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By Joanna Nesbit
For students who need accommodations for physical, learning, or emotional challenges, one of the most important student support services is the campus disabilities office (some schools use different names for this office).
The disabilities office helps you make sure the school provides you with the support necessary for you to be able to participate in the academic and campus life of a school. The federal government actually requires colleges to make “reasonable accommodations” to support students with disabilities in attending college.
Even so, colleges don’t provide the same services in the same way. In fact, they vary quite a bit. That’s why it’s important to research each campus’s services for your particular disability.
For students who are wheelchair users, support includes making sure buildings are accessible by wheelchair. For a student with visual impairments, it includes ensuring that physical spaces, course materials, and lectures are accessible to them (there are services such as live readers and materials in alternate formats that can provide access). For students with diagnosed learning disabilities, it might be extra time on tests.
The disabilities office usually works to coordinate accommodations with faculty and other campus offices. To receive accommodations, you must be able to show an established disability (a doctor or other professional must have done an evaluation and made this designation). However, the disabilities office doesn’t necessarily grant every request, which can often be surprising for families to learn.
The office will work with you, the relevant campus office, and maybe even your treating clinician to come up with a good and equitable plan for you. Unlike in high school, where a parent or caregiver may have helped you manage accommodations, students who are age 18 or older are legally responsible to manage the process themselves. This includes reaching out for support and registering with the disabilities office.
Even after you register, it’s still your job to access the support during the year. Most colleges expect students to play an active role in managing their accommodations, and for many students, it’s the first time they’ve handled it.
If you know you need support or accommodations, find out whether the disabilities office has experience helping students with needs similar to yours. Some colleges go beyond the minimum provisions, while others may not even have a full disabilities office but instead just one person on staff who handles requests for support. You may be able to learn a lot from the school’s website. Here’s what to look for:
If the information isn’t complete, call the office to get more information about the percentage of the student population they support and what sorts of needs the office helps with. The staff should be open to sharing this general information with you, your family, or a guidance counselor.
Even if you don’t currently need the disabilities office, you can still learn something about the campus’s approach to student support. The disabilities service is a window into administrative caring and campus culture.
To learn more about what to expect in college, check out the following resources:
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone right now, text, call, or chat 988 for a free confidential conversation with a trained counselor 24/7.
You can also contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.
If this is a medical emergency or if there is immediate danger of harm, call 911 and explain that you need support for a mental health crisis.