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College Resources Available to Disabled Students

College Resources Available to Disabled Students–Part 1

A Guide to Help Parents Understand the Options Available to Their Disabled Child 

Have you been under the assumption that college is an entirely unattainable goal for your handicapped child? As the parent of a child with challenges, you are well-versed in searching for other options, alternatives, and accommodations. Shamrck supports inclusivity in all areas of education and seeks to help you understand that college is absolutely something your child can do. With tips presented in this blog, we hope our post will serve as a springboard for you to find more information and educate yourself further about options that are available for your child’s unique needs. Shamrck also recognizes that your job for many years has been to research and advocate for your child and their individual needs. For that reason, we hope that the following post will help you to not only begin understanding what is available for your student, but also pass the information on to your student and make educated decisions together. 

For the sake of this blog and brevity, we will use the term “disability”. However, we are intending to include many individuals in that term, such as those who suffer from various types of challenges and disabilities, as well as chronic health conditions, or mental or emotional illnesses. No offense or exclusion is intended in this word choice. 

For many students, the process of going to college is a daunting task. Between trying to figure out which schools fit their needs and budget, and then completing the necessary application and paperwork, assessing classes and programs, it can be an overwhelming experience. For disabled students, though, there are many other concerns to deal with in addition to these. However, there are additional resources available to help make the process easier. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of those resources so that your child can have the best chance at success in higher education.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?

If you are the parent of a disabled student, you need to know that there are many resources available to help make your child’s college experience easier. Made a law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. That includes jobs, schools, and transportation, just to name a few. The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. The law mandates equal access to a postsecondary institution and requires that colleges provide reasonable accommodations to students with disabilities, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are also several organizations and websites that can provide additional information and support. 

In short, the law protects your child. Make yourself familiar with your child’s rights. You have always been their advocate and the laws and programs that are in place can help them learn to advocate for themselves.

What are Some Examples of Accommodations for Disabled Students in College?

There are many resources available to disabled students when it comes time to choosing a college. This includes researching schools that have programs and services for students with disabilities (specifically services most applicable to your student), as well as contacting admissions offices to gather information about specific accommodations that can be made. Most universities have programs in place, often called things like Disability Support Services or Disability Resource Center, to assist their students. These offices can be a disabled college student’s best friend. They may be able to provide the services and support that ensures students like yours are able to, not only attend college, but succeed and graduate. They are filled with empathetic and informed individuals whose entire job is to help students like yours succeed with whatever adjustments or accommodations they require. They provide counseling, transportation services, note takers, auxiliary aid services, assistive technology, or make-up test proctoring, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. They can liaison between students and their professors to make sure everyone is on the same page. They are able to help students construct a class schedule that meets their needs, for example, students may need priority for first dibs on scheduling classes in order to have a class schedule they can physically manage. In addition, there are sometimes scholarship opportunities available specifically for disabled students they can help put you in touch with. By taking advantage of all the resources available, it is possible to find the perfect school for many student with disabilities. 

Tools such as the Campus Disability Resource (CeDaR) Database can be very helpful when searching for the right school and program. This database has information about disability services at hundreds of degree-granting colleges and universities in the United States. 

Disability offices seek to advocate for their disabled students in any way they can, to improve access and connect them with opportunities to assist them in their postsecondary journey and maintain independence. They understand that disabled students may have certain limitations and need assistance in various areas in order to complete the same degree as their non-disabled counterparts. These resources are entirely free of charge and available to all eligible students. Many universities also offer “Transition Resources”, understanding there is a need given the transition from high school to a postsecondary school can be a challenging, yet rewarding, time. The disability resources offered by universities aim to assist in a successful transition.

Confidentiality

There is no reason to worry about confidentiality. Disability offices on college campuses are private and confidential in accordance with state and federal laws. When students need to use their services, the office is as discreet as possible to ensure that privacy is maintained. For instance, there may be a disabled student who needs help with taking notes in class. A student will volunteer or be hired by the disability office to take notes during a class they are already attending to assist their classmate. The note taker will not be informed about who they are taking notes for or why. They will anonymously copy their notes and provide them to the disability office, who will pass them along to the student needing assistance.

