Preparing for Higher Education: A Guide for Students with Disabilities

This article is written by Alyson Iuchs with a US-based perspective. All content provided is for informational purposes only. Check with academic institutions in your area before making choices suggested in this article.

Students with special needs are discovering they can succeed in higher education because colleges have modified their campuses for greater accessibility and have resources to help those with learning disabilities. While you might be nervous about which school to choose for your child, and how his disability will affect his studies and social life, by educating yourself about the resources available you will help prepare your child for college.

Challenges and barriers students with special needs face

During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 6.5 million children ages 3-21 or 13 percent of the total public-school enrollment who received special education services. Students who have physical or learning disabilities face a variety of learning, developmental and physical challenges in the education system.

Some of these challenges include:

  • discrimination or bullying by other students
  • a lack of information about student’s options
  • insufficient funding
  • an insufficient number of trained teacher aids

Special education teachers try to provide students with inclusive classes so they can overcome these obstacles. Unfortunately, these students still run into barriers while trying to complete their education.

These barriers can include:

  • delays or untimely service of special education programs
  • lack of focus on individual student’s needs
  • an insufficient parent or community support

Assistive technology

Classrooms, especially those with special needs students have benefited from the introduction of technology because it puts them on a level playing field with the other students and helps them to excel academically.

Assistive technology can help students with:

  • reading
  • mathematics
  • organization
  • memory
  • listening comprehension

Some of the in-class technology used includes:

  • screen magnifiers
  • voice recognition software
  • touch screens
  • text-to-speech applications
  • and braille embossers

This technology can also help those with physical disabilities by providing:

  • automatic doors
  • hand-held GPS units
  • pool lifts
  • adaptive playground and sport-specific equipment

These technology applications allow the teacher to remain connected with the class and closely track students’ academic process. This helps teachers learn critical information about the students’ learning process and be able to provide them with more personalized lesson plans that are better assisted by the technological devices and software applications.

Transitioning to college

Students with disabilities who are thinking about going to college might feel overwhelmed. Families that have struggled with getting their student’s needs met in elementary and high school might worry about facing the same struggles again. Luckily, there are people and organizations ready to help your child have a successful college experience.

To make the transition from high school to college easier, it is important to start planning early. You want a college that is the right fit for your child in academics and personal wellness.

Look closely at the choices and see if they have:

  • programs your child is interested in
  • reasonable accommodation for your disability
  • tuition that fits your budget

You can check a college’s website for a dedicated disability services page to see how invested the campus is in providing resources for students with special needs. You will also want to contact the college through a phone call or email about the different accommodations and resources available to students with disabilities. As you narrow down your list, arrange a campus visit to get a first-hand view of the location of classes, dormitories, and dining halls.

While you are not required to release information regarding your child’s disability, it is important to inform the college of the disability and the accommodation your child requires. The more a school knows about your child’s needs, the better they are able to help him have a successful college experience.

If you request accommodation, the college will likely request documentation of the disability.

They will often ask for:

  • the current diagnosis
  • medical reports
  • paperwork that shows how the disability affects his previous academic studies
  • his doctor’s credentials

Be sure to provide this information in a timely manner so your child can get the adequate help from the start of academic year.

Understanding the rights of a student with disabilities

Federal, state, and local legislation has been passed to help disabled students receive the resources and accommodations they need to reach their academic goals. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act are two of the laws governing colleges about students with special needs.

These special education laws can be confusing, but in the end, it means college students must:

  • be academically prepared
  • ready to live independently
  • understand the nature of their disability
  • be able to describe the services and accommodation they will need
  • be able to advocate for themselves

While all colleges are required to provide reasonable accommodations, they don’t all provide the same services. This is why it’s important to do the research and pick the college that best fits your child’s needs. Take advantage of today’s new and expanding technology and resources that are available to help your child overcome challenges and reach his goals.

About the Writer

Alyson Iuchs is a high school librarian and freelance writer. In her free time, she enjoys hiking with her husband and her dog.

 

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