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Post-Secondary Education: What Your Student With A Disability Should Know

Posted Jun 27 2009 12:00am

I'm a contributor to the EasyStand blog as well. Visit there to see my writing, which is on disability-related issues that are similar to those I hope to convey in this blog. I won't be publishing the same thing in both places all the time, of course, but I thought this would be something that would hit home with many people, for current and future reference.

It's that time of year again! Many students are headed off to various universities, technical, and vocational schools in the fall. Has the student adequately prepared to be properly served upon his/her arrival on the specific college campus? Find out what the U.S. Department of Education has to say about how to receive the most accurate accommodations possible and the steps that are suggested to guarantee successful experiences as they relate to the student's disability and coping mechanisms.

Not only is it important for students to understand their rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, but students must also understand their rights as a US citizen affected by disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act that was recently revised in September 2008.

As a student who understands the need for accommodation based on disability at the university level, here are a few hints to get started with the process.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that while academics are a vital aspect of the university or technical school, it is doubly important that the services students are granted adequately meet students needs so that students are not forced to cope with aspects of students disability that can be alleviated. When students tour a school, I would recommend that he/she set up a meeting with the disability services office on the same day as the he/she tours the school. This is so that he/she has had time to look at the "lay of the land" before formulating questions to ask the disability services staff.

Some of the pertinent questions to ask disability services providers for those students with extra challenges include:

· How close is the actual campus to the dorm?

· Is the cafeteria in an accessible location?

· How can I transport my textbooks from class to class? (If you live in Georgia, check with AMAC and see if your institution is a member.)

· Will classes be able to be scheduled to accommodate possible fatigue and medical emergencies?

· Will the student be granted extended time for testing periods just in case fatigue takes over during the test? If so, where must he/she go to obtain the accommodation, and what is the procedure?

· In case of an elevator malfunction, is it possible to relocate classrooms to assuredly accessible locations?

· What types of assistive technologies are available for the student to succeed in the classroom environment?

· If financial assistance is needed, how is it obtained?

· How recent does medical documentation need to be? (If you live in Georgia, here are the University System of Georgia’s documentation requirements for several different disability classifications, and here are the general documentation requirements that must be satisfied by every student requesting services.)

· Does the school have copies of your last (2) Individualized Education Plans and/or Section 504 Plans? Often, these are used to determine the frequency that a student has used an accommodation or taken advantage of a modification during his/her high school years. Two IEPs or 504s are often needed to mark trends or patterns in order to determine whether or not the accommodation will be granted to the student at the college level.

· What kind of testing accommodations are offered at the school? Use of a calculator? Use of a word processor? Notetakers and scribes?

Secondly, you may want to ask about possibly networking with other students who have similar impairments. Whether that means meeting them in person or connecting through Facebook or Twitter, that person can give you sound advice to which you and he or she are able to relate.

Thirdly, if you have an interest, there may be an organization on campus that promotes disability advocacy and awareness under the leadership of students with disabilities. Sometimes, it’s just a good feeling to know you’re not alone.

Fourth, ask about how you need to make your professors and other university faculty and staff aware of the condition(s) and the accommodations that you will receive through the school’s office of Disability Services. In most cases, the office will write a letter to each professor stating the needs of the student and the accommodations that will be exercised during his/her class, but if possible, you may want to arrange a meeting with the director of Disability Services, or your case manager, whatever the case may be, and your professors to discuss your accommodations and just so that they can see you face-to-face and know that you wish to take an active role in your college education.

Throughout this experience, remember that there is no such thing as a stupid question. You, as the student, are on a quest for information, and the university personnel is there to help you. That’s their job. They love students.

Lastly, and most importantly, enjoy your time as a college student. When choosing a major, choose something about which you know you are passionate so that you will not “burn out” as quickly, make good friends, study hard, and make sure, no matter what, that you ensure that you are accommodated so that you, too, may have an equal opportunity to a college education!

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