I’m taking a couple of classes at a community college this summer to transfer back to my university, and one of the first things I did after enrolling as a visiting student was contact the Disability Services coordinator so that I would be able to get accommodations in the classroom related to my visual impairment. I assumed that since I already had accommodations at my previous college that the process would be near-instant, and that it would be easy to set up everything. While I was correct that it was easy to get everything together, a series of timing issues outside of everyone’s control meant that I didn’t have accommodations before the first day of class, and everything wasn’t automatically done for me. Here are my tips for how to get disability accommodations in community college, based on my own experiences as a student with low vision.
Even though I was already a student at a well-known state university and had been approved for disability accommodations there, my accommodations did not automatically transfer to the community college, 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.
After I was enrolled as a student at the community college, I went to the Disability Services website and filled out an intake form where I included student identification information, as well as information about my disability. Since I have both an eye condition and a brain condition that impact how I access my classroom materials, I stated that my primary disability was visual impairment and that I had a secondary neurological disability and an additional condition that I would need accommodations for. I also noted in my intake form that I had a file with the state department for visual impairment and wrote out the year I had graduated high school as requested.
On the Disability Services intake form, students have the option to document previous accommodations they had received and indicate which accommodations would be requested for the community college setting. In my case, my accommodations remained almost exactly the same as the ones that I receive at university, though I added some additional accommodations that I informally received in my classes that weren’t written in my Disability Services file. The accommodations that I requested and was approved for include:
While my Disability Services file at university provided a lot of the documentation I would need to get disability accommodations in community college, I needed to gather some additional documentation to ensure I had everything together. I included a standard letter from my ophthalmologist that confirms that I have low vision and that I need large print, as well as a standard letter from my neurologist documenting my brain condition. In addition, I also included documentation for a recent medical procedure that had taken place shortly before my class was due to start, which is helpful in case I need to adjust my accommodations when I start my next summer class. I uploaded all of this documentation shortly after I submitted my intake form using a secure link from the community college.
My intake meeting took place over the phone and lasted about 45 minutes. During that time, the Disability Services coordinator went over my requested accommodations, and asked me questions as needed to confirm why I was requesting a particular accommodation. Because of my strong self-advocacy skills, I was able to explain everything and show how each accommodation would help me to be successful in the classroom, and everything I requested was approved. While traditionally the intake meeting would have been done in person, mine was done remotely because I was taking online classes and couldn’t meet in-person on campus.
One of my biggest pieces of advice for students is to be proactive, not reactive, and get accommodations prior to the first day of classes. While I did this at my university, this didn’t happen for my community college classes due to unforeseen circumstances that were outside of anyone’s control, though I did start the intake process before the first day of classes. I sent my professor an email before the first day of class introducing myself and explaining that I was waiting for final accommodations to be approved, and asked if they would be able to describe what they were writing on the screen so that I would be able to follow along in class- all assignments were already available in a digital format for everyone, and there were no restrictions on calculators. The professor said this wasn’t a problem, and I was able to get through the first few classes without any issues, though I still worked on getting my accommodations approved as quickly as possible.
Once my accommodations were finalized, I shared a copy of my Disability Services accommodations letter with the professor and noted which accommodations would be relevant for their class, such as extended time on tests. I did this over email, though I recommend talking to professors in a meeting whenever possible so that they can ask questions if needed. It’s worth noting that accommodations couldn’t be officially implemented until 24 hours after the professor receives a copy of the accommodations letter, so I had to take my first exam without extended time, though this ended up not being a huge issue as the exam was already in an accessible format.