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Tips for Going Back to School as a Student with a Disability

By DeVry University

June 30, 2022
5 min read

Whether you’re going back to school to finish your degree, change careers or build up your skills in your current field, you’re sure to have a few questions.

Is it better to attend class on campus, or earn your degree online? What types of student support services are available to you?

As a student with a disability, you may have other needs that require accommodation as well. Find out what support you can expect from colleges and what you might want to look out for when evaluating different schools.

Challenges That College Students with Disabilities Face

There are a few reasons why a student with a disability might find going back to school challenging. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, students might not know what services or resources their school offers. Since many courses, programs or campuses may not have been originally designed with accessibility in mind, the level of accessibility can vary between schools. Many schools are also not generally required to provide accommodation for disabilities until they are disclosed by the student, so efforts may not be made to increase accessibility or prove accommodation until they are requested.

Beginning or transferring may also be difficult if the school does not have similar systems in place to accommodate students.

What Resources Do Colleges Have to Provide for Students with Disabilities?

As you may have experienced, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) entitles all children with disabilities to free appropriate public education to meet their unique needs. This means your disability may have previously been supported with an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, however, colleges aren’t required to provide this same level of assistance. Instead, you’d be responsible for setting up the support systems that you need.

One way to see what resources the school you’re considering offers is to check out their Disability Support Office (DSO) information, usually hosted on the college’s website. AccessibleCollege.com recommends looking at the office’s mission statement, as this can give you insight into their approach work with students. The DSO site should also talk about the accommodation request process, what documentation you’ll need to submit and any other relevant information.

Many colleges are used to abiding by disability requirements laid out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which outlines regulations for dorms, accessible routes or assembly area requirements for the campus, among other things. For an additional resource, you may also want research the school on websites such as the University Disability Database compiled by Johns Hopkins University, which includes criteria for accessibility in both virtual and in-person environments, grievance policies and accommodation request information.

Develop an Inclusion Checklist

The Institute for Educational Leadership’s most recent Higher Ed Inclusion Guide believes that inclusion for all students is a campus-wide responsibility, and involves the recruiting of students, staff and real efforts to raise diversity awareness throughout the student body.

When researching different schools, keep an eye out for the school’s philosophy on disability, including how they talk about their inclusivity efforts and if they’re proactive about putting them into place.

It can be helpful to develop an “inclusion checklist”, or list of checkpoints that you review each school against. Here is a brief checklist of some of the things you should keep in mind when looking into different schools’ inclusion efforts:

  • Review their website:

    Make sure the school you’re considering is well equipped to provide accessibility by reviewing their use of electronic and information technology accessibility policy to get an idea of how they attend to reasonable accommodation and if they have adequate support services to help students.

  • Contact a person at the school’s disability services department:

    Inquire about the curriculum accessibility and reasonable accommodations for specific departments or degrees you might be interested in. Your contact person can then reach out to department professors for needed accommodations.

  • Sample the online content for WCAG (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines):

    The internet can be a great equalizer for students with disabilities when websites and content are designed with accessibility in mind. During your research, ask about whether content is designed for accessibility and if you can sample some content to test with your assistive technologies and resources. Many universities and colleges offer degree programs online, but even if courses are not taken online the school may use websites and other internet-related technologies to manage administrative functions for the application process, course registration, assignments, or discussion groups.

  • Take a tour of the campus:

    If possible, visit the campus to get a sense of its accessibility and layout, including how easy it is to move around campus and leverage the available resources.

  • See if the campus has an Assistive Technologies Lab:

    This kind of space provides students with accessible workstations and equipment such as Braille and MagniSight Explorer Stations, specialized keyboards and mice or Web-based screen reader software such as Jaws or NVDA.

  • Speak to students:

    Ask to speak to students with disabilities to get their insight into student life as well as their experience with the school’s social inclusion efforts.

Inclusion Efforts and Student Disability Services at DeVry

Help you reach your education goals, we are dedicated to providing appropriate reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with documented disabilities, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and all applicable federal, state or local laws.

Our Office of Student Disability Services can provide additional information about DeVry’s Nondiscrimination policy and assist you with accommodation requests during your admissions process or after enrollment. To learn more, email adaofficer@devrv.edu.

Education That Fits You

At DeVry, we provide you with an education that helps prepare you to pursue your career goals — and works with your schedule. We offer undergraduate and graduate-level programs in a variety of disciplines including healthcare, technology, business and more, with 100% online options so you can balance school with work, family or other commitments. Classes start every 8 weeks.

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