Guide for Families, Parents, and Guardians of Students With Disabilities

Learn what roles, rights, and responsibilities caregivers and parents of students with disabilities have once their child enters college.

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by Doug Wintemute

Updated September 29, 2022

Reviewed by Angelique Geehan

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Guide for Families, Parents, and Guardians of Students With Disabilities
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The move from high school to college can be difficult for everyone involved. Parents and guardians of students with disabilities face additional changes, as they may no longer have a central role in their child's education. But parents and guardians still have an important part to play in the process — a part that likely requires planning and preparation.

Explore how disability accommodations work in college and university and what caregivers can do to support their children during their studies.

High School vs. College for Parents and Guardians of Disabled Students

When your child enters college, the rules for disability accommodations and communication with parents and guardians under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) change. Here are some of the biggest differences your family might encounter.

No IEPs or 504 Plans in College

Families and students need to prepare for the end of 504 plans and Individual Education Programs (IEPs) in college, which outline K-12 students' accommodations and modifications. However, under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, colleges and universities that receive federal funding must make their programs, facilities, and activities accessible to students with disabilities.

Accommodations must also be reasonable, and parents and guardians no longer automatically receive educational information from the school.

Accommodation Requests Are the Student's Responsibility

While every school has a different process for disability accommodation requests, learners usually need to register as a student with a disability within their school's disability services center. They must also provide proof of their disability and discuss what available accommodations they need to be successful.

Typical accommodations include environment alterations, removing physical barriers, and using assistive devices.

Modifications Aren't Required in College

High schools regularly modify programs according to a student's IEP. This may include curriculum or test adjustments and different grading, participation, and material requirements. While colleges must make accommodations for disabled students, they do not need to alter the program's nature.

There Aren't Case Managers, Like in High School

In high school, students with disabilities benefit from an entire IEP team. This team is made up of parents and guardians, teachers, an instructional coordinator, and a school representative or case manager. Colleges may have a point person for students or a disability representative who communicates with all faculty and staff on behalf of the students.

These professionals will not be as involved as individual case managers, nor do they need to provide parents with information.

How Families, Parents, and Guardians of Disabled Students Can Support the College Transition

Even though college students take control of their own accommodations and communications, caregivers and parents of students with disabilities can still provide support.

1 Vet Accessible Colleges to Attend Upfront

Parents and guardians of disabled students can help their child research colleges before making a decision. They can help investigate what type of disability services the school has in place and what type of support it offers. They might also see if the school offers any program modifications.

2 Plan With Your Student Before School Starts

To help a child prepare for college, parents and guardians can discuss the process of requesting accommodations ahead of time. Caregivers might find out the name of the disability services point person and what type of documentation their child needs. They can also help develop a plan for how to discuss their child's disability and accommodations with teachers and classmates.

3 Teach Them How to Self-Advocate

Parents and guardians of students with disabilities can help empower their children by teaching them self-advocacy skills. Self-advocacy requires the student to know themselves, their disability, and their needs. With confidence and independence, students can advocate for themselves while working within the school's system.

4 Read Up On College Students' ADA Rights

While parents and guardians often take a backseat once their children enter college, they can still know their family's rights and responsibilities under the ADA. Consider reading through the ADA to learn more about what accommodations schools need to provide and how to handle discrimination if encountered.

5 Get Updated Diagnoses — And Ensure Your Student Understands Them

All schools have their own documentation requirements. Some accept the most recent disability evaluation from school, while others require a current diagnosis within the last 3-5 years. Parents and guardians can help their children get a recent diagnosis, understand what it means, and learn what to expect in terms of accommodation.

6 Attend College Disability Services Meetings (If Needed)

Caregivers and parents of disabled students may not need to attend disability services meetings at college, but they certainly can if their child allows it. Parents or guardians can help their child advocate for themselves and request the appropriate accommodations, or they can provide moral support.

7 Be There for Your Student When They Need You

College requires students to be independent, which can be scary and difficult to accept for all caregivers. For guardians and parents of children with disabilities, the role change can be especially challenging. The best thing they can do is be available for their child if and when they need them.

Resources for Families, Parents, and Guardians of Disabled Students in College

Frequently Asked Questions from Guardians and Parents of Students With Disabilities

Can students with physical disabilities succeed in college?

Yes. Students with physical disabilities can succeed in college. Under the ADA, colleges and universities must provide reasonable accommodations to disabled students, ensuring they have equal opportunities during their studies.

Still, students with physical disabilities should do research and find a school that provides the accommodations they need to succeed.

Can students with learning disabilities succeed in college?

Yes. Students with learning disabilities can succeed in college by using available accommodations. Colleges and universities offer different levels of support, but they may include assistive technologies, notetakers, and tutors.

While schools need to provide appropriate accommodations, students with learning disabilities should still see what their schools can offer them.

How can parents and guardians support disabled college students?

Parents and guardians of children with disabilities can provide support in many ways. They can help their child research what school to attend, ensure they have the necessary documentation, and help prepare them for the accommodation request process.

Parents and guardians can also provide their children with information about their disabilities and help them become self-advocates. Finally, caregivers can provide moral support and motivation for their children as they become more independent college students.


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