Disability Resources for College Students

Become Team
Become Team
Updated November 17, 2020

LearnHowToBecome.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Discover your program in minutes

Anne Marie Dobies

Anne Marie Dobies is the Assistant Vice President of the Griff Center for Academic Engagement at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York. Prior to her current role, Dobies served as the director of the college's Office of Disability Support Services, a position which she now oversees.

Nearly 80 percent of all high school students with disabilities list attending college as one of their goals, yet only 60 percent enroll and 41 percent complete degrees, according to former Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Although these figures have risen in recent decades due to the passage of inclusive disability rights laws, students with disabilities still lag behind their peers in terms of postsecondary education. While much is being done to empower these students and promote their rights, one of the most important components in the process is helping prospective students and their families self-advocate and be aware of the resources and provisions in place at colleges and universities to help them succeed.

This guide was created to bring awareness to rights and responsibilities of students with disabilities, help them learn how to take advantage of myriad services, and provide expert advice from a postsecondary education administrator who has spent years serving college students with disabilities.

Resource Guide for College Students with Disabilities

Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), intellectual disability is characterized by limitations in reasoning, learning, problem solving and adaptive behavior. Adaptive behavior includes social and practical living skills. Intellectual disabilities fall under the umbrella of developmental disabilities. Learning disabilities are neurologically-based and lead to processing issues that can affect organization, time management, memory, attention span. Learning disabilities and intellectual disabilities are not the same thing, but some of the resources that can help with intellectual disabilities can also help with learning disabilities, particularly campus-based resources.

Campus Help

Learning Diagnostic Clinics

A campus-based service to help students work with their learning disability and fully participate in all that college has to offer.

Learning Diagnostic Clinic at the Psychology Department at Missouri State

Reading & Writing Centers

Commonly providing tutoring services alongside one-to-one help with projects, these centers build confidence in all learners by instilling strategies and providing apps or programs to make reading and writing easier.

The Reading & Writing Center at Ventura College, Ventura, CA


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) falls under the umbrella of developmental disabilities, but some crucial resources are specifically tailored for people with ASD. A diagnosis of ASD is usually made at an early age, and people with ASD may experience social interaction difficulties, repetitive behaviors, and issues with verbal and nonverbal communication. People with autism attend and graduate from college, and more colleges are recognizing and implementing ways to help these students be successful.

Campus Help

Autism Support Program

Several colleges now host these groups which provide a meeting place and resource system for students on the autism spectrum.

Drexel Autism Support Program, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

Transition Academies

Provides assistance and education to high school students on the autism spectrum making their way to college.

Texas Tech University's Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research


The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) characterizes ADD/ADHD as a brain disorder marked by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. College students with untreated ADD or ADHD may have trouble getting organized, staying on task, paying attention in lectures or missing details in school assignments. There is no cure, but treatments such as medication, education, training and psychotherapy can help manage and reduce symptoms and improve functioning in trouble areas.

Campus Help

Strategies & Techniques Support

Lots of colleges provide a list of tips for students new to college looking to best manage ADD/ADHD symptoms.

The Division of Disability Resources & Educational Services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Centers for Teaching and Learning

These student centers can provide faculty or peer tutoring to help students with ADD/ADHD comprehend and retain concepts and assist with research and writing.

The Office of Accessible Education at Stanford University

Speech & Language Disabilities and Disorders

People with speech disorders or disabilities have difficulty producing speech sounds correctly or fluently and may also have voice problems. Some speech disorders include stuttering, articulation and pronunciation. Language disorders include trouble understanding other people when they are speaking or difficulty sharing thoughts through speaking. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, speech and language disorders can result due to an accident or illness, or they have no known origin.

Campus Help

Communication Aids and Methods

Some colleges provide computers and printers with LED displays, voice synthesized laptops, or special training for faculty members.

Allegheny College, Student Disability Services--Students with Speech Impairments

Encouragement & Empowerment

Universities can share the stories of students with speech or language disabilities overcoming obstacles to find success in college.

