During my senior year of high school, I was frequently reminded that my IEP expired the moment I was handed my diploma and that I would have to find another way to receive disability accommodations in college. I wasn’t worried about it though, because I had met with Disability Services at each of the colleges I had applied to and made a plan for how to create a Disability Services file after committing to my top choice college, which had gone above and beyond with helping me learn about the disability accommodations process. Here are my tips for how to create a Disability Services file at a four-year college, based on my experiences as a student with low vision and a then-undiagnosed neurological condition (which was later diagnosed as Chiari Malformation).
When I was researching colleges, I divided their approaches to disability services into two categories- proactive and reactive. Proactive departments would encourage students to have accommodations set before the first day of school, provide students with options to take tests in alternative environments, and share resources with professors. Reactive departments would encourage students to contact them if they ran into a problem with a professor, didn’t prioritize having accommodations before the first day of school, and did not talk to professors about disability inclusion or accessibility.
On college visits, I would interview staff from Disability Services to determine if they had a proactive approach or a reactive approach, as well as ask how I could use assistive technology like large print or screen readers in the classroom. In one memorable instance, the person I was meeting with asked me what assistive technology was, and said they had no idea how to support students with low vision who didn’t read braille, so I knew that college would not be a good fit for me.
After I received my acceptance letter to my top choice school, I went back to talk to Disability Services again and met with the assistive technology department and a few other staff. Once I paid my deposit for the fall semester, I was able to create my Disability Services file with a case manager.
The exact documentation needed for a Disability Services file varies based on the college and based on the disability itself. When I met with Disability Services after paying my enrollment deposit, I brought in my current IEP, my prior 504 plan from eighth grade, and documents from my ophthalmologist that described my diagnosis. For my then-undiagnosed neurological condition, I brought a note from my primary care doctor that described the functional limitations of my condition.
Other helpful files to bring to a Disability Services intake meeting include
All documentation was in a large binder that could be easily referenced during the meeting, though my college also provides students with the option to upload copies of paperwork online.
When I took math classes at another community college in the state, my Disability Services file did not automatically transfer, and I still had to meet with the Disability Services coordinator to get each of my accommodations approved. The same process would have taken place if I had been a recent high school graduate that had an IEP or a 504 plan while I was in school- students will still need to get accommodations approved, even if they had them before. Of course, it helped tremendously that I had previously approved accommodations, as this helped to cut down on the amount of documentation I needed, but I didn’t receive the same exact accommodations that I had on my Disability Services file back at university or my IEP/504 plan in high school.
While my disability accommodations in college ended up being pretty similar to the ones I received in high school, my Disability Services coordinator reminded me that college was different from high school and I would likely need to have different accommodations to accommodate for the different courses I was taking. We went over each of the accommodations that were listed in my IEP and determined if the accommodations should stay the same, be changed slightly, or removed entirely from my Disability Services file. Some examples of accommodations I was approved for include:
At my university, testing accommodations are written separately from classroom accommodations. Students have the option of taking exams, tests, quizzes, and other timed assignments in the Disability Services Testing Center, a multi-room minimal distraction space for taking tests with assistive technology, extended time, and other accommodations that would be prohibitive in the classroom. I have an entire post about the Disability Services Testing Center and testing accommodations for low vision students linked below.
Outside of classroom and testing accommodations, there are several other resources available for students with Disability Services. Some examples of services at my college include (but are not limited to):
I recommend subscribing to the Disability Services newsletter to stay connected with campus resources!
I have chronic migraines and a neurological condition that requires me to receive disability accommodations for housing, which is handled by a liaison with Disability Services and University Housing. Along with my Disability Services file, I had to submit another form freshman year that explained how my disability affected my ability to live in traditional housing, and recommended housing accommodations. This was filled out by my primary care doctor and my neurologist wrote an additional note as well.
Disability housing accommodations that were requested my freshman year include:
My accommodation request was initially denied at first due to insufficient documentation on why I needed to avoid having a roommate, so my neurologist wrote a letter stating that I had chronic migraine and needed a quiet, dark place away from others to recover from headaches as I cannot take medication for my condition. After submitting the letter and going through an appeals process, my accommodations were approved before move-in day, and were automatically approved in subsequent semesters. Even though on-campus housing is not guaranteed for upperclassmen, having disability accommodations meant that I was guaranteed housing for the four years I lived on campus.
My freshman dorm was a single room with a bathroom that I shared with the resident advisor, and I had a similar set up in my senior dorm as well. For other semesters, I had a single room in an apartment that I shared with three other girls, with the exception of when I lived in emergency housing and had a bathroom to myself.
Okay, maybe I am a little biased because I minored in this and run a blog on the topic, but assistive technology is one of the coolest departments on campus. While students are required to have a Disability Services file to receive services, they will likely also need a referral to receive services from assistive technology specialists or departments. Assistive technology can help with the following items:
Disability Services identifies the problems and accessibility barriers that students may encounter, and assistive technology helps solve these problems and empower students with important self-advocacy and self-reliance.
Faculty contact sheets are a list of disability accommodations for the classroom and testing environments that professors can reference during the semester. Students will need to request faculty contact sheets from Disability Services, as they are not automatically sent to professors, and I recommend sending them via email either the week before classes start or on the first day of classes- professors cannot provide disability accommodations until they receive a copy of the contact sheet.
When I took a class at a community college, my Disability Services file was still processing on the first day of classes, and I told my professor that I was in the process of creating a Disability Services file and would need for them to give me a copy of the notes they were presenting so I could make sure I copied information correctly. I sent a copy of the Disability Services file as soon as it finished processing at the end of the week so my professor could give me extended time on tests and other accommodations as needed.
There has only been one class I took where I didn’t need to share my Disability Services file, and that was a virtual capstone class that focused on an independent project. I still disclosed my disability to the professor, but ended up not using any of my approved accommodations for the class.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated July 2023; original post published January 2017
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