Prospective college students with disabilities will find that many campuses are equipped with offices and services that address accessibility, accommodation, and assistive technology for a diverse range of needs. At many colleges, student services offices and disability coordinators work to make campuses inclusive environments for all students through specialized advocacy, support, and academic services.
For students with physical disabilities, finding a suitable postsecondary institution can be challenging. Despite logistical and other issues, students with disabilities are well represented on college campuses. Of the 2,563,000 undergraduate students in the U.S., approximately 19.4% of all undergraduates enrolled in the 2019 school year had a disability.
Thanks to legislative efforts over the last 50 years, institutions of higher learning have considerably expanded campus resources for those with special needs. Key efforts include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 that prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability, the Assistive Technology Act that provided grant funding for technological aids, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that provided equal benefits and services for students with disabilities at publicly funded colleges.
Out of all two-year and four-year postsecondary institutions who receive Title IV grant funding, approximately 88% reported enrolling students with disabilities.
Transitioning from High School to College
For students with disabilities, successfully transitioning from high school to college rests heavily on understanding personal needs, managing expectations, taking advantage of resources, and planning ahead. College is often the first time students live away from family, and this can prove especially challenging as they become immersed in a more rigorous and often less personalized academic environment.
In high school, students are usually in class all day and often have a high degree of contact with their teachers. In college, classes typically meet once or twice a week and teacher contact tends to be more limited, which requires students to schedule visits during office hours. Time management becomes more important, and college students are required to study and complete assignments on their own time (and often over longer, unsupervised periods of time) without the benefit of supervised study hall or resource periods.
|Legal Protection||IDEA: Entitled to services through a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).||ADA and Rehab Act: Must be eligible for services.|
|Individualized Education Program (IEP)||Students have access to general & special education classes through an IEP.||IEPs are not used in college. Classes include students with and without disabilities. The curriculum is not modified.|
|Disability Documentation||The school district is responsible for identifying and evaluating students with disabilities.||Students must provide the college with current documentation of a disability at their expense.|
A student’s IEP may be used as supplemental information but other documentation typically is required.
|Receiving Accommodations||The IEP process identifies student accommodations.||Students must initiate the process and register with the Disability Support Services office on campus.|
|Advocating||Teacher, parents, & students advocate for services.||Students advocate for accommodations and services.|
|Parents’ Role||Parents can see student records, are notified, and must sign permission for any changes or decisions for the student.||Students are protected under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Parents do not communicate with professors or have access to grades and student information.|
Where Should I Start?
- Registering for accommodations:
To pursue accommodations or services at the college level, you must register as a student with a disability. This action should take place soon after you have accepted admission to college. Contact the Disability Support Services (DSS) office to find out its specific accommodation process and any documentation requirements.
- Accommodations may be different from high school:
Do not expect to have the same accommodations in college as you did in high school. In high school, you were provided with accommodations to ensure your participation in the general curriculum. In college, you must initiate the process to receive accommodations.
- Common college accommodations:
Some of the more common accommodations offered through colleges may include: priority registration, permission to record lectures, extended time on tests, testing in a limited-distraction environment, note taker for lectures and preferential seating.
- Disability documentation:
Most colleges will require you to provide documentation of your disability to receive accommodations. By researching these requirements, you will be able to gather the needed information in a timely manner.
- Procedures to request accommodations:
The college you attend will require you to follow procedures to request accommodations. It is up to you to know and monitor the process. Visit your college’s DSS office website and review the specific information regarding the registration process.
- Meet with Disability Support Services:
Make an appointment to meet with a representative from the DSS office well in advance of the start of the semester to review your documentation, discuss your individual needs, and determine if you are eligible for services.
- You are responsible for requesting accommodations:
You are the person responsible for communicating your accommodation needs with each instructor. Meet with each of your instructors and share your accommodation letter with them. Start practicing now. While in high school, request accommodations in class and actively participate in your IEP meetings, if applicable.
ADA and Rehab Act
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
U.S. Disability Support Services
College Funding Resources for Individuals with Disabilities
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