“Graduate student overcomes speech impediment,” Wichita State University

Students Who are Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing

The National Association of the Deaf characterizes “deaf” as experiencing the audiological condition of not hearing, while hard-of-hearing customarily denotes a mild-to-moderate hearing loss or can also include a person who doesn't have or want “cultural affiliation with the Deaf community.” Members of the Deaf community share a common culture and language, which is American Sign Language (ASL). A person who identifies as “deaf” may not also identify as “Deaf,” though both groups have the condition of not hearing. Deaf is not considered a disorder or disability, but colleges do offer resources for students who are members of the Deaf community and those who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Campus Help

Interpreters and Sign Language Providers

Whether provided via technology or an assistant, many schools provide assistance to students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

DHOH Handbook from the University of Washington's Disability Resources for Students

Summer Programming

Students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can take part in summer intensives at their university to help them further develop research and career skills.

Summer Program for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing

Visually Impaired

People with visual impairments may experience low visual acuity or blindness. Visual impairment may range from moderate loss of vision to total blindness.

Campus Help

Student Organizations Providing Guide Dogs

Texas A&M University in College Station has an innovative puppy-raising student organization that trains guide dogs for visually impaired students.

Advocacy Organizations

Braille Birds at Illinois State University – help visually impaired students integrate into both their campus and local communities.

Physical & General Disabilities

Physical disabilities are characterized as congenital or acquired physical or motor impairments. Gross motor skills or fine motor skills may be affected. College students living with physical or other disabilities require a wide range of services.

Campus Help

Transportation Services

While universities often can't help with day-to-day transportation needs, they can arrange special transportation for any university-related travel, including field trips or student organization travel.

Ball State University Disability Services

Emergency Evacuation

In the case of an emergency, universities should have an evacuation plan in place to ensure students can move from the affected area.

The Rights of Students with Disabilities

While federal mandates concerning the rights of students with disabilities were first introduced by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the number of these learners attending postsecondary institutions started to surge after the passage of the Individuals with Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. By mandating that higher education be a goal for all students and requiring states to report the number of learners with disabilities enrolling in postsecondary education within one year of graduation, states and institutions are working diligently to ensure this population continues their educations.

Attending college is now a goal for 80 percent of high school students with disabilities, and the number of these learners enrolling in higher education has risen dramatically: only 26 percent of students with disabilities who graduated in 1990 enrolled in a postsecondary institution within four years out of college, compared to 46 percent for 2005 graduates.

What are the laws and programs that have increased participation in higher education for students with disabilities and how do they specifically assist them in their goals?

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973

Section 504 specifically supports students with disabilities by requiring any academic institution receiving federal funding to provide benefits, services and opportunities that are equitable for all students. Students qualifying under this act are defined as having a physical or mental impairments that limit their major life activities, including any psychological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or any “anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:

Americans with Disabilities Act

Introduced in 1990, Title II of the ADA protects students enrolled at public institutions from being discriminated against based on a disability, while Title III protects students at private institutions that provide any examinations or courses dealing with educational and occupational certification. Title III also stipulates that colleges and universities must provide environments and services that are accessible to all students.

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Organized in 1979 by individuals with disabilities and parents of those with disabilities, DREDF has worked tirelessly to advocate for the civil and human rights of this population via education, legislative development, public policy initiatives, and training. Over the years the group has successfully prevented the deregulation of Section 504, helped create major legislation furthering the rights of individuals with disabilities, and fought high-level discrimination cases.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

IDEA primarily serves students who are still in grade school to ensure they have access to appropriate free education, but the Act's secondary transition requirements have greatly increased the number of students with disabilities heading off to higher education. Within Individual Education Programs (IEP), students turning 16 must have measurable goals for their postsecondary experience and the provision of transition services – which includes courses of study – to help them reach their goals.

College Disability Accommodations

Once a student gets to college, it's their responsibility to disclose any disabilities and to provide documentation to the office of disability services. It's also up to learners to self-identify as a student with a disability to their professors and refer them to disability services to verify this information. Some of the accommodations a student can expect to receive are outlined below.

