Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience helping students with disabilities on their path towards college?

I'm the Director/Founder of a business called Accessible College. The focus of Accessible College is to provide transition support for students with physical disabilities and health conditions. I provide one-on-one consultations for students and parents, and I work with disability organizations, schools, and other groups to teach them about college transition for student with disabilities. For nearly 6 years, I worked as the assistant director of the Academic Resource Center at Georgetown University. At Georgetown, I worked with undergraduate and graduate students with physical disabilities and health conditions to ensure that they were receiving reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was at Georgetown where I noticed that many students were unprepared and did not have the tools to make their transition smooth. Students lacked the knowledge of the differences between accommodations in high school and college, and their role in the process. When you move from high school to college, your disability-related accommodations are no longer covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), they are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires that students take a more active role in requesting accommodations. Additionally, not all students were equipped with the self advocacy skills that are necessary when transitioning to college. That's why I started Accessible College.

What do you tell students who don't believe they can attend college with a disability?

I tell them it's not true! Colleges and universities have programs to meet everyone's needs, including programs for students with intellectual disabilities. You may need to do a bit of research to find the right place for you.

What are some common misconceptions about disabilities and education?

A common misconception is that students with disabilities “can't make it” or “don't deserve to be” in college. These are total fallacies. Students with disabilities may need accommodations to access education, however, those accommodations are meant to level the playing field, not provide an advantage.

Should students be up-front with universities about their disability during the application process? Or is this something students should bring up after they have been accepted and plan to attend that university?

This is a question that can only be answered by the applicant. There is no legal requirement to disclose a disability. That being said, some students choose to discuss their disabilities in application essays. It should be noted that the disability support office is separate from the admissions office. Information that applicants disclose to the disability office is not shared with the admissions office.

If so, what are some strategies you have seen students successfully use to address their disability with universities during the application process?

Some students, especially those with visible disabilities, choose to talk openly about their experience as a person with a disability as a part of their identity. Additionally, as people become more aware of learning disabilities and mental health disabilities, more students are choosing to discuss their personal journeys.

If you could give one piece of advice to students with a disability applying to college, what would it be?

Connect with your school's disability support office with all of your disability related questions. If possible, try to connect with current students who have a disability similar to yours to hear about their perspectives.

What do you feel are the most important attributes or characteristics a student with disabilities should consider when selecting a university experience and why?

It depends on the students needs. For some students, the physical accessibility of the campus and it's buildings might be a huge factor, and for other students class size and access to supports might be important. My biggest recommendation is that students go and visit the school that they are seriously considering. It's important to see the campus first hand and meet the people who would be providing you with support.

If a student does a campus tour, what are features they should be looking for? What are some questions they should consider asking the university?

Students with physical disabilities should really focus on how they feel navigating the campus independently. They should also ask about accessible residence halls and about class locations and what happens if it snows. Students with learning disabilities and mental health disabilities should ask about what resources are available and how to put them in place. All students should consider class sizes, academic expectations, and look into campus groups and activities that they may be interested in.

Are there any barriers that the students you work with commonly experience once they start college? Things they weren't prepared for? Things their peers didn't seem to be experiencing?

Managing everything. Students with disabilities may have to dedicate more time to preparing for classes, getting to classes, and completing tasks. College is a chance for all students to learn to live independently. For many students, this is their first time away from home. Managing classes, social life, laundry, food, etc. can be a real challenge. Most colleges offer workshops or resources on time management. I highly recommend that all students make a schedule and try to stick to it.

Where can students seek help/advice if an issue does arise?

The disability support office. It may have a different name at the college you choose, such as disability support services, academic resource center, or office of equity and diversity. If you want to receive accommodations, such as extra time, an accessible room, preferential seating, etc., then you must register with the disability support office. You will want to start this process immediately after being accepted.

How do you suggest a student addresses stigmas that may be associated with disabilities on a college campus?

Learn to talk about your disability in a way that makes you comfortable. This takes practice! Start by figuring out what you need to be successful and happy. Learning to be an effective self advocate takes time. Also, find “your people” on campus. Put yourself out there and find friends that respect and support you.

What rights do students with disabilities have on college campuses?

Disability accommodations fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In order to receive accommodations, you have to register with the disability support office at your school and request accommodations. If you need specific housing accommodations, you will need to inquire about that with the disability support office as well.

Where can they turn if they feel their rights have been violated?

Most colleges have a process for filing complaints internally. This is usually through the dean's office, equity office, or university counsel. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education has an Office of Civil Rights where discrimination complaints can be made.

Annie Tulkin

Director/Founder, Accessible College, LLC

Annie is a regional disability coordinator at Humanitas, Inc. working on the Job Corps disability support contract. In this role, she provides a variety of technical assistance and program monitoring activities related to the applicant file review process and disability program requirements to help ensure effective and quality delivery of disability-related services to students enrolled in the Job Corps program. She also conducts on-site assessments of Job Corps disability programs as well as develops and presents disability-related webinars and training. Prior to this position, Annie was the associate director of the Academic Resource Center at Georgetown University. For over 5 years, she assisted students with physical disabilities and health conditions; provided one-on-one consultations to students experiencing academic challenges; coordinated tutoring services for undergraduate students; scheduled and taught study skills workshops; and worked collaboratively with residential living services to assist students seeking housing to meet their needs. When Annie is not doing arts and crafts with her daughter and husband, she enjoys gardening, cooking, and hiking.