There are many legal rights students with disabilities have. Students who are going to college should prepare to learn about their rights and what assistance is available in order to have the best experience possible. Having a guide to help you navigate college is an important part of the college experience for every student, and those with disabilities may benefit even more!
General Tips for Success
There are some general tips that anyone, but especially those with disabilities, can use in college. The first, and possibly the most important, is to open a line of communication with your professors. You may only have five or six professors, but they will have hundreds of students and many work outside of the classroom as well. Tell them who you are, any accommodation you need (make sure you talk to the student disability office as well!), and make sure to keep that communication going.
You should also familiarize yourself with the campus. If you have any physical disabilities, make sure you know the most accessible ways to get around campus. This can make a huge difference, especially if you are on a large campus or if you have several classes back to back. These small steps may help in making sure that you arrive to class on time rather than being significantly late!
- National Center for Learning Disabilities: Life with LD: Navigating the transition to college
- University of Missouri Disability Center: Establish an accommodation plan
Classes, Coursework, and Exams
If you have a learning disability or require any type of special accommodation in class or on assignments, it is important to talk with the disability office as well as your professor before classes begin. Taking advantage of student disability offices, resources, materials, equipment, and staff is also recommended. They offer a variety of services, but there may be delays if you wait too long to access them. As soon as you know your schedule, bring it by their office.
If you have a physical disability, knowing where your classes are and how to get access to them before the hectic first day of school is a good idea, and getting to class early if you need to sit somewhere specific can be helpful.
- Fulton-Montgomery Community College: Preparing students with disabilities for college
- Penn State University: Preparing for a post-secondary education with a disability checklist
- Go College New York: Are you going to college with disabilities?
Housing can be a stressful thing for all college students. As a student with disabilities, this can be even more challenging. You should make sure you know your legal rights, and you should never be afraid to speak to the housing department or the disabilities office if you have any concerns. Sign up as early as possible for student housing to guarantee a spot and to make sure that they are aware of your requirements. Schools are required under Title II and Section 504 to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities.
- LD Online: College students and disability law
- Disability Rights California: Rights of students with disabilities in higher education
- University of Washington: Housing and residential life
If you drive to and from classes, you should know where all handicapped parking spots are and request access to use them. Many universities have their own handicap placards that you can use in addition to a standard placard. This may allow access to handicap student parking rather than the limited spaces likely to be available in visitor handicap parking on campus.
If you require special transportation, your school may not have to pay for that, but they do have to accommodate you. Make sure you know your rights and are able to secure transportation for your college experience. If transportation issues arise, always let both your professors and the office of student disability services know immediately so that arrangements can be made in order to avoid missing any coursework or lectures.
- University of Chicago Student Disability Services: Getting around
- Colorado State University: Transportation support services
- Texas A&M University Disability Services: Parking and transit information
It may be difficult to attend some events if you have a physical disability if they are off campus, but on campus events should always be accessible. If your disability makes it difficult for you to attend an event, whether you have to go or simply want to, you should let someone who is organizing the event know.
- Columbia University Teachers Conference: Event planning guide
- University of Connecticut: Accessibility checklist for university events
If you have a disability that may impact you during a medical emergency, it is very important to let your professors, the office of student disability services, and maybe even a friend or classmate know. For example, if you have seizures, letting someone know what to do and who to call could save your life. If you take medicine that can interact with other medicines or allergens, you need to let someone know or wear a medical alert bracelet. These are things everyone should do, but they can be especially important if you are more likely to need assistance.
- The Ohio State University: Disability training for emergency planners
- Rice University: Disability support services
- Centers for Disease Control: Keeping children with disabilities safe in emergencies
Finding Resources at Your School
Every college or university should have an office of student disability services. Even if that is not the exact name for it, each campus will have an office that works specifically with students with physical and learning disabilities, and that office should be well-versed in the legal requirements the school must meet to accommodate disabilities. They can help you speak with your professors and make sure you have appropriate housing. They can also help with speaking to department heads when necessary, or they may refer you to someone with more expertise. Make sure to take advantage of what is available.