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After committing to a college: working with the disability support office and professors

Students will need to be prepared to advocate for themselves in college. This means that they will have to be able to effectively convey their needs and work with professors and the DSO to make sure that they are receiving the accommodations they need to be successful in college.

Part of the College Readiness Resource Center, by College Success @ Perkins

By Annie Tulkin, MS, Founder, Accessible College

It’s the best feeling when a student receives a college acceptance letter! While that may feel like a big accomplishment, a new phase begins when your student signs the dotted line and commits to a college. This is the point where the student can begin the formal process of requesting accommodations. Accommodation requests typically begin with the disability support office (DSO). Note: The office may have another name such as: Disability Services, Accessibility Services, Academic Support Center. 

Most colleges have documentation guidelines on their website where students can find information and guidelines about the documentation that has to be provided in order to receive accommodations. This documentation generally comes from the student’s health care provider or therapist. If the student has a learning disability, most colleges require a neuropsychological evaluation that was completed in the last 3 years and includes adult scales in testing. The requirements may vary from college to college, so it’s important to check the website. 

Please note that Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 Plans are not typically accepted as documentation. The expectation is that once the student commits to a college, they will be able to independently follow the process to request accommodations, be able to communicate their needs, and communicate with the DSO when something is not working for them. 

Requesting accommodations

Applying 

Ideally, students in the college search process have already connected with the disability support office prior to committing. If the student has not connected with the DSO prior to committing, the student’s first step should be to check out the DSO website or give them a call to identify the process for requesting accommodations. Usually, the accommodations request process requires the student to make a formal request for accommodations, either by completing a form online, submitting a request via email, or making a request in person. The student will also have to provide documentation of their disability/condition.

Interactive Process 

Once the DSO evaluates the request and the documentation, they will set up a meeting with the student to engage in the “interactive process” to determine reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students should prepare for the meeting by making a list for accommodation requests to discuss with the DSO. These requests should include academic accommodations as well as, housing, dining, and other non-academic accommodations

Many DSOs require 2-6 weeks to evaluate documentation and set up a meeting with the student.

Housing Accommodations

Students should look at the deadline for requesting housing accommodations (for first year students the deadlines range from May 1st-July 1st depending on the college). Starting the process to request accommodations early is key. This way students will have enough time to complete the process prior to housing selection and the start of classes. 

Once accommodations are approved

After the student goes through the interactive process with the DSO, they may be approved for all or some of the accommodations they request.  Additionally, specific accommodation requests may be modified to meet the ADA requirement for “reasonable” accommodations.”  An example of this would be a student who requests a notetaker for class and the college gives the student access to note-taking transcription software. 

The student’s role does not end there! Once the accommodations have been approved, the student will need to prepare to reach out to their professors. Many DSOs have a process where students can send their accommodation letters via email to their professors. Some DSOs have a paper letter that the student brings to the professor. The accommodation letter outlines what accommodations the student has been approved for (ie: extra time on exams, electronic copies of materials, preferential seating, etc). The professor does not get any information about the student’s disability or condition. 

Best Practice 

It’s best practice for students to reach out to their professors and set up a time to discuss their accommodations. This is ideally done before or during the first week of class. If the student is going to need braille or electronic copies of materials, the more lead time, the better! When the student meets with the professor they can discuss each of the accommodations and how they will work in that class. For example:

Professor, I need electronic copies of all in-class materials. Are you able to email me any handouts in a Word format or in an OCR (optical character recognition) enabled PDF?

Or

I may need extensions on assignments because it sometimes takes me longer to type papers. If I need an extension, how can I let you know? Will you work with me to determine a reasonable timeline for the extension?

The student should be prepared for this to be an on-going process. It’s highly likely that they will need to remind the professor about their accommodations throughout the semester, and work with the professor and possibly the DSO to troubleshoot any issues that may arise. 

Key tools in communicating with university administrators (DSO, professors, etc):

“Dear Professor, Thanks for meeting with me today. I’m really looking forward to your course. Based on our conversation, you committed to sending me electronic copies of the handouts for class every Sunday by 5pm so that I could have enough time to read them before Wednesday’s class. You also let me know that if I needed more time to complete an assignment I should email you to request an extension before the deadline and that I should propose an alternative deadline. Please let me know if I misunderstood anything. Thanks so much.”

Developing these skills

Many students have not had to practice this level of advocacy prior to college. However, they can start to prepare before they head to college. Students can begin to work on these skills by:

Assisting students with gaining these skills and thinking through these pieces ahead of time can help students have a smooth transition to college. 

Stay in the college readiness conversation.

Our team is committed to changing the way students with blindness and visual impairment prepare for life after high school. Stay up to date about the latest insight, research and resources.

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