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College Information for Students with Disabilities

October 19, 2020

College is a time of transition for all students: The structure of high school is gone, and lots of students will be living away from their parents for the first time. Even for students who live in dorms, it’s a big change from living in the structured environment of a family home. But for students with disabilities, there are additional issues and concerns to keep in mind to make the transition to college as smooth as possible. It’s totally possible to have a satisfying academic and social experience at college if you have a disability, but preparation should begin well before you arrive on campus.


You should learn about the laws that protect you from discrimination, both at college and elsewhere. The first law you need to know about is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (section 504) that says that universities or colleges that receive money from the federal government are required to make reasonable modifications to their normal procedures and policies to accommodate people with qualified disabilities. The other important law for students to know about is the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. This law states that all schools, whether or not they receive federal funds, are not allowed to discriminate against those with disabilities. The only schools exempted from this law are ones owned by religious organizations. Students who have experienced discrimination should first reach out to their school’s disability services office. If the issue isn’t resolved, the next step is to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.


A successful college experience requires preparation for any student. For example, the structure of the day is very different in college: The vast majority of colleges don’t follow a bell schedule, and class periods are mixed in with free time. Knowing how to manage the independence of college and take care of your responsibilities is important. You’ll also need to give some thought to how your disability affected your schooling so far so you can be prepared for issues you might face in college and begin planning for how to address them. One important skill all students will need in college is learning how to advocate for themselves. This skill is even more important for students with disabilities, since you’ll likely need to advocate for yourself to get the accommodations you need. You’ll also have to submit the proper paperwork to the school that verifies both your disability and the accommodations needed.

Choosing the right college is also very important. Schools with a disability services office should be better prepared to meet your needs and help arrange for the accommodations or additional services you require. When touring colleges, make sure to meet with the disability services office to discuss your needs.


Once you’re at college, there are a few steps you should take right away to increase your odds of success. Start by meeting with the disability services office. You should also meet with your professors one on one so that they can get to know you and learn about the accommodations you’ll need. If you’ll be using a new kind of adaptive technology, you should also practice using it to make sure it’s comfortable for you before classes begin. And like all students, students with disabilities will need to establish good time management skills and learn how to study effectively. Take advantage of on-campus tutors and services like writing centers as needed: They’re there to help.