Disability Resources on Campus [web resource]
Nearly every college and university in the US has an office on campus that works with students who have disabilities. The office is responsible for making sure that campus classes, programs, buildings and other facilities, and services are accessible to students with disabilities.
The Disability Resource Center and its Role on Campus
The college website might have an easy-to-find page for the Disability Resource Center (sometimes they use a slightly different name like Student Disability Services, Accessibility Resources, or something similar). If you can’t find it right away, do a search on the college’s search box for “disabilities” and you’re sure to find it. If all else fails, look for the Dean of Students office; they can help you find it.
Check out NCCSD’s Campus Disability Resource (CeDaR) Database for contact information for disability services providers at nearly every degree-granting college and university in the U.S. and its territories.
Each college or university has its own way of working with disabled students; the information on this page is general, but common to most DRC offices. While a DRC office might not be able to guarantee the kind of services they could offer you, they can still give you some general information about their office and what you can expect if you are accepted at their school.
Signing up or Registering with the Disability Resource Center
Many DRC offices have a process for registering students for services through the office. They will ask students to tell them about their disability and how it might impact them on campus. This “self-report” helps the DRC staff understand the student’s individual experience and situation. For example, a student with low vision may explain that he’s fine navigating most areas of campus, but that print textbooks are not accessible, and that he prefers to use books in electronic formats so that he can enlarge them on his laptop. If you are thinking about whether or not you need to register, you might want to review our advice for students who are thinking about not registering.
Often the DRC will need additional information about the student’s disability, especially if it isn’t familiar, or is not apparent (not obvious). The DRC will ask for proof or “documentation” of the student’s disability from a licensed professional. Examples of documentation are audiograms, psycho-educational evaluations, a doctor’s report on a physical disability, or a neuro-psychological report. An IEP or 504 Plan from high school is helpful in documenting a student’s history using accommodations in school. The DRC office will want to see something more than just a short doctor’s note; it needs enough information to determine what accommodations might be helpful to the student.
Be aware that some colleges still use an old model of disability documentation, requiring that it needs to be new documentation that is no more than 3 years old. The new thinking is that colleges need to be more flexible about documentation. The information at AHEAD is useful for your college to know.
Many DRC offices will have one or more forms to sign that ensure that students and staff understand their rights, responsibilities and roles in working together. All of this information is kept confidential in compliance with FERPA and other laws.
Accommodations and Services
When a class, building or program is not accessible to all students, one or more “accommodations” might need to be used to enable students to have full participation and access. Accommodations may include aids such as technology that converts print text to speech, or services like note-taking, that address barriers in various campus environments.
DRC will discuss the kinds of accommodations that a student has used in the past, and identify any that might be needed in college, based on the student’s self-report and documentation, and what DRC and the student thinks the classes will be like. DRC offices have been around for about 40 years, so most of them have a good idea of the way classes are taught on campus, classroom set ups, building accessibility, etc.
From this discussion DRC will generate a confidential letter to each of the student’s instructors, verifying that the student is registered with DRC and eligible to use one or more accommodation in the class. This letter is supposed to start a conversation among the student, instructor, and DRC as needed, to see how best to put the accommodations into place.
Determining accommodations is an ongoing process. The student may find that a class is “universally designed,” and he or she doesn’t need the accommodations that were initially identified. In another class, an accommodation that was first set up might not be the most effective. In all cases, the student, DRC and faculty should communicate with each other to make sure that the student has full access to classes.
Differences between High School and College
Students who had an IEP or 504 Plan in elementary or high school will notice one big difference at college: the student needs to take the initiative to start the DRC registration and accommodation process.
Many colleges have comparisons of the differences between High School and College like the one from West Chester University. It’s a quick look to help you understand the process at college.
The college Admissions office doesn’t know who is disabled or not. Academic departments or Instructors don’t know, either. So, it’s important for students to contact the DRC office, even if they’re not sure they’ll need accommodations. They may learn about technology or services they hadn’t thought of, and learn about how to ensure their rights in case of possible discrimination based on disability.
What if I don’t want to register with the Disability Resource Center? Can I just tell my instructor what I need?
Some students, especially when they first start college, decide that they want to do things on their own. Maybe they’re tired of having been on an IEP or 504 Plan, or don’t want to stand out as “different” (even though everyone else in college is different!). While it’s a good thing to take charge of one’s responsibilities, there could be some downsides to it to think about.
Many colleges and universities hire part-time professors or instructors. Some classes are taught by Teaching Assistants. Some of these instructors, and even full-time professors, might not have knowledge of campus policies, disability or accommodations, and might not be that helpful to a student. Some may even discriminate against a disabled student, thinking that he or she isn’t capable of being in college! As mentioned above, DRC can help open up a conversation between the student and instructor to find effective accommodations as needed, and protect the student’s rights.
Some students keep quiet about their disability, which is their right, but sometimes don’t seek assistance, even when things don’t go well in a class. If solutions aren’t found, or accommodations not put into place, this might lead to further problems down the line. Again, DRC might be able to help identify accommodations that are needed, or refer a student to mental health or academic services that might be helpful as well.
Be aware that DRC offers its services to faculty and staff at the college or university as well. So, even if a student doesn’t want to register with DRC, the instructor may still contact the office for assistance in setting up accommodations.
Read the NCCSD web page about not registering for services, if you’d like to think more about this.
What if there’s a problem?
Most accessibility issues can be addressed as long as the student, faculty and DRC are in regular communication with each other. It’s important for students to let instructors or DRC know about any issues they might encounter in a class to find resolutions before things get worse.
Even with the best intentions and plans, sometimes a student may encounter a barrier in the environment that can’t be addressed, or an instructor who doesn’t want to work with a student in a productive way. All campuses should have a Grievance Procedure posted at its DRC office. General information about this procedure is available at our Campus Grievance Procedure page, our legal resources page, and our information for students about solving problems with services.
Source: National Center for College Students with Disabilities | The Disability Resource Center on Campus, https://www.nccsdclearinghouse.org/disability-services-info-for-students.html | Public domain. Retrieved February 2023.
In 2021, a federal discretionary grant (P116D210002) was awarded via the National Center for Information and Technical Support for Postsecondary Students with Disabilities Program (NCITSPSD) to the University of Minnesota’s Institute on Community Integration (ICI-UMN), in full partnership with the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) and is authorized by Congress in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 (777.4).The NCITSPSD program grant was originally awarded in 2015 (P116D150005) to the Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD).
The Schwab Learning Center at CHC helps college and high school students with diverse learning challenges succeed in all areas of their lives. Register for support with a learning specialist at the Schwab Learning Center at CHC.