By: Evita Amassi, MSW
Your apps are all done and you have been accepted to college!! Now, it is time to relax….. a little!
Nearly 11% of undergraduates or rather 2 million college students have a documented disability. If you received services or had an IEP (Individual Education Program) in high-school, chances are you are probably going to want and need some type of accommodation in college! Whether it is extended time on exams, note-taking services, or classroom relocation, it is VERY easy to overlook this accommodation request in college, simply because you are overwhelmed by the excitement of college life and may not necessarily be used to being your own advocate.
One of the VERY first things that everyone must get used to is that unlike high-school there is very little hand-holding! In college, it is the student’s responsibility to identify themselves and request services, should they need them. PLEASE put in the request sooner rather than later. The last thing you want is for it to be halfway through your first quarter or semester college, and realize, oops, I needed this accommodation of note-taking! At that point, the damage is already done to your grades and it is challenging to recover from bad grades, always!
Here are some tips to make this particular experience as seamless and as easy as possible.
A University/College Disability Services office typically recommends submitting documentation just as soon as a college accepts you. Certainly, submit documentation well in advance of the upcoming school year.
My advice would be to schedule a time to meet with the Disability Services Center before committing to the school, to just learn more about their attitude toward providing accommodations and what kind of services they provide.
Be sure that you have up to date/current documentation from both your health care provider/Doctor in addition to a copy of your high-school IEP documenting your disability.
Come up with a general sense of what it is you NEED. For example, if you are hard of hearing, do you need a real-time captioner or a notetaker? If you have a documented diagnosis of ADD, do you need extended time on tests AND note-taking? When you meet with the Disability Services Center, be informed and have a clear idea of what will work for you.
Do you genuinely need an accommodation, and are you encountering some push-back? Don’t be shy about it. Oftentimes, higher institutions may try to save on costs and offer you a cheaper accommodation over another one. Should this happen, it is your responsibility as a student to get the proper documentation, and advocate for yourself. Oftentimes you can go to your Doctor, explain the situation, and they will write a letter on your behalf on the University.
Every time you must be your own advocate. I cannot stress this enough! From this point on, it is YOU scheduling times and meetings with Professors, not your parents! So, it must be yo YOU who contacts the school about accommodations. It must be YOU, the student, who goes in to formally make the request.
Once your accommodations are approved, the University or College will give you a letter basically outlining your approved accommodations.
(YAY! You won’t have to do it again for the next 4 years).
It is now time for classes to start! Professors are busy and while they may have been informed by the Disability Resource Center that there is a student in their class receiving services, it is again up to YOU to go up to them, introduce yourself, and submit your letter to EACH Professor. Make sure to get enough copies from the Disability Services Center. It is crucial that the Professor knows who you are so that when the time comes for the exam, he knows you get extended time or whatever the approved accommodation is. It makes the whole process easy-peasy if you are all on the same page. By the point you meet with the Professor or TA, the accommodation is APPROVED and all you need is his signature to go get your extra time on your exam/appropriate accommodation. Once the Prof signs off, you take the paperwork back to the Disability Services Center, and you are all set!
TRUST ME… I know it can be rather daunting to go up to a Professor and do this. Sometimes, you can get around the Professor if the class has a Teaching Assistant and go through the TA to submit the accommodation paperwork. I remember being a Freshmen and being COMPLETELY intimidated by the Professor and couldn’t even muster up the courage to SPEAK to my cute BRITISH Teaching Assistant… first world problems right?
I promise, once all is said and done, after doing this a couple times, it becomes a second nature to do this each quarter/semester!
Evita Almassi is a Seattle-lite born and raised and like most Seattle-lites loves a good cup of coffee and is a dedicated Husky having gotten both her undergrad and grad degrees from UW. She has worked for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and with local organizations such as Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestras, The City of Bellevue, Easter Seals Washington, and Flash Volunteer. Evita currently works in college admissions counseling.