Top 5 things a student with a disability should do when planning for college

clip art of a college buildingPlanning for college can be an exciting yet stressful time in your life. If you are someone with a disability, there can be additional challenges when preparing for school. A student with a disability is not required to inform a postsecondary school that they have a disability. However, if they want the school to provide any academic adjustments or accommodations they will have to identify themselves as having a disability and provide documentation of their disability. It is also important to inform the school about a disability if a student requires accessible facilities so they will be assigned to an accessible dorm if you will be living on campus.

When touring a school or prior to starting classes you should contact your school to find out what types of disability services the school offers to students. Larger colleges typically have a department for disability services. This office may be called The Office of Disability Services for Students (DSS) or Student Disability Services or something to that effect. Smaller schools will have a specific person assigned to be the disability services coordinator if they do not have an entire department. All universities, colleges or other postsecondary institution that receive funding from the Department of Education must comply with the regulations of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Section 504 was written to protect the rights of people with disabilities in programs such as schools and activities that receive federal fund from the U.S. Department of Education. Section 504 states” “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…”

Each school should be able to assist students with physical, psychological, learning, neurological, medical, visual, hearing or temporary impairments in determining what types of accommodations are needed. If it is determined by your school that you do have a qualified disability, it is then the school’s responsibility to provide a reasonable accommodation/academic adjustment. A reasonable accommodation/academic adjustment is any modification or adjustment that will enable a qualified student with a disability to participate in a course, activity or service. These accommodations are provided to assure that individuals with disabilities have rights equal to students without disabilities.

The academic adjustments made by a school will be determined based on your disability and your individual needs. Academic adjustments may include: arranging for prior registration, substituting one course for another, providing note takers, recording devices, sign language interpreters, extended test taking time, TTY in your dorm room, assistive technology such as computers with screen readers, voice recognition or other adaptive software.

There are some accommodations that are not the responsibility of the school to provide such as:personal attendants or services for personal needs such as bathing or dressing,individually prescribed devices,readers for personal use or study, and/or devices or services of a personal nature such as tutoring or typing.

The school is only responsible for providing accommodations if the student has disclosed a disability. The school then coordinates appropriate accommodations and services based on the documentation that the student provides. Contact your school to determine what type of documentation is considered appropriate for verification. The school is not required to conduct or pay for an evaluation to document your disability and/or need for academic adjustment. You are required to obtain that documentation at your own expense. A student may be eligible for services through their state vocational rehabilitation agency and that agency may be able to provide an evaluation at no cost to you. Vocational Rehabilitation Services is a state agency that provides services to people with disabilities to prepare, obtain or retain employment. Click here if you are an Indiana resident to view the vocational rehabilitation service locations in your area. Click here if you live in another state to view all the state vocational rehabilitation agencies throughout the United States.

Although the school is required to make academic adjustments if you have a qualifying disability, they are not required to lower the requirements of the program. For example, you may be given extended test taking time, but it is not required for the school to change the content of the test to make it easier.

It is a good idea to meet with an accommodation specialist prior to starting classes to find out where to go to receive disability services. Taking a tour of the school grounds with someone who understands your specific needs is also encouraged. You can ask the disability services coordinator to tour with someone who may have a similar disability. The coordinator may be able to identify a student who could share their experiences and knowledge and help your transition into school be much smoother. For example, if you are a wheelchair user and can be paired with another user who uses a wheelchair they will be able to give you a better perspective of campus life in terms of your specialized needs such as easiest ways to get to accessible buildings, transportation, and other needs.

You may have received disability services throughout high school and it is important to know that the guidelines for postsecondary schools are different than high school guidelines. High school guidelines and determined by IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and college guidelines are determined by ADA (American with Disabilities Act). In high school, core modifications of classes and materials are required for a student with a documented disability in college there are no modifications. They are only required to provide accommodations. When in high school education is a right that must be made accessible to you. In postsecondary schooling, education is not a right. A student must apply to attend the school and be able to do the work with reasonable accommodations. In high school, it is the schools responsibility to identify a student’s disability. In college, a student is responsible for self-identifying and providing documentation of their disability to the school. A student in high school is helped by parents and teachers, but a student in college must ask for help from a disability services office at their school, self-advocate and arrange for accommodations.

Top 5 things a student with a disability should do when planning for college

1.Plan early and be well informed about the responsibilities of the school you are interested in attending as well as your rights and responsibilities that are dictated by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

2.Know the differences between what a school district is required to provide a student and what postsecondary schools are required to provide. Obtain publications that have the schools procedures for academic adjustments. These publications can often be found in recruitment materials, catalogs, student handbooks and found on the schools website.

3.Contact the school directly to find out what type of documentation is required to verify your disability and be approved for services and what type of accommodations they provide. Find out the school’s procedures on how to receive accommodations, mentoring, and meeting with disability coordinators.

4.Meet with a disability services specialist to talk about your needs, take a tour of the school, and to learn about what type of accommodations are available. Learn about the types of assistive technology they provide to determine if there are technologies that may be helpful tools in helping you thrive in the classroom.

5.Request accommodations as soon as possible. Some academic adjustments may take more time to provide than others. Follow your school’s procedures to ensure that the school has enough time to review your request, get you approved for academic adjustments, and have enough time to provide the adjustments required.

Planning ahead, careful research, and verbalizing your needs to the appropriate person at the school you are interested in or planning to attend will prepare you for success in a postsecondary school. If you are interested in any schools in Indiana, we have compiled a list of the postsecondary schools throughout Indiana and listed their disability office contacts. Click here to go to the list that provides those contacts.

If you are in need of more comprehensive technology you should have an evaluation with a rehabilitation technologist. At Easter Seals Crossroads our technologists work one-on-one with consumers to determine their needs at home, work and school. They determine your needs based on individual circumstances, recommend the assistive technology that is appropriate to meet your needs and can provide set up and training of the assistive technology. If you receive services through Vocational Rehabilitation and require an assistive technology evaluation, a referral can be made to Easter Seals Crossroads or another agency providing those services.

Transitioning into a secondary school can be a stressful time. Taking the time to research the school you are interested in and meeting with their disability services coordinator ahead of time will make that transition smoother. It is advised that this planning begins in high school. It is important to remember that if you received services in high school, post-secondary school guidelines are completely different and you cannot expect to receive the same support you had in high school. Knowing your rights and self-advocating become the responsibility of the student when in college.

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