Expert Insight


Graduating from high school and entering college is a big step for all. This new stage in life provides the gateway to more competitive opportunities in the job market after graduation. You students with disabilities have many challenges that you must face and overcome in college. More often than not, this is also the first time in your life that you are more independent and must learn to make decisions on your own. You will have to come to terms with your issues, and be able to know your abilities and limitations. Additionally, you must become familiar with your legal rights and responsibilities.

Fortunately, a plethora of great resources are available to students with disabilities to help make college a rewarding experience for everyone. You can get receive through a variety of outlets including, but not limited to, on and off campus organizations and services as well as from college counselors.

To help you make a smooth transition into college, this handy guide presents the different aspects of preparing for this next stage in your lives. You can learn more about your legal rights, receive guidance on how to choose the right school, explore distance learning options, find out about financial aid opportunities, and much more!

Legal Rights of Students with Disabilities

You are encouraged to educate yourselves about your rights under the law prior to attending college. Many laws are in place under the government designed to protect students with disabilities from discrimination. This way, everyone can receive the best education possible.

The essential legislation is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Each serves a different purpose. The ADA guarantees equal access to education for students with disabilities. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 ensures that colleges, which receive funding from the government, cannot discriminate against students with disabilities. In other words, these schools must provide you with an equal opportunity to receive a quality education. In addition to education, the law also requires that schools provide reasonable accommodation for you.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 covers individuals with disabilities with restrictions in one or more major life activities. Some examples include:

  • Respiratory conditions
  • Organic brain syndromes
  • Digestive ailments
  • Sense organ impairments
  • Mental or emotional illnesses
  • Musculoskeletal impairments
  • Neurological conditions.

For additional information on the legal rights of students with disabilities, the following resources provide vital insight on the topic:

Rights of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education: A Guide for College & University Students [PDF]

Get a better understanding of the rights that students with disabilities have.

Office of Student Access & Completion: Questions to Ask College Disability Services Staff

Become familiar with the different questions to ask a counselor or disability services staff when you are in college.

United States Department of Labor: Disability Resources

This resource provides many useful links to a variety of information such as housing for students with disabilities and more.

National Association of the Deaf: State & Local Colleges and Universities

This article goes into detail about the different obligations that post-secondary institutions must fulfill under the federal law for students who are hard of hearing.

Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities [PDF]

This PDF provides the specifics about legal rights, the benefits that students may be eligible for, employment for the impaired, and more.

Choosing the Right School for You & Your Needs

Before committing to a school, make sure that the institution can make the necessary academic adjustments for optimal learning. It's also smart to become familiar with their disability procedures to ensure you receive all the help you need in time for your classes. Many people and places can help such as your school counselors, admissions advisors, and, of course, college websites and student handbooks readily available on the web.

Additionally, you want to be sure your dream school fits your academic interests and needs along with career goals. Several aspects need to be checked out: Does the tuition fit your budget? Are plenty of housing options available, including accessible options? What are the campus resources that will be at your fingertips to help you succeed in and after college?

Once you decide on the school and have been accepted, the next step entails sending in official documentation so the school has details about your disability on file and can reference it when needed. This documentation will have your doctor's credentials and medical reports that show how your disability may impact your academic life.

Most colleges offer a helpful student services division and office. Counselors should be available to work with you to ensure that you enroll in the right classes that are suitable for your learning needs. Depending on your disability, you might be eligible for some adjustments. These potential accommodations include taking advantage of priority registration, having special seating and testing accommodations, and getting a sign language interpreter, note-taker, or even audio recordings of class lectures. Braille transcriptions should be an option for blind or partially blind students.

Some useful resources to help with this transition from high school to college are:

Students with Disabilities

Learn about the different testing accommodations commonly available to students with disabilities.

Preparing Students with Disabilities for College

This article is helpful for parents and students to look over to get some tips on how to prepare for college.

Distance Learning Options

Due to the prevalence of the Internet these days, online education has become a very popular means for students to experience higher education on a general level. However, online learning is still relatively new for students with disabilities. As colleges develop new distance learning programs for students with disabilities, they still are working on incorporating all the legal responsibilities in providing equal access to students with all types of impairments.

In like manner to traditional classroom instruction, you may need special accommodations when taking online classes. For instance, you may require closed-captioning and descriptive lectures. Schools continue to work on implementing adaptive technology software and hardware to make distance learning a flawless option for your education.

