necessary. I would say to assess the situation and determine if disclosure is safe; this can vary from situation to situation. If you need accommodations in order to succeed in your post-secondary education, disclosure will be necessary to some extent. This is where a strong support network is most beneficial. Not only does this provide a safe place to disclose, but it can lead to peer advocacy and help support you more when pushing for what you need. Disclosure is a personal choice and should be respected. No one is entitled to your status as a disabled person, and you do not need to justify your need for accommodations in order to make others more comfortable.

    What tips do you have for a student advocating for accommodations and modifications?

    Attaining accommodation can be overwhelming to some as it is a big change and disclosure can be uncomfortable. Start by laying out what you need. This can be on paper, in your mind, or whatever medium suits you best. Getting a layout of your needs can help both you and those helping provide accommodation better understand what will work best for you. Some universities require documentation from a provider or an official diagnosis in order to get accommodations so if these are required, make sure you have them at the ready.

    I would also suggest bringing some form of support with you as well. This could be a fellow disabled student who has gone through this process already, or it could be a trusted person (friend, family, partner, etc.) who will help advocate for your needs. This can help alleviate stress and create a more comfortable environment. Accommodations are about making sure you have equitable access to education and should be there to make you more comfortable and safer in the environment.

    How do you recommend students with disabilities find community on college campuses, particularly in non-diverse spaces?

    Get involved in disability related clubs on campus! People always say to join clubs on campus, but they are right! And if there isn’t one available, try and make one. Often you aren’t alone in wanting a community or space that isn’t currently present. Creating a club can help bring this group together. If there aren’t physical spaces, look online. See if there are groups within the city your university is in that have a chat room or discord. Even when the community is small, it is still there; it just might require some digging. Finding these online spaces may help you feel a sense of belonging that you may not experience in a non-diverse environment.

    In more non-diverse spaces, self-care is very important. This may entail simple things like putting on comfy clothes after a long day or tasks that require more effort like going on a walk. Doing things to care for your body after interacting with a potentially harmful environment can ease discomfort.

    What advice do you have for a student with a disability who is preparing to enter the workforce?

    Remember first that disclosure is your choice and employers are not entitled to your disability status. Make sure you are keeping yourself safe first and foremost. Like I mentioned earlier, it may be good to lay out the situation and your needs in your head to better assess the situation at hand.

    Advocate for your needs! Your need for accommodations does not make you a less valuable employee and your workplace legally cannot fault you for needing those accommodations. They are required to provide an equitable workplace. There are going to be employers that push back on this, just like some professors. Make sure these events are documented somewhere with the date, time, and a description of the issue. It is important that you protect yourself. Getting in touch with Human Resources when these things occur may be a good route to go.

    Advocating for your needs is important but proceed with caution as “too much” self-advocacy can potentially lead to termination. While this is illegal, not everyone has the means to pursue legal action when things like this occur. Think about and find what works best for you and your needs and pursue them to the best of your ability.