If you or a loved one is seeking disability access on a college campus, you may be wondering what your rights are and how to ensure that they are honored. About 19% of students pursuing postsecondary education have a disability, and campuses offer a wide range of services to ensure support and access.
Colleges and universities in the United States are not allowed to discriminate against people with disabilities and are required to provide them with accommodations. Though the university is responsible for providing certain basic disability access, such as having accessible facilities and services, it is ultimately the responsibility of the student to request the disability-related accommodations they need. This is to ensure that you, your advisor, and your instructors are on the same page about how best to assist you during your time on campus.
How to Get Started
Once you know where you'll be applying to school, spend some time researching what services are available on the campuses you are interested in attending. Most schoolshave an office and staff members on campus responsible for working with students seeking college disability accommodations. This office may be labeled as "disability services," or the "access center," or it could be housed in another campus office such as student services. A quick search for these frequently used names on your college's website will usually turn up what you're looking for. If not, ask an advisor or recruiter.
Once you identify the appropriate office and set up a meeting, you should begin preparing the documentation you need to receive accommodations. You must provide documentation of your medical or psychological disability so that the school can arrange the appropriate services. You may already know what documents you need to provide. If not, the college's website, or a staff member in the disability services office, can help.
This process might sound invasive, but the documentation you provide is a private record. All of your private information while you are in college is protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, including the details of your documented disability. This means that while faculty and staff that you work with in college will be informed of the accommodations that you need, they will not be told why you need them. That information is only seen by the staff handling your accommodations and is yours alone to share with others.
How Are Accommodations Provided?
Once your college disability accommodations are in place, faculty and staff must abide by them. When you enroll in a class, the instructor is usually informed very early on in the semester about your needs. This alleviates the need to speak separately with each professor and gives your instructor time to prepare.
Say, for example, that you require additional time to get to your classes. Before you even meet your instructor, she should have received a notification from disability services outlining this need; there won't be any reason for her to ask why you were late to class on the first day!
Sometimes, students require additional time to take tests or need class content delivered to them in different forms. Having a record of your accommodations ensures the instructor has time to prepare, thus preventing any delay in your studies.
Occasionally, instructors may not have the resources to provide you with the best accommodations in their classrooms. When this happens, they will work with you and disability services to implement the classroom practices and resources you need.
What If You Need New Accommodations?
While many students with disabilities arrive on campus with the appropriate documentation and support resources to access the services they need, many do not recognize their needs until they are in college. Likewise, the accommodations that worked for you during your K-12 education may no longer suffice in college.
If you start your classes and recognize a need for additional support, don't be afraid to bring the matter to your advisor, college disability services, or your instructor. Instructors are an important resource in helping you access essential services, since they can evaluate your class performance and possible needs.
While most universities require that instructors put a "reasonable accommodation" notification on their syllabi with information about accessing disability services, many of us emphasize and repeat this information early in the semester in the hopes that you will feel comfortable approaching us should a need arise for you in the classroom.
When you start college, you might be overwhelmed with information and new experiences, and this may alert you to areas where you are struggling or need help physically or mentally. Reaching out to disability services or to a staff or faculty member who can direct you through the appropriate channels is an essential first step to securing college disability accommodations for your continued success.