If you are planning on taking classes online, it is important for you to understand the nature of your disability and to clearly communicate your needs to your school and professors. Let them know that you intend on enrolling in their online program. This way, they can provide you with special accommodations available to maximize your learning potential. If professors or counselors are reluctant or refuse to assist you, do not hesitate to talk with their supervisors or the appropriate persons in charge of services for students with disabilities in distance learning and traditional college courses., Since most universities and colleges still are developing distance learning, you will want to take charge and make sure that the school complies with the law to provide equal educational opportunities.

Assistive Technological Tools

In the twenty-first century, many technological tools are available for you to help with your educational pursuits. From phone applications to dedicated devices to paper handouts, you will find an assistive technological tool suited very well for your needs. This guide explores several of these options.

FM Systems

  • These are most useful for students with sensorineural hearing loss. They work by via radio broadcast technology using a transmitter microphone and receiver. You can maintain a consistent sound level no mater where the teacher is in the room during lectures. Background noises should not affect these. You can even turn on the hearing aid microphone so that you solely can focus on what the teacher is saying, rather than the noises around you.

Sip-and-Puff Systems

  • This option is for students with mobility disabilites. You can control a computer or app by moving a joystick with your mouth.
  • Jouse3 - You can use any part of your mouth, chin, tongue, or cheek to control this device. It is very accurate with a fast response time, which allows the device to be used for computer games and even drawing. Jouse3 can be run on Windows, Mac, and even Linux computers as well as mobile operating systems. Two mouthpieces are available. The device can support up to two external switches.
  • Origin Systems - You'll find a range of sip-and-puff systems here, ranging from gooseneck and head mounted interfaces. A mouse, keyboard, or joystick can be controlled with precision and reliability. This system works on Windows, Mac, and Linux although not currently available for mobile operating systems.

Text-to-Speech Assistve Tools (TTS)

  • TTS software is a tremendous asset for students with diffculty reading due to dyslexia, blindness, or other disabilities. These tools scan and read words aloud in an increasingly lifelike voice.
  • Intel Reader - This device uses a high-resolution camera and a powerful computer processor to convert printed text into digital text and then reads it aloud. Your productivity increases due to the ability to take this device anywhere and easily understand any printed text that you may need. The design has been refined over the years to become increasingly easy to use. The battery has the capacity to playback up to four hours of audio.
  • Kurzweil 3000 - This software program provides literacy support to those who need it. Kurzweil 3000 includes features that help you develop better reading, writing, and study skills so you may become more independent. It reads aloud text from online courses or any text entered into the program. This software is a proven method for students with disabilities to keep up with their peers in the classroom.

Proofreading Sofware

  • Students with learning disorders such as dyslexia will benefit from proofreading software. Basically, this software is a form of assistive technology that corrects frequently misspelled. By using this program regularly, you naturally work on your language skill set to become a better writer. If you struggle with reading and writing, consider checking out the following help:
  • Ginger - This software has an excellent grammar checker, which finds errors and misspellings in writing. For example, many people often mistake "there," "their," and "they're." Ginger recognizes this and corrects accordingly. It also has a word prediction feature and helps students rephrase sentences when needed. For students who learn best through hearing, this software comes with a TTS functionality allowing you to hear everything you've written.
  • Ghotit - Helpful software for those with dyslexia, Ghotit is geared toward students who need help with writing. The amazing thing about this one is the ability to learn from your past mistakes and personalize suggestions for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Similar to Ginger, it also can read text out loud. Another feature includes a handy dictionary to search for unfamiliar words.

Math Tools

  • If a student with disabilities has trouble with math or a condition called dyscalculia (difficulty grasping numbers and lacking a general understanding in the field of math), many useful tools are available to make performing math-related work easier. Assistive technology in math is also great for students who have other disabilities, too.
  • Mathtalk - With this one, you can complete math problems by talking into a microphone connected to your computer. It covers pre-algebra to Ph.D. level mathematics and is compatible with Dragon NaturallySpeaking for voice-to-text functions. This is an ideal program if you have a fine motor skill disability. It also will work for students with vision impairments since the software has an integrated Braille translator.

Financial Aid

While college is a very enriching experience that can lead to many job opportunities after graduation, it also can be very costly. In addition to tuition, students need to budget appropriately for other fees like housing, books and supplies, food, transportation, health insurance, and more. With that said, paying for college can be a daunting task. Luckily, financial aid helps in cutting down some of these costs whether or not you have a disability.