On the subject of privacy, you will have to remember that, unlike when your child was in high school, you are no longer legally entitled to information when they are in college due to privacy laws. So if you want to talk to the disability services officer or anyone else involved with your child’s accommodations, you’ll need written permission from your child. 

Help Your Child Choose the Right Program for Them

Different schools offer different levels of support. When looking at schools, make sure that you are paying attention to not only the programs offered by the institution, but to the educational path that your child would like to pursue. Depending on their particular needs, one school’s individual department may or may not be as well suited to accommodate them in the way that they need.

Disabled students are more likely to have a harder time in school. The National Center for Education Statistics found in the 2015-2016 school year that 19% of undergraduate students reported to have a disability. Many of these students live with a chronic illness or injury that limits their mobility and leaves them unable to even attend classes on a regular basis. Not to mention the other life-altering impacts they face. “Federal data shows fewer than 35% of students with disabilities graduate from four-year institutions within 8 years” according to the Hechinger Report. For that reason, it is critical that our schools and our government establish resources that accomplish one important goal: access. These students deserve access to the same opportunities as their able-bodied peers.

Financial Options

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is another civil rights law that also provides protections, further prohibiting disability discrimination in public entitites including schools. This act “protects the rights of persons with handicaps in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance.” Furthermore, this act protects students with both seen and unseen disabilities. 

It has been evaluated at the federal level that disabilities do have a tremendous impact on students’ financial ability to attend college. Things as simple as the fact that disabled students are forced to take reduced class loads or receive Social Security Disability affects their eligibility for financial aid programs, and therefore affects their ability to pursue postsecondary education. Some universities have special status programs that disabled students may apply for that would allow them to maintain status as a full-time student while taking a reduced course load as a result of their condition. This status must be examined to determine if the student meets the requirements and, if granted, will be subject to reapplication each semester and requires an evaluation and documentation proving the impact of the disability on the student’s ability to maintain a larger class load. This status can help protect students needing scholarships of federal grants or loans.

Disabled students were found to face many financial setbacks, forced to pay for their own accommodations for their condition, facing difficulties affording housing that accommodates their physical limitations, and trouble knowing how they can qualify for or repay student loans with the uncertainties in their health and life. While these things are all being evaluated by the government to figure out how to improve federal financial aid, for now, the problems still exist. It makes it very important that you work closely with the high school counselors, Disability Resources on the college campus, the Financial Aid office, and perhaps even a financial advisor to plan how to help your child succeed physically, academically, and financially.  

Awareness about the severe limitations faced by disabled students and their access on campus has increased, but this is not the whole issue. For students with mobility disabilities, simply managing to walk around a campus and attend classes is a challenge. Students with visual or hearing impairments have difficulty even integrating in a typical classroom setting. But what about their access to college funding?

Education grants provide one option, with different grants available from varied sources. Many scholarships and grants may give a slight push to these applicants, as they try to encourage disabled students to attend college. This is particularly true for public and private organizations that specifically target disabled students otherwise lacking the financial resources to attend college. Sometimes the grant may be targeted at a particular type of disability. For example, the Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation (CFSF) is devoted to helping students with Cystic Fibrosis pursue their post-secondary education at a college or vocational school, providing annual scholarships and grants to students with Cystic Fibrosis and qualifying academic performance and financial need.

Some colleges routinely sponsor grants and scholarships for students from underrepresented portions of the population. This includes supporting grant programs for students with disabilities. 

The Federal Government also provides financial assistance (in addition to FAFSA) in the form of the U.S. Department of Education’s TRIO Programs, which provide education grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including those with severe disabilities.

All of this information and much more is available through the university’s disability resources office. They are best placed to inform your student about applicable opportunities.

Shamrck hopes this information has been helpful and will continue this important topic later with our follow-up, Part 2 blog.

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