By Michael Rock
Despite the prestige of a college degree in an increasingly competitive job market, college students with disabilities are faced with a number of disadvantages compared to their peers without disabilities.
According to current laws, colleges and universities are not required to offer the same supports for students with disabilities as schools are. In addition, college students with disabilities must register as such in order to receive the accommodations they often need, and the requirements to get such accommodation constantly change. There are also no case managers, nor can parents be regularly updated about their children’s progress, and there are no evaluations for attentional and learning difficulties.
In addition, some college students with disabilities have reported that the staff and faculty at their institutions are not knowledgeable about their disability, which can undermine students’ willingness and ability to disclose to ensure they are getting necessary assistance.
The challenges for college students to disclose their disabilities, particularly invisible ones, can be isolating, as inadequate support offices and the need to work several times as hard as usual in order to achieve the same grades can pose many difficulties.
Disability stigma can also lead to affected students experiencing ostracism and misunderstanding from their peers.
Still, efforts are underway to address such challenges. Missouri State University recently started a five-semester program called POWER (Promoting Opportunities for Work, Education, and Resilience) which helps acclimate students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to learn greater professional, interpersonal, and academic independence.
Some other universities offer similar programs, such as Vanderbilt’s Next Steps program and George Mason’s “LIFE”.
Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins University recently hired its first ever executive director of Student Disability Services.
In order to further help students with disabilities excel in college, scholarships, such as those offered by the Alliance of Private Special Education Schools of Northern New Jersey, have been established for graduating high school students with such disabilities.
Though many challenges exist for college and university students with disabilities, new efforts to better address them are becoming more and more commonplace. Hopefully in time, the achievement gap between them and classmates without disabilities will be eliminated.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.