Financial aid is available in many forms. Some are need-based while others are based on merit. Many organizations offer scholarships and grants. You also can look into work-study programs that your schools might offer. Loans are an option, but are usually a last resort as you will be responsible for paying for interest on top of the money borrowed. Many students will use one or more of these financial resources.

Some types of financial aid are geared specifically toward students with disabilities. Depending on what type it is, the requirements and the award amount varies. If you aren't familiar with what is available for you, you may want to consult your financial aid office to begin your financial-aid search. From there, an administrator can guide you as to what kind of aid is best along with where and how you can apply.

Here are some disability-related scholarships and awards worth looking into:

American Foundation for the Blind

If you are blind, you may be eligible for this scholarship. The website clearly lists the requirements needed to move forward. It also outlines the different scholarships available for the year along with the award amounts. Application forms also can be accessed on this website.

Scholarships for Disabled Veterans

If you previously served in the military and became disabled, you may be eligible for one or more of the scholarships listed in this resourceful link. This website categorizes scholarships by largest and then by newest. Each one varies in amount, as do their deadlines, so be sure to mark your calendars and make note of the ones you are interested in applying for.

Undergraduate Scholarship Program

If you are an undergraduate student, you may qualify for this program. The website outlines the details of the scholarship along with the minimum requirements needed from applicants.

Those with mobility impairments will find this website helpful in scoring a scholarship award. Again, this source provides substantial information on the scholarship topic, the criteria required to apply, deadlines, and everything you need to know.

National Hemophilia Foundation

Are you a hemophiliac? Several scholarships are available for those with bleeding disorders. You may be eligible for one or more of the programs listed on this website. Again, the award amounts vary depending on the program.

AG Bell Financial Aid Programs

These programs are open to those who are hard of hearing or deaf. This website provides a list of the different financial aid and scholarship programs open for consideration.

The Center for Reintegration: Scholarship Program

The Baer Reintegration Scholarship program is open to those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or schizoaffective disorder. If you fall under any of these categories, it may be worthwhile looking into this one.

This website provides a list of general scholarships that you may be eligible for. The award and requirements vary from scholarship to scholarship.

School Organizations

Connecting with others at your college is a big help for anyone, but most especially for students with disabilities. One of the best ways to meet others is through organizations that have your needs and understand your challenges. Several nationwide organizations are available that can make college life much better for you. These organizations also provide advocacy, as their mission is to promote equality and improvements at college campuses for students with disabilities. Below you will find a list of some of the most widely available organizations where you can find even more resources, others to connect with, and useful first-hand advice on how to get the most out of your college career.

American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD)

The main focus of the AAPD is to help better your lives by means of "increasing the political and economic power of people with disabilities." This organization wants to help you reach full participation at colleges through independent living, equal opportunity, and economic self-sufficiency. They have partnerships with many colleges, are advocates for students with disabilities, and have created programs that tear down obstacles to education.

We Connect Now

We Connect Now has a core mission of connecting college students with disabilities together, and making sure they have access to a proper higher education. Any issues that may arise during your college career can be addressed here. They offer guidance and help you overcome any obstacles at your college. This organization spans the entire United States as well as to 171 other countries. After college, you also can call upon this resource as a means to find employment.

Heath Resource Center

Managed by The George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, the Heath Resource Center has been a national clearinghouse on postsecondary education for students with disabilities. You'll find a substantial amount of educational resources and support services. They also spread this information through newsletters, directories, fact sheets, and resource papers.

National Association of Law Students with Disabilities (NALSWD)

NALSWD focuses on disability advocacy, equal access, inclusion, diversity, and non-discrimination of students with disabilities pursuing an education and career in law. They offer large and supportive communities with which you can connect to learn from each other's' experiences and utilize resources that help you succeed in your education. Established in 2007 with just ten law schools, the organization now works with over twenty law schools. Peer-mentoring programs are available through them as well as general help for the rigors of law school.

National Disabled Students Union (NDSU)

The NDSU was founded in 2001 when the U.S. Supreme Court limited enforcement of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. This organization has a focus on social justice and is available to anyone with a disability. They help to ensure you are afforded every opportunity that is given to others in terms of living accommodations, places of study, and student work positons.

Think College

This is a national organization with a dedication "to developing, expanding, and improving inclusive higher education options" for students with disabilities. Training and technical assistance is provided with face-to-face training, online modules, and articles. All the research completed through Think College is freely distributed and available through their site. They update their list of college programs that are available for students with disabilities. They'll keep you updated on policy changes at the state level about issues that affect individuals with disabilities.

