Going to college can make you feel excited about new experiences and more opportunities for independence. It can also be a source of anxiety as you brave the wider world away from your parents’ home. For students with disabilities, college can be a labyrinth of new challenges and unclear regulations. It may be the first time that you have to directly advocate for yourself to get the accommodations to which you are entitled.
Hundreds of thousands of college students have a learning disability. If you struggle with focusing or retaining information from traditional teaching methods, consider meeting with the staff of your college’s disabilities support office. Dropout rates are higher for students with learning disabilities, many of whom are embarrassed to admit that they need help. Professors can adapt assignments to suit your needs, and they often hold office hours so you can ask questions about material that you didn’t understand. Recording lectures is a great idea for students with ADHD because they can listen to the lectures again in their free time at their own pace. Having a learning disability shouldn’t prevent you from going to college and learning everything you can. Getting into college despite your learning disability is proof of your strength and resilience.
Students with physical disabilities may feel frustrated because campus limitations prevent them from experiencing all aspects of college life. Older buildings built before protective legislation for students with disabilities may lack wheelchair-accessible entrances or elevators with Braille control panels. Students with physical disabilities have complained about needing to rely on their classmates to lift their wheelchair or feeling isolated at campus events. It’s important to forge a strong relationship with the university officials in charge of disability services, student living, and campus life. Classes and events should be located in accessible spaces. Students who are unable to take notes for themselves can petition the college to provide speech-to-text note-taking tools or even a personal assistant to help them to participate in class. Blind students should have someone who can help them learn the layout of commonly used buildings. But at the same time, students with physical disabilities should be given as much independence as possible so that they can enjoy their time in college.
Federal Protections for the Disabled
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act are key pieces of legislation that protect disabled students. The Rehabilitation Act states that colleges and universities that receive federal funds cannot discriminate against disabled students. You have the right to receive an equal education. That means that your college is required to give you the assistance you need to put you on the same footing as your classmates. This could mean providing extra time to complete an assessment or technological aids to enable you to participate in lectures. But even if your college is one of the rare institutions that receive no federal funding, the Americans With Disabilities Act will protect you from discrimination on the basis of your disability. There are many forms of recourse for students whose rights have been violated. You can file a complaint with the school, and if that doesn’t work, you can escalate to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.
How Students Can Adapt to College
There are lots of support groups and campus organizations for students with disabilities. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your peers and mentors who have been in similar situations so you can benefit from their expertise. Even if calling home makes you feel like you’ve failed, your parents are also still a valuable resource. They are used to dealing with bureaucracy and fighting for your needs and can give you advice based on their experience. Whether you’re seeking reasonable accommodations in the classroom or trying to educate an insensitive classmate who has made you uncomfortable, you will need to learn to advocate for yourself.
Resources for College Students
- Rights and Responsibilities of Students With Disabilities
- Knowing Your Legal Rights as a Student With a Disability
- All About the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
- Understanding the ADA
- Disability as Diversity: Going Beyond Accommodations
- Navigating the Transition to College With a Learning Disability
- What Are a College’s Responsibilities to Students With Disabilities?
- Success Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities
- Learning Accommodations for Blind and Visually Impaired Students
- Education Advocates for Deaf Students
- Accessibility at Colleges and Universities
- Seven Things to Know About College Disability Services
- Sharing Your Disability With Others
- Access and Participation in Higher Education
- Making My Way Through College: A Student Guide
- Self-Advocacy in Higher Education Toolkit
- Preparing for Postsecondary Education: What You Need to Know
- College Students With Disabilities Say ADA Isn’t Enough
- Disabled Students See Pros and Cons in Online Learning
- Eight Steps for Learning-Disabled Students Who Want to Go to College