Tips for Students With Disabilities

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Self-Advocacy Skills

There are lots of changes that take place from high school to college. For example, in high school, classes were held five days a week. In college, some classes only meet once a week. In high school, your teachers gave you homework and exams on a regular basis. In college, weeks can go by before a project or paper is due, and before an exam is given. Thus, college requires a great deal of independent work and self-motivation.

How services for students are requested and provided differs as well, as mentioned in the section Service Differences between High School and College.  For example, in high school, students with disabilities are sometimes provided with specialized instruction, whereas in college all students are taught in the same class and in the same general format.  Another big difference has to do with who requests services.  In college, it is the right of the individual student to request services – or not to request services.

Even if you have submitted documentation of a disability and related accommodation requests to the office, we cannot force a particular accommodation on you.  For example, if you are eligible for extended-time on in-class exams but choose not to request this accommodation, that is your right.  Even if your parents want you to take advantage of the extended-time, it is ultimately your decision.

The following guidelines on self-advocacy are recommended:

  • Be aware of your needs and bring them to the attention of Student Disability Services in a timely manner.
  • If you decide not to request services/accommodations, be sure to discuss this with Student Disability Services as well as the professional who provided you with your documentation.
  • Let professors and Student Disability Services know when a particular accommodation is not working or is not being provided.  Do not assume that the instructor or the office is aware of a situation just because you are.
  • Develop confidence in speaking with professors about your accommodations and related services.  Feel free to offer suggestions and feedback.  Be comfortable in requesting confidentiality when speaking with professors.
  • Keep in mind that you have both rights and responsibilities as a student with a disability, and be sure you are aware of what these are.

Remember, we are here to help but communication is a two-way street.  We can let you know we are here but you have to let us know how we can help you.

Tips for Talking with Instructors

Approach instructors with a sense of confidence in that your accommodation needs are important and that the instructor is there to help you. Find out your instructor’s office hours and make an appointment as soon as possible.

If it is not possible to meet an instructor during office hours, approach the instructor after class. It is not a good idea to approach an instructor at the start of class as this is a very busy time and you may not receive the full attention you need. Introduce yourself and let the instructor know you would like to talk to them about an important and confidential matter.

An example of what you might say to initiate this meeting is:

“Hello, my name is _____ and I am in your class. I am wondering if I can meet with you privately to discuss some important issues related to my participation in your class.”

If you are comfortable enough and/or if there are no other students around, you can say:

“Hello, my name is_____. I have a disability and am going to require some academic accommodations in your class. I met with the disability coordinator for my division and we developed a letter for you that outlines what my needs are. Is there a good time we can meet to go over these accommodations?”

If you are comfortable sharing the nature of your disability, you may do so. However, you are not required to disclose the nature of your disability, just your academic requests. Be sure to remind the instructor that this is information you would like to keep between the two of you. Keep in mind that you may be the first person with a particular disability that an instructor has ever met. This can be an important educational experience for an instructor.

If you are not comfortable sharing the nature of your disability and the instructor wants to know what your disability is, you can say:

“I am not comfortable sharing that specific information with you. But I am willing to talk about the accommodations and how they will be provided.”

If an instructor informs you that he or she is not willing or able to provide a specific accommodation or all of the accommodations you requested, let the designated administrator know as soon as possible. Get in the habit of reminding your instructors a week or so before each exam if you have testing accommodations such as extra time. This will help ensure proper accommodations are provided.

Tips for Students with LD, ADD, and Related Disabilities

Many students with disabilities such as learning disabilities and attention-based disorders may not require specific classroom accommodations. For example, such students may be registered for a course that does not have any in-class exams so the student will not require extended exam time. It still may be helpful to work with the instructor to discuss strategies to improve learning and mastery of course content. While these are not formal accommodations mandated by law, they are beneficial steps that can help students achieve academic success.

  • Ask the instructor to discuss your progress in class and to discuss any questions or concerns about course content or assignments.
  • Ask the instructor to clarify instructions on assignments/projects to ensure that you understand what is required.
  • Ask the instructor to assist you with developing a time frame for completing projects. Try and get a general idea of the average time for completing specific projects.
  • Ask the instructor to help you break large projects into smaller segments. This will help you understand the various steps that will lead to overall completion of the project.

Remind the instructors a week or so before each exam if you have testing accommodations, such as extended time. This will avoid any last-minute confusion.