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How to Succeed At College With a Disability

Aug 4, 2009 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Students with disabilities attend and graduate college every day. You don’t have to let your disability keep you from attending college or hold you back from succeeding. Many colleges and professors are willing to work with you to make sure your needs are met and that you live up to your potential at college.

Most traditional and online colleges offer services specifically for students with a wide range of disabilities—but in most cases you’ll have to prove your eligibility. You’ll need documentation from a licensed medical or psychiatric professional that’s recent—most colleges require it to be from the past few years—stating your disability and explaining how it limits your ability to participate fully at your school.  In some cases, you may have to undergo a medical re-evaluation before receiving disability services.

Once you get approved, you should have access to a wide range of accommodations including textbooks on tape, extended test-taking time, the ability to take tests in different formats, special tutoring and other aids. If you have a physical disability that limits your access to certain areas of campus, many colleges will make sure the classes you choose are located in accessible buildings.

Your school can do a lot to make it easier for you to study, but you’ll also have to be aware of what you can and can’t handle. If you have a learning disability, be sure to balance more challenging courses with classes that are less demanding so you don’t get overwhelmed with all the requirements. The school’s advisors should be able to help you take your specific disability into account when planning out your course schedule. In addition, every student regardless of disability should choose classes based on the schedule that works best for them—if you know you can’t wake up in time for an early class because of late work obligations or other factors, schedule later classes. Especially if you have a learning disability, you can’t afford to miss classes.


Disabled Student

Most traditional and online colleges offer services specifically for students with a wide range of disabilities


As a learning-disabled student, you also should have access to tutors who know how to work with people who have your disability. While your college may have a peer tutoring program, often student tutors aren’t trained to work with learning-disabled students. If you’re finding that you’re not getting the help you need when it comes to tutoring, talk to your school’s dean and ask for a tutor who has the right experience. If this isn’t possible, be open with the student tutors you work with—tell them about your disability and the ways you work best. The more you can communicate your needs, the more likely you are to have them met.

Depending on the type of disability you have, it might take you longer to complete assignments or read assigned books and articles, or you may not be able to complete field aspects of classes because of a physical disability. It’s important to know your limits and work around them instead of trying to push through them.

As you work through college, you should make a point to make allies of your professors. Be sure each one understands your disability and how it affects you, and if you need something from them—the ability to sit in the front row, extra time with assignments or a different testing format, for example—you should ask for it. Let them know as soon as you think you may be falling behind in the material so that you can get the help you need.

You’ll also need to enlist the help of other students. There may already be a support group on campus for people with your disability. If there isn’t, start one. This will help you form a community of students with similar needs and struggles—you can help each other find the resources you need, get help, and share learning techniques that work for you.

Many traditional and online colleges go out of their way to make attending school easier for disabled students. However, to get your needs met, you may find you have to be your own advocate. Be sure you know as much as you can about your disability—how you learn, what you need, and your individual challenges and strengths. The more you know about yourself and can tell others exactly how to help you, the more likely is you’ll get the help you need to succeed at college.


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