Campus Disabilities Services
As you consider which colleges might be the right place for you, it is really useful to examine what kinds of support services a school provides. One of the most important student support services is the campus Disabilities Office (some schools use different names for this office). For students with physical, learning or emotional challenges, this is the office that helps you make sure that the school provides you with the support and accommodations that are necessary for you to be able to participate in the academic and campus life of a school. The federal government actually requires colleges to make “reasonable accommodations” to help support students with disabilities to be able attend college.
What kinds of support might this include? For a student with problems walking, this might include making sure that buildings are accessible to a wheelchair. For a vision impaired student this might be making sure that there are services such as readers or technology to provide access to textbooks. For students with learning challenges, this might include extra time on assignments or tests. This office usually works to coordinate accommodations with faculty and other campus offices.
It is important to know that to receive accommodations, you must have an established disability (a doctor or other professional must have done an examination and made this designation) and the office will not necessarily grant every request. The definition of “reasonable accommodations” is sometimes not completely clear. A good office will work with the student, relevant campus office and maybe even the your treating clinician to come up with a good and fair plan for you.
What should you look for? If you already know you have a challenge or problem for which you may need support or accommodations, find out whether the school has a good disabilities office and has experience helping students with similar issues. You may be able to find a lot from the school’s websites. Does the website for the disabilities office look friendly and inviting? Do they have good descriptions of the office, the kinds of challenges they’ve helped students with? If the information is not complete, you can call the office to get information about how many students are registered there and what sorts of issues they help with. They should be open to sharing this information with you, your family or a guidance counselor.
Even if you do not currently have a problem for which you need the disabilities office, you can still learn something about how the campus approaches student support from seeing how committed they are to having students with disabilities and challenges live and thrive on campus. The disabilities service can be a window into administrative caring and campus vibe.