Junior year is a busy time for high schoolers. Many are preparing for the next phase of their life, researching schools, visiting college campuses, and trying to find a place where they feel at home to tackle the next phase of their lives. Planning is of vital importance during this time for any student or parent of a person who is about to attend college, but for students who have disabilities, this process is especially important.
According to a 2016 report by the U.S Department of Education, 11 percent of all college undergraduates reported having a disability of some sort. Many of these students have what is referred to as invisible disabilities, which according to the Invisible Disabilities Association means that they have a “physical, mental, or neurological condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities that [are] invisible to the onlooker.” These can include anxiety and depression, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and a range of other symptoms. An additional 15 percent of those surveyed have an orthopedic or mobility impairment; 6 percent have a hearing impairment; and 3 percent are blind or visually impaired in some way.
Despite this, students with disabilities are applying to college and joining the workforce more than ever.
This is due, in part, to the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and also due in part to colleges making more of an effort to be accommodating to students with disabilities. But resources vary by state, and it’s important that students and parents be prepared for the challenges they could potentially face in order to be the most successful when preparing for life after college.
“As a professor and researcher in special education, I’ve worked with many students with disabilities transitioning to college,” writes Joseph Maudas, a Professor of Education at the University of Connecticut. “The ones who are typically most successful after college are the ones who were prepared to be strong self-advocates, who could seek out needed services and supports, and who could manage the multiple demands of being independent.”
Regardless of whether you or your child plans on attending college after high school, there are important steps and processes to learn in order to best make the transition from high school to adulthood.
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Special Education After High School
Many who have gone through special education programs at the high school level have found the transition to college life to be vastly different. It’s not that accommodations aren’t available, it’s just that students have to be prepared to self-advocate and intentionally seek out support.
“After 12th grade, individuals with learning and attention issues will only receive accommodations in college or the workplace if they disclose their disabilities,” write the experts at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
That doesn’t mean that accommodations aren’t available, however.
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), colleges, universities, and workplaces are required to supply reasonable accommodations to to activities, tasks, and environments in order to enable enable individuals with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to participate in an academic or workplace setting.
What is Considered a Reasonable Accommodation?
Reasonable accomodations do not alter the course of the work or make it any less academically challenging or vigorous. Instead, accommodations like this allow students with disabilities to complete essential functions of the academic program.
According to the American Psychological Association, the ADA “stipulates that postsecondary institutions are responsible for providing necessary accommodations when a student discloses a disability…Training programs are required to make reasonable adjustments or modifications to practices, policies and procedures, and to provide auxiliary aids and services for students with disabilities, unless to do so would “fundamentally alter” the nature of the programs or result in an ‘undue burden.’”
They go on to emphasize that providing accommodations such as these does not compromise the essential elements of a course or curriculum; nor do they weaken the academic standards or integrity of a course.
Instead, they implore that “Accommodations simply provide an alternative way to accomplish the course requirements by eliminating or reducing disability-related barriers. They provide a level playing field, not an unfair advantage.”
If You Are A Student With A Disability, How Do You Receive Reasonable Accommodations in the Classroom?
Under the ADA, students with disabilities are only entitled to reasonable accommodations if they disclose their disability to their college or workplace.
“Although elementary and secondary schools are required by law to attempt to identify students with a disability and document their needs, in college it is the responsibility of students to identify themselves and request services,” writes Roger H. Martin in an article published on The New York Times. “Disability offices recommend submitting documentation as soon as a college accepts you, or even reaching out before applying — if for no other reason than to see if a campus is suitable.”
He continues, “Students in wheelchairs might not want to consider a college with lots of steep hills,” for example.
Typically, these requests go through a college’s disability resource center. From there, a disability resource officer will accompany them to meet with their professors in order to ensure that their needs are met.
Not only does this help to level the playing field for students with disabilities (visible or not), but also allows students to have a greater sense of autonomy as they transition into adulthood.
“Transition to college can be very difficult for these students, so being a self-advocate is huge,” Karmen Ten Napel, a disabilities specialist at Morningside College told The New York Times. “When they were in high school, parents were their chief advocates. But in college and, even more so, when they leave college to go out into the real world, they must advocate for themselves.”
College Programs for Students With Disabilities
For those looking for programs that best fit the needs of yourself or your child who has a disability, the process can be daunting. Below, we highlight just a few of the many options available to you.
CTP: Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary Programs
Changes in the Higher Education Act have made it possible for eligible students with intellectual disabilities to receive federal dollars when they are attending an approved Comprehensive Transition Program, otherwise referred to as CTP.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, CTP programs allow students with intellectual disabilities to complete a degree, certificate or non-degree program, so long as it is:
- Offered by a college or career program and is approved by the U.S. Department of Education
- Designed to support those living with intellectual disabilities who want to continue their academic and/or career training and in order to prepare for employment
- Requires students with disabilities to participate, for at least 50 percent of their degree program or certificate to interact with nondisabled students, whether in the classroom or through internship or workplace opportunities
Schools that offer CTP programs are required by the Higher Education Opportunity Act to:
- Be designed to support students with intellectual disabilities in preparation for employment
- Include an advising and curriculum structure tailored specifically to those with intellectual disabilities
- Provide at least 50 percent of classroom time in academics or internship opportunities with students who do not have intellectual disabilities.
- Have a satisfactory academic progress policy
- Offer a credential or identified outcome for students
- Have an established program length in regards to instructional time and credit hours
Colleges and universities that are approved to offer CPT programs can offer three types of federal student aid:
- Federal Pell Grants
- Federal Work-Study
- Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants
Those looking for qualifying CPT programs can find an extensive list by visiting The Office of the U.S. Department of Education’s website.
Community College and Job Training for Students With Special Needs
While college may be a desirable option for some students who have disabilities, community college, trade schools, and job training may be an equally desirable option. If you are a student, or the parent of a student who is currently looking into collegiate life, this might offer students an opportunity to see if collegiate life is a good fit for them.
Community colleges offer students the opportunity to earn A.A., A.S. or A.A.S. degrees. For many, this provides an opportunity to determine whether or not university life is going to be a worthwhile experience, while also providing live-at-home stability where relatives can provide necessary support for transitioning to college life.
Occupational training also exists at many community college locations, which provides students with the direct skill sets necessary to transition into the workforce, providing not only employment, but independence.
Scholarships and Financial Aid for Students With Special Needs
Getting into and paying for college can be a costly, time consuming, and difficult process. Luckily, there are resources available for students with disabilities that make the process less frustrating.
Loans and scholarships are available through a number of federal, state, and private institutions. Some focus on aid for those who struggle with attention and learning issues. Others focus on those with various kinds of “invisible disabilities.” And there are resources out there for those who are physically disabled. As with all scholarship applications, it requires due diligence to make sure you find the ones that apply to your particular circumstances.
One place to start is a search through scholarship resources such as scholarships.com, FinAid, or other state-specific resources that apply to your specific circumstances.
The post-high school transition is a difficult process for every student, no doubt, but students with a wide variety of different abilities have found success coming into adulthood. Though it may require different planning, and a different level of advocacy, individuals who are differently-abled are just as likely to find success, fulfillment, and happiness in their adult lives.
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