Are You a Student with a Disability Planning on Attending College or University?
Don’t worry. There’s Loads of Support. You Just Need to Access it!
By Dawn Miller
Contributing Editor/Writer, Inspire Magazine. Dawn is a Northumberland County educator, artist and writer. Visit her website at dawnmillerwriter.com
Starting college or university is an exciting milestone in life. It can also produce anxiety as you transition from high school to the post-secondary world. If you have a disability, you may have additional worries about whether you’ll get the support and accommodations needed for success. In my experience, not only will you get the support you need, but, in many cases, it will be easier to access than it was in high school.
Colleges and universities each have an office dedicated to providing support to students with disabilities. Often, these departments are called Accessibility Services, Accessible Learning Services, Student Accessibility Services, or some variation. The most important step in accessing services in to register yourself with the office before classes begin. Often, this involves filling out an online form and setting up a time to meet with a designated counsellor who will walk you through the process of accessing services and outline what support is available such as:
Note-taking services (computerized or peer note-taking)
Training to access technical aids (assistive equipment and software)
Assistive devices such as F.M. systems for students with hearing loss
Alternatives to print materials
American Sign Language interpreting
Test accommodations (extra time for tests, quiet area for test-taking)
Counselling (including academic planning, personal support for issues that may arise, support to access other services)
Alternative format textbooks
If you had an Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.) in high school or a psycho-educational assessment completed, you will need to share this with your counsellor. Unlike high school, where your Individual Education Plan was shared with all teachers, in college and university you, as an adult, are in charge of deciding who gets the information. This can be discussed with your counsellor. It’s important to note that counsellors are professionals who adhere to strict professional ethics and privacy laws so if you disclose your disability (or any other information) he/she will not disclose that information to anyone else without your express permission.
If you are applying for financial assistance through the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), you will need to provide documentation (again, held in complete confidentiality). Most of the time, this means having your doctor fill out a Disability Verification Form. You can find a link to this form on the accessibility office’s website. This form is very important as it can impact how much money you will receive in student grants (which do not have to be repaid) and can enable you to take a reduced number of courses while maintaining full-time status. You may be eligible to have tuition fees reduced for the final course needed to complete a program (i.e., if you take a reduced course load, it will take longer to complete the program so final course fees are significantly reduced for eligible students).
It should be noted that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has ruled students with mental health diagnosis do not need to disclose specifics about their diagnosis to the college or university to access disability accommodations.
The most important part of accessing services is to get in touch with your college or university and register yourself with their accessibility office. In my experience, the counsellors are extremely professional and knowledgeable. Most importantly, they are dedicated to helping you access whatever supports you need to be successful in college or university.
Dawn Miller is a retired Teacher of the Deaf who has seen many students flourish in college and university with the right supports.