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College Services for Students with Disabilities

Originally published on November 11, 2009
Most recently updated on November 12, 2009
Most high school seniors will agree that finding the perfect college is a cumbersome, intimidating task. Those students who have either a physical or learning disability have the extra burden of finding a college with the appropriate support staff and accommodations necessary willing to meet the student’s demands. There is no denying that some colleges have much better reputations for their services for students with disabilities than others; however, finding which college is the best equipped to handle your individual needs will require a lot of research, planning, organizations, and patience.
 
There are a number of academic accommodations and services that may be available to students with learning disabilities:
  • Early or preferential registration
  • Alternate formats for printed material
  • Assistive listening devices
  • Laboratory assistants
  • Assistance with note-taking (note-taking buddy, taping lectures)
  • Oral and sign language interpreters
  • Reduced course loads
  • Test accommodations (ex. Extended time, Distraction-free testing environment, etc., …)
  • Residential accommodations (housing or meal plan accommodations)
  • Academic advising and registration assistance
  • Tutoring services
  • Course waivers and substitutions (math and foreign languages)
  • Use of calculators or laptops in classes
  • Taped textbooks, readers, electronic text readers
  • Assistance with personal organization and time management
  • Social skills training
In addition, here are some helpful tips from a recent college graduate, Zach:
Each semester the disability office provided me with a small stipend to use for either a note-taker or tutor if needed. However, it was awkward and time-consuming situation since the student was expected to seek out this help on his own. One professor simply told me to ask for volunteers among the 200 or so other students in the lecture hall. Not the best strategy for a student with visual disabilities. An important question is “Will the disability office provide referrals to specific tutors or experienced note-takers in order to facilitate this process for the student?”

The disability office always accommodated me with extended time testing when necessary. However, in order to take exams at the office, the student was required to fill out a request form including the individual professor’s signature and return it in person to the disability office one week before the exam. For a student with mobility or navigational issues this procedure itself, along with the rigid deadline, often became problematic. This was especially true during the winter semester when the campus was icy, snowy, rainy or slippery. An important question to ask is “What is the disability offices’ procedure for accommodating students with extended time testing?” In view of my experience, an on-line system would have relieved much of the stress, red-tape and hassle.

Other than accommodations for extended time testing, “What other, if any, specific services the office can provide?” For example-mobility trainers, career counseling specific to things like interviewing when you have a disability.

How accessible is the office staff when specific issues arise that need to be addressed? Will there be a person with whom I can develop an on-going relationship who will understand my challenges and spare me the tedium of constantly having to repeat my story? Many time I waited days and sometimes weeks to have phone calls or e-mails returned. Sometimes by the time my messages were answered I had solved the problem myself.

In view of my experience, the most crucial question is “What does the office do to accommodate the social well-being of students with disabilities?” The last thing you want is to be separated from everyone else because you have a disability. For example, unless absolutely necessary, housing should be close to or with your peers.
 
If you have an example of how your school did or did not work with you or need assistance or have questions about moving to college, email them to swagner@cbtf.org.
 
*This is not exhaustive list of academic accommodations and support services.
*This document was compiled using LD Resources (ldresources.org) and The University of Connecticut’s Center for Students with Disabilities.
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