Modified Exams

At the University of Texas at Austin, modifications to testing times or environments are offered to students for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to students with ADHD who may become distracted, those with learning disabilities who need an interpreter or extra time, or students with physical disabilities who may need an extended window to complete tasks.

Course Substitutions

St. Petersburg College in Florida allows students with disabilities to substitute what are deemed nonessential classes within the curriculum if their disability would preclude them from passing the class. A course with similar outcomes but taught through different means is provided as a substitution.

Priority Registration

Typically taken on a case-by-case basis, institutions such as the University of Connecticut have provisions in place to allow students with documented disabilities to register early for classes and create a schedule that best suits their needs. Reasons for this may be based on mobility, accessibility, use of assistive technology, or when a personal assistant is available.

Assistive Technology

In addition to allowing and providing devices to aid students in their learning, many disability services offices, such as the one at University of New Hampshire, have specialists available to help them learn how to use assistive technology and maximize its benefits inside and outside the classroom.

Sign Language Interpretation and Transcription

Lots of schools – Ohio State University being one example – provide interpreters and transcribers to ensure students who experience visual impairments, deafness, or hearing loss succeed in the classroom. Students should work with the disability services office at their school to request appropriate provisions.

Accessible Dorm Rooms and Classrooms

The University of Miami serves as just one example of institutions receiving federal funding being required to provide accessible dormitories and classrooms to students with disabilities. In addition to arranging for classes to be taught in accessible spaces for students who need to take specific courses, schools also provide accessibility maps to help students find the best routes.

Campus Life Tips for Students with
Disabilities—Expert Interview


Anne Marie Dobies is the Assistant Vice President of the Griff Center for Academic Engagement at Canisius College in Buffalo, New York.  Prior to her current role, Dobies served as the director of the college's Office of Disability Support Services, a position which she now oversees.

It is important for individuals to have a clear understanding of their own disability and how it impacts them daily. Students should work with their school counselors to determine the right fit; search the web and explore all the different options that are available; attend college fairs and community events to discuss majors, academic program, and resources; and visit with the service providers at different colleges to determine if you can find academic success. It comes down to academic programs and if the college is the right fit for you.

The laws shift after graduation of high school, so it is important that individuals know how academic and non-academic accommodations are accessed at the postsecondary level. Self-advocacy is the foundation to knowing your rights and responsibilities, and students should not be afraid to ask questions and seek assistance.

How You Can Advocate for the Rights of People with Disabilities

Whether advocating for yourself or a loved one, empowering individuals with disabilities is a vitally important role. Breaking down barriers and educating the public on this population is intrinsic to the progression of our society. Check out these tips on being an advocate for disability rights.

Familiarize Yourself with Laws

Laws such as the Rehabilitation Act, ADA and IDEA protect the rights of individuals with disabilities and spell out their responsibilities. Learning what these documents contain allows advocates to speak knowledgeably and authoritatively on the subject. Harvard Law School maintains a regularly updated guide on disability laws in America.

Fight for Progressive Legislation

Be it on the local, state or national level, pieces of legislation relevant to disability rights are always being passed through different congressional meetings. The Arc provides an active list of current legislative initiatives where your voice can make a tremendous impact.

Raise Public Awareness

People don't know what they don't know, but it's the job of advocates to educate them on important topics within disability rights and advancements. The Independent Living Institute compiled a comprehensive Disability Awareness in Action Resource Kit for those who want to bring more awareness.

Take a Disability Advocate Training Course

Understood provides excellent resources for individuals who want to receive training on being an advocate for individuals with disabilities.

Donate to Your Cause

There are many organizations on the frontlines of disability rights, fighting for more expansive coverage and care, opening doors for students with disabilities who aspire to college, and educating the public on how they can make a difference. Consider donating to one of these worthwhile organizations to fund their efforts.

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

LearnHowToBecome.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

View the most relevant programs for your interests and compare them by tuition, acceptance rate, and other factors important to you.