If you are a student with a disability who needs specialized educational services, have completed high school and are moving into post-secondary education, you are no longer eligible for an Individualized Education Plan or IEP and must take steps to self-advocate to get the support you are entitled to.
*Post-secondary education is ANY educational instruction beyond high school and can include university, community college, trade school and vocational school that can typically provide you with a diploma, degree, or certification upon completion.
Unfortunately, colleges aren’t required to provide the same degree of support and services as high schools. They are, however, required to follow federal civil rights laws which not only protect people with disabilities from discrimination, but also ensure that they have equal access to services.
Keep in mind that a person with a disability can certainly receive accommodations if they have learning disabilities, but they can also receive accommodations based on other disabilities, like disabilities that impact your ambulatory abilities or non-apparent chronic illness or mental health disabilities.
Colleges that receive federal funding must ensure that their students, regardless of disability status, have equal access to their institutions through reasonable accommodations. Depending on the educational institution, they may have a Disability Services and Programs for Students (DSPS). These centers receive and process accommodation requests and can provide a variety of assistance ranging from, coordinating extended test times, providing eText, securing interpreters, assigning notetakers, or loaning assistive technology. You can even connect with your Administration office to see if you qualify for dorm accommodations, like floor level housing to accommodate a disability that interacts with your ambulation or being placed in a single person unit to accommodate a service animal.
Once you have committed to attending an institution, you should prioritize connecting with these centers, so that you can get any assessments or forms/requests filled out as soon as possible, ensuring the smoothest experience possible when beginning your classes.
When first interacting with your Student Disability Center, you will want to come prepared. Information that would be helpful and might be required can include:
- Your full name and student ID number
- Explanation of what disabilities are present
- Declaration that disabilities are present, including the name, title, license number, address, and signature of qualifying diagnosing clinician
- Basis for diagnosis (history, observations, tests or clinical interview)
- Important dates in relation to the disabilities (date of first diagnosis, date of first treatment, expected duration of the disability)
- Description of functional limitations/needs related to your disabilities
- Description of how current/preferred treatment and accommodations facilitate your mitigation of challenges related to your disabilities
If you followed a transition plan while completing high school, you should bring along all documentation of evaluations and services utilized. Staff from your high school can help identify and collect existing documentation in your education records, such as evaluation reports and the summary of your academic achievement and functional performance that may be required by your postsecondary education institution. These reports and summaries should be in-depth and rich with supporting evidence that provide substantive documentation regarding your disability and the need for accommodations.
It is also a good idea to bring along your most recent IEP. IEPs do not follow you into post-secondary education, so they don’t hold any authority when determining your new services, but it is a great jumping off point that not only outlines the specific accommodations you recently utilized, but also provides a framework for how that accommodation was a successful tool for your needs. Typically, students will be approved for the same, or similar, accommodations, but that can’t be guaranteed. So having a clear outline of what works for you can go a long way to securing the services you require and are comfortable with.
If you believe you have an undiagnosed disability that could interact with your ability to succeed at your educational institution, whether that be succeeding in the coursework or traversing the campus, and your educational institution requires documentation of your disability, you can either connect with your physician ahead of enrollment to get the process of declaring and documenting your disability started or, if your educational institution provides evaluations, you can enroll at your institution and begin an evaluation process. This process can take time, so getting connected early is very important.
Once you successfully get all of your accommodations in order, don’t forget that you need to provide a copy of your accommodation letter to each of your instructors at the beginning of each semester. Honestly, having a face-to-face conversation, explaining your needs and getting a heads up on what you can expect from a course and building a communicative relationship will be really valuable going into their class.
If your educational institution does not have a DSPS, and if your education is rooted to a direct path to employment, you may be eligible for services through the Department of Rehabilitation (DOR). The training/education institution you are wishing to attend can be a public, private, vocational or trade school. Certain comparable benefit criteria apply, so, someone may choose a private or trade school but might have to cover the difference between the public (e.g., Community College) and private school rate in some, but not necessarily all instances. There are some conditions related to private versus public, comparable benefits, including application for financial aid, but if the individual requires training as part of their IPE, and the trade school is the best, most appropriate option, (i.e., the training is needed and not available at a community college), then they can support it!
DOR also provides Assistive Technology, transportation, and other necessary services that are noted in the individual’s Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE). Note takers, campus transportation, and extended test times are accommodations that can be provided to students by the educational institution.
DOR may be able to pay for accommodations beyond supports specifically designed to facilitate attending your educational institution. If someone needs Assistive Technology or interpreters to get a job, while doing an internship, or paid work experience, then that might be covered by DOR.
Additionally, you can work with your local Independent Living Center (ILC) or Device Lending and Demonstration Center (DLDC) to receive assistive technology, temporarily as a loan, or permanently through reuse activities or grants. ILCs and DLDCs can also provide guidance and advocacy that can help you navigate your post-secondary education journey.
As with all of the recommendations, getting connected early is key to success in working with your local DOR, ILC or DLDC office.