Even though my Disability Services file only exists in the classroom, my disability impacts all aspects of my life and college experience, including how I participate in extracurricular activities. While there are plenty of activities in college that I can participate in fully without accommodations or modifications, it’s important to know how to request extracurricular accommodations in college and how to make clubs inclusive for students with disabilities- something I thought about frequently when serving on the executive board of a student organization. Here are my tips for requesting extracurricular accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities, based on my own experiences as a student with low vision and a neurological condition.
My college has hundreds of extracurricular clubs and student organizations, and it can seem overwhelming at first to figure out what to join. As much as I would love to “do it all”, that isn’t an option when living with chronic illness, so I tried to be intentional when choosing what extracurriculars I would participate in.
Examples of college extracurriculars I participated in include:
When choosing extracurriculars, I wanted to include activities that I already had done for years (like band) as well as try other activities that I had never been part of before. I also did a few short-term events like hackathons or similar extracurricular activities that only meet for a few days/weeks.
My Disability Services file contains a lot of information about how I take exams, get assignments in class, and other information that is very helpful for the classroom, but it’s not a document I necessarily need to share for school clubs. Something that helped me to figure out extracurricular accommodations was to figure out what accommodations I would need to use when at a club meeting, which included:
At my college, all student organizations are required to have an executive board that consists of students and faculty advisors. For students that have questions about disability accommodations or modifications, I recommend reaching out to the executive board via email- some groups have a student email listed, while others have a general email address for submitting questions. Examples of emails I have written and received as a student and executive board member include:
Members of the executive board and faculty advisors can reach out to Disability Services for general questions about inclusion and disability accommodations, but the office cannot provide advice for specific students – I can’t approach their office and ask “hey, how can I make this accessible for Veronica?” but I could ask “how can I use the document camera to enlarge text for someone with low vision?”
When attending club meetings at college, I typically bring a laptop or tablet with me so I can follow along with reading or take notes about what is going on. I also have my smartphone with me, as I can easily use it as a makeshift video magnifier, take photos of schedules, and get contact information for other members. While I have some specialty devices such as a desktop video magnifier that I use in my college classes, it was rare for me to bring these to shorter meetings – I prefer to use mainstream devices that “blend in” more/that other students wouldn’t notice me using, and these devices also would need to be charged after a day of classes anyway.
Sometimes, accessibility issues may pop up during club meetings unexpectedly, or the person may not have had time to think about accessibility accommodations or modifications. I understand that students may fear disclosing their disability or talking constantly about an access need, but there are ways to make sure that meetings are as inclusive as possible. Some examples of things I have said and have had said to me while being a part of club meetings include:
Usually, I only have to mention these things once or twice, as people are good at remembering disability accommodations or modifications, especially if they are helpful for everyone in the group.
From a legal perspective? No, student organizations are under the same nondiscrimination policies as the college/university that hosts the organization.
Is this a thing that happens sometimes? Yes.
I ran into an issue where I couldn’t get access to items in large print, and the faculty advisor said that they had no idea how to help me, and suggested I find another group to join. I referred them to the assistive technology office on campus, which provided the advisor with guidance on how to enlarge materials and how to make digital copies available to students. This solved the issue so that I could participate fully without additional assistance.
If students face discrimination within a student organization, helpful campus resources to contact include:
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated August 2023; original post published February 2017.
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