There are a range of campus and university services available to students with disabilities who attend college. Learn more about what they are, how to access them, and more here.
What to expect
Most colleges and universities have disability service offices and accommodations in place for students with disabilities. However, higher education institutions aren’t required to provide students with IEPs, special education, or other support services offered in K-12 education. Throughout this page, we’ll cover some basic rights and tips to ease the transition to college.
Students with disabilities must register through the school’s disability services office in order to receive accommodations. Instructions for doing so are usually found on the disability services page of the school’s website. Most of the time, students will need to provide evidence that they have a disability. In some cases, they will be assigned a specific person to assist them with accommodations.
Most students will then need to inform each of their professors of the accommodations. Some disability services offices will email the professors directly, but it’s important to double check. In either event, the disability itself will not be disclosed by the disability services office, and should only be disclosed at the student’s discretion (1).
Know your rights
How Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protects college students with disabilities
Under Section 504, colleges that receive federal funds must provide:
- Equal educational access to students with disabilities
- Comparable, accessible, and convenient housing for students with disabilities at the same cost
Qualified individuals under this law have a physical or mental condition that restricts one or more major life activities (2). Equal access is achieved in the form of appropriate academic adjustments/accommodations and auxiliary aids and services that are necessary (3,4). Some examples of these accommodations include:
- Designated exam rooms with fewer distractions
- Use of audio recording devices for lectures
- Use of a laptop in the classroom
- Sound amplification aids
- Course substitutions
- Priority class registration
Some colleges offer more substantial supports, and others even provide specific programs for students with attention and learning issues (1).
How the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects college students with disabilities
Title II and Title III of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protect students from being discriminated against because of their disability. These titles are different from Section 504 because they are enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice (3).
Information for parents: Disability and higher education
An important difference between disability services in high school and disability services in college is that the law does not provide parental access to information regarding the student’s disability accommodations or services. This can be a difficult transition for many parents because they were likely involved with their child’s disability needs in a big way during high school. It can be helpful for parents to maintain communication with their college students with disabilities regarding time management, dorm life, and academics. Some students may prefer to pursue their needs and accommodations more independently during college. Some helpful resources for parents of students with disabilities include:
- Choosing a College: How to Help Kids With Learning and Attention Issues Weigh the Options
- 9 Steps for Easing the Transition to College
- 15 College Programs for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues
- 12 Tips for Preparing Kids With ADHD for Life With College Roommates
- DREAM Campus Clubs and Organizations for Students
- Agents of Their Own Success: Self-Advocacy Skills and Self-Determination for Students with Disabilities in the Era of Personalized Learning
Helpful tools and apps for college students with disabilities
- The Described and Captioned Media Program
- Dragon Speech Recognition Software
- Learning Ally Link
- Dexteria Fine Motor Skills App
- LookTel Money Reader
- Merit Software Solutions
- Home Routines
- Epic Win
- Stay Focused
Resources and support groups for college students with disabilities
- The National Center for College Students with Disabilities
- U.S. College Autism Project
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- Learning Disabilities Association of America
- LD Online
- National Federation of the Blind
- Perkins School for the Blind
- National Deaf Center
- Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
- Navigating College
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
- International Dyslexia Association
- Attention Deficit Disorder Association College Resources
- DREAM Student Groups
Is your child with a disability starting college this fall? Let us know what your favorite resources have been in the comments below!
- Understood (2018). 7 Things to Know About College Disability Services. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/choosing-starting-school/leaving-high-school/7-things-to-know-about-college-disability-services.
- U.S. Department of Education (2018). Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html.
- Best Colleges (2018). Overview of College Resources for Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/students-with-disabilities/.
- U.S. Department of Education (2018). Protecting Students with Disabilities. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html.