College resources for students with disabilities

Entering the post-secondary education setting at a college or university to pursue a degree is a big step for any student. A student with a disability will have some special challenges when embarking on this new phase of education. Physical disabilities may include visual or hearing impairments or gross motor impairment. Students may also have less apparent disabilities such as dyslexia, autism, or ADHD. Preparation for the college experience can help ensure success. Students can also utilize resources that will help make the classroom more user-friendly. Online classes are just one method that can simplify learning and make it more accessible for someone with disabilities. Students may also appreciate disability services such as note-takers, readers, and enhanced computer technology.

Students with disabilities are protected under federal, state, and local laws. A variety of disabilities fall under the protections granted in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Under this law, the Office of Civil Rights defines a disability as a neurological or respiratory condition, an organic brain syndrome, impairments of the sense organs or musculoskeletal system, digestive ailments, learning disabilities, or emotional or mental illness. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act protects students attending public academic institutions from discrimination. Title III of the ADA applies to students in for-profit and private institutions, also prohibiting discrimination. Both Title II and Title III require institutions to provide academic services for disabled students in an accessible environment.

Students are not required to disclose a disability to a college. However, if students want to receive special academic adjustments to compensate for a disability, a disclosure is necessary. Schools have unique requirements that dictate how students should disclose a disability and the documentation required. Generally, documentation must include a clear statement of the disability, the limitations associated with it, accommodations requested, and the contact information of the professional making the relevant diagnosis. Schools can assist by providing course substitutions, accessible locations, priority class registration, sign-language interpretation or note-taking services, sound amplification devices, or speech-to-text software. Consult counselors or admissions advisers to receive information about services available through a specific college.

Students with learning disabilities can thrive while attending post-secondary institutions with the right assistance and support. Assistive technology is effective for improving or maintaining someone’s functional capabilities. In a learning situation, this technology is useful for helping with a variety of cognitive challenges, including listening, reading, memory, writing, and organization. For example, enhanced computer technology can assist with proofreading written text or with constructing outlines. Tape recorders and audio systems can make it possible for students to adapt audio recordings to hear and understand the words. Reading machines can assist students with visual impairments through optical character recognition. People who struggle with memory and organization can use data managers to store, organize, and retrieve information.

Students with physical disabilities can also succeed in post-secondary learning environments, but they often need special services to ensure this. With disclosure of a disability, a college can provide special accommodations. These services include alternative textbooks and classroom materials, possibly in large print or in Braille. Adaptive equipment may include closed-captioning devices, Braille translation devices, and preferential seating in a classroom. Screen-review and speech-synthesis systems can create audio playback from text displayed on a screen, and speech-recognition systems allow students to speak into a device to create written text.

Post-secondary education is different from high school in many respects. Attending college means less parental involvement, less classroom time, and more student responsibility. Even so, with the right support services, students with disabilities can thrive in this environment. Students should decide what type of accommodations they need and disclose disabilities to a school as early as possible to ensure that the school has adequate time to arrange services.