Is a college education right for your student? Though students with disabilities are still less likely to attend a four-year college or university than their typically developing peers, more than 2.4 million students with disabilities are currently pursuing college degrees in the United States. But some schools are more accommodating than others. Here are some things to consider when selecting a college.
Know your rights
Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights website in order to gain a thorough understanding of your child’s rights when applying and attending college. According to OCR, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II), prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.” Yet, it’s important to know that post-secondary schools don’t have all the same requirements as school districts. For example, says the OCR, “Section 504 requires a school district to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to each child with a disability in the district’s jurisdiction.” Postsecondary schools on the other hand, are not required to do so. “Rather, your postsecondary school is required to provide appropriate academic adjustments as necessary to ensure that it does not discriminate on the basis of disability. In addition, if your postsecondary school provides housing to nondisabled students, it must provide comparable, convenient, and accessible housing to students with disabilities at the same cost.” As you can see, it’s vital to be informed. This website will tell you what you need to know.
Explore your options
Though the college search can feel overwhelming, it’s best not to procrastinate. Begin researching colleges as early as your student’s freshman year of high school to ensure that there’s time to make the best choice possible. Speak with your child’s guidance counselor and consider hiring a college consultant if you feel extra help is needed. Compare notes with other students with disabilities and their parents to get a variety of perspectives.
Visiting websites is not the same as visiting a campus. Though colleges are required by law to meet certain accessibility requirements, some fall short. Being on campus can allow you to see first-hand that buildings, dorm rooms and outdoor spaces are accessible to students who use wheelchairs. Are wheelchair ramps well paved, are doors wide enough; are elevators in good service? The answers to these questions will all help your student to make a sound decision.
Set up appointments with the disabilities offices at schools being considered
Talk with administrators and counselors in the disabilities office to determine whether they are well informed and attentive to the needs of students with disabilities. Be prepared with a list of questions that address the accommodations you will need in order to feel comfortable on campus and make sure that the staff answers the questions to your satisfaction.
Determine whether an inclusive or a specialized college is best
Colleges that cater to students with particular disabilities do exist, and for some people, considering them may be advantageous. For example, Gallaudet University in Washington D.C. mostly admits students who are deaf or hearing impaired. Landmark College in Vermont is one of the only schools in the U.S. specifically designed for students with learning differences. Other schools for the general student population are known for their above average programs for students with disabilities. For example, The Gersh College Experience at Daemon, in New York, focuses on students with autism, OCD, Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD. The University of Iowa’s REACH program works with students with intellectual, cognitive and learning disabilities, helping them to navigate all aspects of college life. And Drexel University in Pennsylvania offers a specialized program for students with autism. For a comprehensive list of colleges with superior services for students with disabilities, visit collegechoice.