What You Should Know About Disability-Friendly Colleges
Colleges can’t turn you down for having a disability, and you don’t have to disclose your disability status if you don’t want to. According to the U.S. Department of Education, postsecondary schools must make appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities, including providing accessible housing at the same price they charge other students. Of course, if you don’t disclose your disability, you won’t be able to request accommodations or academic adjustments.
Not all schools offer the same level of support. As many as 20% of undergraduates in the U.S. report having a disability, but the support they receive can vary widely from one institution to another. Common adjustments include assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, and testing accommodations.
Some colleges encourage professors to follow Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) guidelines, which can help make learning materials as accessible as possible. For example, a lecture could be delivered in multiple formats, with both a written transcript and an audio recording. This saves students with disabilities from having to request accessible materials from every instructor. Other schools offer online learning portals that make it easy to view course materials.
Applying to college can be a stressful experience for anyone, but choosing a disability-friendly college can add more steps to the process. Here are a few things to consider as you compare your options:
- Get an evaluation. Each school can set its own documentation standards, but you’ll typically need some form of evaluation if you want to request accommodations for your disability. This could include reports from a medical doctor or psychologist. Students usually have to pay for this out of pocket, but you may qualify for services through a vocational rehabilitation agency. You can look up your state’s agency on the Rehabilitation Services Administration website.
- Visit the campus. It’s always a good idea to visit a college in person, but this is especially important if you have a physical disability that requires mobility aids. Ensure that there are sufficient elevators and pathways, that the campus isn’t too large to get around, and that the dorms, cafeteria, and other facilities are ADA accessible.
- Direct any questions to the Office of Disability Services. Every disability-friendly college should have an Office of Disability Services whose job is to facilitate accommodations and help students with disabilities advocate for themselves in the classroom and on campus. They will be able to give you specific insights into what services are available and help you determine if this is the right college for you. If possible, ask another student with a similar disability how well they are treated by their peers and professors.
- Request an accommodation on college entrance exams. Before you begin applying to colleges, make sure that you’ve received appropriate accommodations on your standardized tests. Most admissions exams, including the SAT, offer accommodations to eligible students, but you may need to submit a request up to two months in advance. Visit the College Board website to learn more.