Questions to ask about support for students with disabilities

Know your rights at the college of your choice

Questions to ask about support for students with disabilities

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) students with disabilities are entitled to accommodations. The majority of the time, the parents advocate for the reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. 


After high school, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) insures that a person with a disability who is “otherwise qualified” is not precluded from any of the benefits a university has to offer because of their disability. But it is your responsibility during the college admissions process to be your own advocate. Mom or Dad cannot do this for you at the college level. Work with the college during admissions to find out how to get reasonable accommodations, such as a separate and quiet testing location, time and a half on tests and Power Point slides of the lecture. 


Most colleges have a disabled student services (DSS) office to insure compliance with the ADA, but the interpretation of what reasonable accommodations are varies from college to college. To insure a good fit between your needs and what the college offers, ask someone who works at the DSS office how the college uses technology to support students with disabilities. Ask what kinds of support services the college offers, or ask to meet students with disabilities to hear about their experiences at the college. 


Here are a few more questions to help you decide: 

1. What are the percentages of the different types of disabilities on campus? If the person you are speaking to does not know the answer, then this might be an indicator that serving students with disabilities is not a priority. 

2. How is your DSS office organized? This will give you an indicator of how much importance the college places upon serving students with disabilities. If the person who is the head of counseling services also doubles as the person in charge of handling disabled student services, then this college may not be the best choice. 

3. What is the average number of students a DSS counselor works with? The higher the case load, the less individualized attention and support a student is likely to receive. 

4. What kinds of reasonable accommodations do you typically offer? Listen for the accommodations you need. If the person does not mention the accommodations you need, ask them if they are willing to provide them. 

5. What has the college done to promote universal access? Look for ramping, lifts, automatic door openers, etc. How much of the campus, including residence halls and student activity centers are accessible to all of the students?


Finally, a student should ask themselves during the college admissions process, “How do I feel in this environment?” and “Can I picture myself going here with these other students?” Selecting a college is a personal decision that relies upon answering some questions and how good the fit feels. 


Dr. Ernst VanBergeijk is associate dean and executive director of New York Institute of Technology’s Vocational Independence Program. He has been a research associate at the Yale Child Study Center’s Developmental Disabilities Clinic and was assigned to the autism unit.


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