College is a great time with new experiences, new friends, and lifelong memories. It should be accessible to everyone, and students with disabilities should be able to enjoy an education with any assistance, accommodation, or access they may need. There are many legal rights students with disabilities have, so students who are going to college should prepare and investigate in advance in order to have the best experience.
College students with disabilities should know their rights. Much like in high school, schools are required under Title II and Section 504 to make reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. Learning disabilities, as well as physical disabilities, are covered by these laws. Although education does not have to be provided free of cost in universities, like it is in public high schools, students in college with disabilities still have rights, and every campus should have a student disability or Title II coordinator. This person should be the main point of contact for students looking to learn more about their legal rights.
- LD Online: College students and disability law
- Disability Rights California: Rights of students with disabilities in higher education
Preparing for Classes
Students with disabilities may need to take extra time and invest in additional preparation to make their college experience as comfortable as possible. If you have a learning disability or require any special accommodation in class or on assignments, talking to your professor before classes begin is a great way to meet them and to be proactive about your needs. Taking advantage of student disability offices and staff is also recommended. 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?
Resources for Specific Disabilities
Along with the general tips above, specific disabilities may require extra preparation or forethought. Students with any disability can succeed in college, but a little extra time and knowledge can make the process so much easier!
Students with visual impairments should let their professors know, contact the students with disabilities office, and arrive at class early if a seat near the front of the room is needed. Visual impairments can also be misunderstood by classmates and faculty, so taking the time to educate people about an impairment may make your experience more rewarding!
- American Foundation for the Blind: Preparation for college
- Center for the Visually Impaired: Preparing for college or university as a blind or visually impaired student
Having a hearing impairment does not mean you can’t attend lectures, enjoy your classes, and have a great college experience! As with all other disabilities, letting your professor know about your needs is crucial, don’t just show up with a tape recorder or an interpreter! Remember that this is a great time to be proactive and maybe even to educate!
- Hearing Loss Association of America: Access to college
- Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Being the only student with a hearing loss
Speech disorders can be challenging to explain to people. Many people cut off someone’s stuttering, or pretend to understand what is being said when they don’t. Being proactive with your professors and discussing accommodations with the student disabilities office can be great ways to help make your experience more comfortable and more productive.
- Allegheny College: Students with speech impairments
- Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey: Students with speech impairments
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) & Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)
Although ADD and ADHD can be challenging to diagnose, medicate, and live with, college can be enjoyable and productive! ADD and ADHD are legally protected, so you should feel empowered to discuss your needs with your professors and your student disability office.
- NPR: Learning to thrive with Attention Deficit Disorder
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association: Recommended resources for college students with ADHD
Although much support exists for children with autism, as students age, they also start to age out of pediatric support systems. College can be challenging for autistic students. However, with increased awareness, and with some preparation, self-awareness, and communication with professors and student disability staff, it can also be very rewarding!
- Child Mind Institute: Going to college with autism
- Autism Speaks: What can help a student on the spectrum succeed in college?
Going to college with a cognitive disability, a broad term for a wide range of types and severities of intellectual disabilities requires lots of transition planning and clear and open communication with professors and disability services staff. Luckily, there are many resources for students with cognitive disabilities to find and thrive at a college of their choice!
Learning disabilities can be far-reaching and hard to define, this category covers so many specific types of disabilities and unique challenges, it is crucial to communicate with professors and student disability services about your specific needs. Although awareness is increasing, being a self-advocate is especially important for students with learning disabilities, as their needs may be dismissed by those ignorant of their rights.
- Learning Disabilities Association of America: Rights and responsibilities of college students with learning disabilities (LD)
- University of Washington: Academic accommodations for students with learning disabilities
While physical disabilities are often the easiest disabilities for people to see, it does not mean they can understand the struggle you may face just getting from one place to another, or sitting in a classroom, or working on class projects. Making sure you discuss your needs with your professors and student disability services is crucial, as is knowing where your classes are and how to get to them safely. Also, knowing your rights of access and the responsibilities your college has to accommodate your needs before you begin classes can make your experience easier and require much less work while focusing on school!
- American Psychological Association: Reasonable accommodations explained
- Higher Education Compliance Alliance: Disabilities and accommodations