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People with Disabilities and Higher Education

  • Published: 2012-08-14 (Revised/Updated 2016-11-06) : Author: Wendy Taormina-Weiss
  • Synopsis: Information regarding college and continuing higher education for students with a disability.

Quote: "Colleges cannot deny a student admission simply because the student has a form of disability, yet a college will not admit a student based only on the fact that they do have a disability."

Main Document

Considering what to do after you have completed high school can be an exciting and somewhat frightening experience for people with disabilities. The number of students with disabilities who attend college is increasing every year. Students who go to college are demonstrating growth in a number of areas such as social skills, academic skills, self-advocacy skills, independence, and self-confidence. Students with disabilities many times find they need to start planning for college while they are still in high school.

The college experience provides students with a certain level of flexibility and freedom. Every student who attends college has to make sure they have the skills to manage their social life, classes, and at times - a job as well. Students will have to make many different choices while they are in college. They will also have more freedom to make their own choices and decisions concerning the kinds of classes they want to take, when and where to take those classes, as well as when to finish their assignments.

(List of U.S. Universities and Colleges)

The fact that student have so many choices to make also finds them with many questions on their minds. They can get help from guidance counselors, high school teachers, and family members who will be taking an increased responsibility for what happens to the student after they have finished high school. Asking questions is a great way to make the best decisions that will support the student. Some of the questions that might cross a student's mind about college may include:

Students with Disabilities and College Success

The questions that arise in the minds of many students with disabilities might make them wonder if they can be successful in college. Many students with disabilities succeed in college and the number of students with disabilities who are attending colleges and universities has increased over the last five years. One of the main reasons for the increase is that many students with disabilities have legal rights that help them to attend colleges while obtaining the supports they need to be successful in classes. Students with disabilities need to remember they will need all of the same capabilities as any other college student. They will also need technologies, accommodations, and modifications to assist them with accessing the same benefits of college as other students.

A college does not admit a student based merely upon their grades or college entrance exams. Admission committees at colleges examine everything about a student and then make a decision. Colleges cannot deny a student admission simply because the student has a form of disability, yet a college will not admit a student based only on the fact that they do have a disability. Students will want to present their grades, coursework, College Board Scores, personal attitudes, life experiences, and academic interests to the college of their choice to demonstrate their strengths and challenges.

The best way to succeed in college for students with disabilities is to begin planning while they are in high school. While in high school, the student's teachers, parents, and counselors can help to guide the student's educational process. Once in college; however, the student with disabilities will assume the majority of the responsibilities for making self-disclosure about the disability they experience, as well as making decisions concerning the classes they take, completing assignments, and self-advocating for the resources and supports they need to succeed.

College and Disability Accommodations

While a student is still in high school their parents, teachers, and other professionals will arrange for the accommodations they need. When a student with disabilities is in college, they will have to self-advocate for accommodations. They will need to think about the support and accommodations they need to succeed both academically and socially. Some questions students with disabilities can ask themselves to help decide what accommodations they need in college might include, 'Do I...':

Students with disabilities can use these kinds of questions to help identify the types of technologies, accommodations, and modifications they will need and consider which college they want to go to. They will need to find out if the college has the ability to provide the accommodations they will need after they have provided the documentation the college requires.

Actions to Take in High School for Students with Disabilities Who Want to Attend College

Students with disabilities need to have some of the same abilities and skills as other college students in order to succeed in college. It is best to begin learning those skills while in high school, instead of waiting until college. Going to college knowing what you can do and how to do it might be the most important thing to help a student with disabilities to succeed in college. Colleges require students to take a certain number and type of courses while they are still in high school, for example. Some colleges and universities require students to take three or four courses every year in math, English, social studies, science, or history. A student's guidance counselor, parents, and teachers can help them to plan their coursework for college.

Some colleges require students to do well in all of their high school courses. They may not require that a student receive all A's and B's in their high school classes, although receiving a number of low or failing grades shows a college the student might not be able to succeed in college level courses. The accommodations a student receives while they are in high school that help them to meet the requirements for writing, reading, note-taking, and class discussion can help them to decide if they want to self-disclose to a college and self-advocate for accommodations while they are in college.

Every college student, to include students without forms of disabilities, discover they have to develop strategies for organizing they day, problem solving, managing their time, studying, and interacting with people who have all types of personalities. While a student is still in high school they may want to develop strategies to help them organize work, learn the required material, manage their time, and develop social skills that will help them to become an independent learner when they are in college. The skills should be a part of their IEP.

Students in their senior year of high school will find their school working with their teachers, parents, counselors and others to gather relevant information about the form of disability they experience and the accommodations they receive. With this information, the student's team will develop a, 'Summary of Functional Performance (SOP),' for them which includes five parts:

An SOP is a transitional bridge between high school and a post-high school learning environment. An SOP also provides additional documentation of the disability a student experiences that colleges and universities will request.

List of Disability Scholarships - Information and list of disability scholarships for applicants including financial aid for the disabled and grant money for students with disabilities.

Resource Guide on Higher Education for People with Disabilities

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education (OCR)


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