College students with disabilities: guide dog, wheel chair, glasses and unknown disabilities.

Why you should get a disability services file

Why Students with disabilities and chronic illness should get a disability services file in college, and how they are helpful to have.

A blog reader who is planning on attending the same college as me reached out asking if they really needed to get a Disability Services file for college, because they didn’t want to go through the intake process or go to a bunch of meetings when they would primarily be taking online classes. I can understand why they didn’t want to deal with filing for accommodations, but having a Disability Services file in college is essential for students with vision loss and other disabilities that require modifications or adaptations such as large print, extended time on tests, and using assistive technology. Here are the reasons why you should get a Disability Services file for college, and why they are helpful.

There are specific accommodations listed

On my first day of a graphic design class, my professor panicked when they noticed I use a blindness cane and asked me how I was going to be able to complete assignments for class if I can’t see well. This was an opportunity to educate them on how blindness is a spectrum and not a binary, and I also shared my Disability Services file with them to show the specific accommodations I would need to be successful in their class. Once I learned how to use keyboard shortcuts with the design program for the class, I was able to fully participate in all class activities and assignments as long as my professor followed my accommodation sheet- I even got an A in the class!

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It provides documentation for your disability

When I first started college, I had a then-undiagnosed neurological condition in addition to low vision. At the two high schools I attended previously, I often had teachers ask if I really had a disability or if I was just exaggerating having poor eyesight and other symptoms, and I didn’t want to repeat this experience in college. In order to qualify for a Disability Services file, students must provide documentation of their disability, and having a Disability Services file is enough “proof” or documentation for professors to implement accommodations or modifications in the classroom as needed.

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No need to disclose medical information unless necessary

Disability Services files do not list a specific diagnosis or medical condition, so my professors would not know the name of my eye or brain condition unless I tell them. One of my best friends is autistic and prefers that professors not know about their diagnosis, and their professor is not allowed to ask them further questions about their disability beyond asking how to best implement accommodations.

Since I run a public website about low vision and assistive technology, I am fine with my professors knowing the names of medical conditions that I have talked about on my website. Since Chiari Malformation is considered an uncommon diagnosis, I am happy to provide insight on how my professors can help create an inclusive and accessible classroom environment.

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Professors have to follow the accommodations

Professors are required to follow accommodations that have been approved by Disability Services, starting from the day the student shares an accommodations letter or similar documentation. Without this additional documentation, professors are not supposed to adapt or modify assignments, exams, or other class policies for individual students.

One semester, I didn’t realize that my math professor had never received my Disability Services accommodation letter and tried to send it to them a few hours before our first exam so I could utilize my previously approved accommodations for extended time, a large print calculator, and related items. The professor told me that they could not accommodate this on such short notice and reminded me of how unprofessional this was, and I earned a 13 on the exam. I was able to improve my grade through other extra credit opportunities, but this was a valuable lesson in remembering to submit documentation.

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Students can take a proactive approach, not a reactive approach to accessibility issues

In college, I don’t have to wait to start failing classes or receiving assignments in inaccessible formats to get approved for disability accommodations- I set up my accommodations before my first day of classes, which gave my professors and I time to address any accessibility barriers that might come up before the first day of classes, as well as track down accessible books. Students can apply for disability accommodations at any point in the semester, but they cannot be applied retroactively to classes- in the previous story with my math exam, I couldn’t go back and retake the exam after sharing my accommodations letter, but I could make sure that I could take my other exams with my approved disability accommodations.

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Connect students with other campus resources

Disability Services maintains an email list, campus website, and several other listings for campus resources that are available for students registered with their office. This can include:

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Get access to the testing center and priority registration

Instead of professors having to figure out how to implement my disability accommodations in the general classroom, Disability Services offers a testing center where students can use approved accommodations such as extended time, video magnifiers, and stretch breaks on timed assignments such as timed exams, assignments, quizzes, and similar items. Disability Services can take care of everything, including picking up and returning the completed assessment to the professor.

Another benefit of registering with Disability Services is the ability to receive priority registration for classes, which can make it easier for students to plan out their schedule.

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Assistance with on-campus housing

Living with a neurological condition and chronic migraines qualified me for on-campus disability housing accommodations, which make it possible for me to live in a dorm room that is accessible for me. This was especially helpful when registering for freshman housing, as my doctor had determined I needed to live in a single room with no roommate, which can be difficult to request as a new freshman student. Having disability housing accommodations also meant that I had guaranteed housing for the entirety of undergraduate, and I wasn’t charged extra for a single dorm either.

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My favorite: Using assistive technology resources!

I spent a lot of time with the assistive technology specialists at my college, who taught me a lot about how to implement my disability accommodations in the classroom and served as a resource for my professors. Students are required to have a Disability Services file to receive assistance from the assistive technology specialist(s), but this alone is an invaluable reason to have a Disability Services file.

Some of my favorite assistive technology resources at the college level include:

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More resources on college disability accommodations

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated May 2024; original post published June 2020.

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