College Tips for Students with a Disability

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Jeremy Watts with his Frat

As a recent college graduate, I feel like I am finally entitled to give some advice to all of the other students who are either about to start their foray into higher education, or are maybe only a year or two into it. I know I received much in the way of guidance from fellow college students and grads, and while I didn’t listen to it all, it certainly helped me when I did. Today, I shall begin to impart my wisdom to the next generation, but I want to do so to a different audience: students with a disability.

College is an incredible time. It is filled to the brim with new experiences, different people of all varieties, and it is a chance to learn both book smarts and some practical wisdom. All of these things are equally important, and should be pursued. Only obtaining book smarts is not necessarily a waste of your time and money, but it is a waste of an opportunity that you’ll never have again. During my time in college, I was able to interact with people from Russia, Korea, Ghana, and more on a daily basis. I learned much about myself and American culture from learning about them and theirs. I won’t probably get to do that again either. It was also a time of numerous first experiences, both personally and socially.

So with this in mind, here are a few things to consider as you go into your freshman year or transfer to a different institution.

There is no Special Ed. in college

In college, everyone goes to the same classes. No exceptions. If you have a disability, bear that in mind. Your lecture could be a hall full of hundreds of other students, or a small room of ten classmates. Either way, it is up to you to plan accordingly and take whatever steps are necessary to succeed. If you need to sit close to the front, show up early. If homework takes longer for you, find a quiet place on or off campus and devote the time it takes. In the classroom, some accommodations may be made, but you’ll still be graded on the same level and scale as your peers.

Talk to the Administration Office about your needs

Though the classroom may be level playing grounds, there are rules that the college must abide by to make sure you have full access to the college life. Colleges cannot ask you about your disability on entrance forms, but you can mention them on your About Me sections. They will not affect your acceptance to the college either, that will still rest on your academic record. That said, there are accommodations that the college must make for you, and they should be made for you free of charge. Have a service animal? You may be entitled to a single room. In a wheelchair? They will place you in a dorm with an elevator. Hard of hearing? They will supply a sign language translator. Tutors, writing centers, and more are always available to you as well. These accommodation policies extend to extracurricular activities as well.

Talk to your Disability Support Services (DSS) office

Some institutions have a Disability Support Services office that will be your go-to place for anything you might need. Some colleges have differing names for this office, such as Disabled Student Services, Access Services, or the Office of Accessibility. Seek them out and let them know your needs.

Start Slow

Your first semester in college should be started with a smaller course load. College classes are not like your high school courses, and they take a bit of adjustment to get used to. Start with a smaller course load, and take classes in different departments. Experiencing new studies by taking different classes got me to change my major to what I graduated in, and now work doing. Take advantage of that freedom to learn new things and explore. What you find might surprise you.

Failure isn’t an end

College is harder than people expect it to be. In high school, I never got a grade lower than a B, and let’s just say that wasn’t the case in college. I also withdrew from a class and dropped other classes. College gives you the freedom to do these things, and do consider using these tools if you need to. Abusing them could be bad as well, but even with dropping and withdrawing, I graduated Cum Laude, and you can too.

For more tips for college, check out the book, 100 Things Every College Student with a Disability Ought to Know by Kendra Johnson and Trudie Hines. If you have some tips of your own, please leave them in the comments below!