By Leslie Thatcher and Annie Tulkin
As we work with students aspiring to attend college, we are often asked if there’s a “list” of the good colleges for person Z, interest X, or disability Y. We get it. It’s so much easier when there’s one “simple” answer for what a student needs, or what college is excellent at serving a particular need. But, it’s just not that simple. We’d like to unpack this a little, to help open up the range of factors to consider for any student considering post secondary education.
The range of support and the obligations of educational institutions to support students change significantly once a student graduates from high school. This article explores this topic in some detail. Understanding this shift is a crucial first step as your student, and you, begin to plan for college.
Disability Services Offices (DSO) exist on all college campuses, yet they serve an enormous range of students with disabilities – from learning disabilities, to mobility issues, to students with vision loss. This article explains the role of a DSO. The key thing to remember is that your student will be the person engaging with the DSO, not you. And, your student will be assumed to be able to effectively describe their disability, articulate the accommodations they need to access college level material, and advocate to get these accommodations if they are not effectively provided. This is a lot for any young adult to be prepared to do, especially if they are not experienced in clearly stating their needs to unfamiliar adults. This is one significant challenge for many students.
Beyond the range of services offered by DSOs, however, is the range of experience of the staff in a DSO. Some may be experienced with supporting students with a wide range of vision loss, but most may have had little to no experience with providing accommodations. And, they may not have a depth of understanding of your student, their unique learning style, and their background.
Vision loss is a low incidence disability, and it has enormous variability in its impact on a student. Even if you are able to find a DSO with experience supporting students with vision loss, it may be only with a low vision student who has a lot of independence skills, not a student with recent and variable vision loss such as those who experience Stargartd or CVI. Beyond that, if that one person leaves the institution, you may be back to the starting line.
There’s no way to create a “top 10” list.
We encourage you to take some time to consider the following approach to finding college experiences that might be a good match for your student:
As you put together your list of things to consider for different types of college options, consider the following, before you explore the DSO. First, consider your student’s academic independence, experience with managing their academic life independently. There’s many elements to consider. This article will help you begin to explore this crucial issue.
As you can see, there are a lot of things to consider when looking for a college, or for a place to try college courses to see if the experience is the right fit at this time. You might also consider whether further training in access technology, blindness skills, or just greater maturity may help better prepare your student.
Yet, as we have learned in running College Success and Compass, and in working with students with vision impairments and a range of other disabilities attending college over the years, the most important part of planning for life after high school is the student’s emerging ability to do this work on their own – academically, personally and otherwise. There’s programs out there for so many profiles, but it may be overwhelming. Take time to explore the other resources available in our College Readiness Resource Center, and feel free to reach out for additional support: [email protected]. We are here to help.