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Choosing a College for Disabled Students

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Updated October 17, 2011

Choosing a College for Disabled Students

College means a lot of studying.

Nicole Weiss@Dreamstime.com

Choosing a college for disabled students can be a time consuming process. Thoroughly investigating an institution of higher learning before sending a student can be the difference between success, and dropping out of school. Most colleges are designed for able-bodied individuals, and often only the most minimal accommodations are made, often due to budget concerns. If you are preparing to go off to college, or send a disabled young adult to college, the following are some important considerations before accepting the offer of admission.

Campus Accessibility

Every college student should visit the campus of the college they wish to attend. Brochures and websites may only show the most favorable places on campus, and they usually don’t emphasize what they have to offer to their disabled student population. When you visit a campus you can see firsthand what the feel and layout of the campus is like. For a disabled person, especially if they have specific transportation needs, the layout of the campus is especially important.

Considerations include:

  • Is there ample handicapped parking near the buildings where the student will have to go every day?
  • If there isn’t handicapped parking readily available, are there handicapped accessible busses that run frequently enough that a student won’t have long to wait before or after classes?
  • Are all of the buildings sufficiently handicapped accessible? Is there more than one handicapped accessible door at the entry to each of the buildings in case of an emergency?
  • Do all of the buildings have handicapped accessible rest rooms?
  • Do the buildings have elevators that can be used by all students, or at the very least easily accessible staff elevators that the handicapped may use?
  • Is the campus small enough to navigate for individuals using a wheelchair or other assistive device should the student have to walk or propel themselves to another building unassisted?
  • Are the pathways throughout campus wide enough to accommodate students who may be using a wheelchair or other assistive device and their able-bodied counterparts?

Campus Housing

An important consideration for disabled students is their housing. Whether a student is mobility impaired, hearing impaired or sight impaired, their housing should be a place where they always feel comfortable.

Each campus is different when it comes to providing special housing for the disabled. For many, part of the college experience is blending in with a large number of individuals with different backgrounds and learning from them. However, individuals who have special needs may feel overwhelmed when faced with being away from home for the first time, and possibly not having a very good support system. If they are simply placed in a dorm room with a group of able-bodied individuals, their needs may not be met, and throwing them in with everyone else may have adverse consequences. For example, there could be resentment on the part of the able-bodied students that suddenly have to learn how to accommodate a roommate with a wheelchair, or feelings of being left out if a deaf student is having a conversation with another deaf student in a shared living area; it is like having someone speak a different language, with no one to interpret.

While some parents think it is best to let a disabled student find their own way in college, locating a institution of higher learning that has separate housing for certain disabilities allows similar students to share the college experience while supporting each other, at least for the Freshman year. Housing facilities that are built with accessibility issues in mind are often better equipped to serve that student population. In addition, specially trained resident assistants are able to help students make the transition to college life easier, by offering support and special programs for the residents.

Disabled Student Services

A final consideration when choosing a college for disabled students is whether there is adequate support from student services. Every college or university has a student services department, but do they offer special attention to the disabled student population? The disabled student population may need special accommodations in a variety of situations, such as test-taking or having someone take notes for them. They may be experiencing trouble with transportation on campus, illness due to their disability or any other number of issues that a disabled student services employee could understand and help them with. A disabled student services department can help make the transition to college and adult life easier for a handicapped student, and provide extra support when a new student needs it the most.

Ultimately, a student will have to make a decision on which college or university they prefer to attend, though they need to include their parents in the final decision. Parents can help their student make the right decision by investigating housing options, accessibility on campus and whether or not there is sufficient support provided by student services.

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