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)

This organization is primarily for those who are involved in the development of policies for persons with disabilities, but still a useful organization to be aware of as a college student. You'll find relevant news and resources to your life through college. You also can become aware of professionals in your area who specialize in assisting and teaching students with disabilities. Founded in 1977, AHEAD delivers high quality training to teachers and others students with disabilities.

Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD)

This is an active organization with news updates nearly every day. The AUCD comprises a wide network of interdisciplinary centers that have a focus on advancing policies for individuals with disabilities. You'll find a caring and welcoming community here and locations of centers nearby you. They also provide resources that will help ensure your college meets all of the requirements that it should for students with disabilities.

The Arc

Another great organization for college students with disabilities is aptly called The Arc. It is one of the largest community-based organizations that advocates and serves people with disabilities. They have nearly 700 chapters throughout the nation, so one is sure to be near you. If you ever feel your civil rights are violated as an individual with disabilities, you can seek the nearest chapter for in-person help. You'll also find recreational programs, residential support, and employment programs with them.

National Association of Blind Students (NABS)

Students who are blind will benefit from this organization specifically geared for their needs. The NABS has been around for more than four decades promoting the equality of the blind. This association is a fantastic source of information for blind students on how you can receive assistance at your college, living accommodations, and much more. You can also network with others who are blind through this group. The biggest goal of this organization is to ensure anyone who is blind can strive to achieve their fullest potential and realize their dreams.

Tips for Success

While many resources and accommodations are available to help students with disabilities succeed in college, you still will need to put forth your own efforts to reach your full academic potential. There are many ways to achieve success.

First and foremost, you should take full advantage of your school's services for students with disabilities. As mentioned previously, counselors and school administrators often provide many assistance options for their students.

Another tip for success is networking with other students. This strategy allows you to get to know people and to form a supportive group, which you can turn to when you need a helping hand. Those who are new to college will benefit from getting to know other students with disabilities as well. You can bond through shared experiences and provide advice to each other.

Students also should dedicate time to get to know their professors and address concerns with them early on. This is very important for college success. Any one class has many students. It can be hard for professors to keep track of who needs extra help or a special kind of accommodation if you aren't clear with them from the get-go.

Last but not least, you must keep in mind the other tips that apply to all students to maximize college success. Some examples include organization, proper study habits, task prioritization, and time management.

The following links will help you learn more about how you can succeed in college.

Tips for Success

Get a different perspective on what's important for academic success as a student with impairments. This resource provides external links to other resources that you may find useful.

How to Succeed in College

This is a short article that a student with disabilities wrote. She shares her first-hand experience on how she went through college and her personal tips on how to succeed.

Going to College with a Disability

Personal, self-advocacy, and communication skills are crucial for success in college. Learn more about each of these and why you need to have them from this link.

A Guide to a Successful College Experience

a motivational speaker named Ardis Bazyn writes this article. She goes into detail about everything you need to know in college -- from choosing the right college, to selecting the right major, to identifying your special needs, and understanding the laws that students with disabilities need to know.

Tips for Students

This guide provides general tips for time management, communicating with instructors, study habits, listening skills, test taking strategies, and more.

Additional, Helpful Resources for Students with Disabilities

The transition from high school to college can be exciting but nerve-racking, whether you are a student with disabilities or not. With that said, this guide offers some additional links to assist you:

U.S. Department of Education: The Rehabilitation Act

Learn more about this law which focuses on rights, advocacy, and protections for disabled students.

Federal Student Aid

This website provides answers to your questions about financial aid and preparations for college.

Find the different grant opportunities available to help make college more affordable for you.

Disability Resources

The U.S. Department of Labor has compiled a list of links that are great resources for you. Find information on employment, housing, technology, transportation, community life, civil rights, and more.

Rise Scholarship Foundation

This foundation is dedicated to high school students who learn differently. It has awarded more than 90 scholarships to high school seniors in the United States. Learn more about this program and see how you can receive this award.

Higher Education for Students with Disabilities

As shown in this guide, college may be a challenging course for all. Disabilities do not have to be a hindrance. In addition to the wide array of technologies available to help you excel in class, you can rely on school and online resources. For example, counselors can help determine which classes are best suited for you based on your needs. Online resources have a plethora of information about the laws with which you should become familiar, financial aid opportunities, and tips on how to succeed in school. Students with disabilities will have to take extra measures to make sure your needs are addressed, but colleges and universities today are doing better about providing the necessary accommodations to help you reach your full learning potential.