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students with disabilities

Student Life

Thriving With a Disability in College

January 18, 2021

The National Center for Education Statistics reports approximately 11% of college undergraduates have a disability. Federal statistics show less than half of these students graduate from two-year courses within eight years, and only one-third of disabled students complete four-year courses. There are various reasons for this educational gap, including the fact that the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which ensure disabled students are accommodated as required, only apply to colleges receiving federal aid. This, coupled with having to suddenly adapt to independent life without your usual support basis, can add challenges to the college experience.

If you’re about to embark on your first year of study, here’s how you can ensure you have an optimal learning experience.

Battling Stereotypes

A study by Alison May and colleagues, published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, found that it is generally accepted that “people with disabilities constitute a stigmatized group and that disability stigma has a negative impact on students with disabilities in higher education settings.” There are various categories of stereotypes about people with learning disabilities. These include believing that students have a low level of intelligence. Added to this issue are social challenges, since students with disabilities often have to spend longer on academic tasks, leaving less time for socializing. Students with disabilities can also fear being criticized by teaching staff and peers. 

Choosing The Right College

Selecting a college with a wide array of services can make a big difference when it comes to the quality of one’s learning life. Students with cerebral palsy, for instance, may have complex needs, owing to a possible combination of visual, hearing and speech impediments. When cerebral palsy is first diagnosed in a baby or small child, doctors are often unable to predict the challenges they may face as they grow older. Adults, for instance, can develop walking and other disorders that require them to use a wheelchair. In these cases, ramps, elevators, and other equipment are key for attending class and making your way to different areas of campus. 

Top Colleges For Students With Disabilities To Consider

Just a few colleges with a stellar reputation for accommodating this and other needs of disabled students include Landmark College, The University of Arizona, Beacon College, the University of Connecticut, and the University of Iowa. Some colleges also have prestigious programs for students with disabilities – including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of California, Berkeley, and Wayne State University. The latter, for instance, is fully wheelchair accessible, and has a program called Handicapper Educational Services – which provides financial aid, personal assistance, and other types of help for students with disabilities.

Applying For Grants And Scholarships

It is important to be an active member of a network centered around your disability so as to be aware of any new grants and scholarships you may be entitled to. The National Federation for the Blind, for instance, sponsors 30 grants and scholarships every year. You can also safeguard your finances by taking out insurance catered to students, including renters and tuition insurance.

While a fraction of undergraduate students have disabilities, an even smaller percentage complete courses necessary for a degree. In order to maximize your chances of thriving in college with a disability, selecting the best college is important. Be sure to look for one that offers educational support as well as other services for students with disabilities.