College Disability Services and Accommodations: What to Expect
By Haley DeLeon | Last Updated: Jan 4, 2023
Figuring out if you’re eligible for college disability services and accommodations can feel overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why the majority of college students with disabilities do not inform their college of their situation and needs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). But there’s no need to miss out on critical resources and support. Read on to understand how to register for accessibility accommodations in college and what to expect.
Step One: Registering with Your College or University
The great news is colleges are required to provide reasonable accommodations for students who disclose a disability according to federal laws, including Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).
To receive those accommodations, you must first register with your college’s disability or accessibility services office after being admitted. That means it’s up you to initiate contact, seek accommodations and provide documentation of your disability. Registering your disability early on is important because it gives you rights and helps ensure your accommodations are in place for the start of your first semester.
To receive those accommodations, you must first register with your college’s disability or accessibility services office after being admitted. That means it’s up you to initiate contact, seek accommodations and provide documentation of your disability. Registering your disability early on is important because it gives you rights and helps ensure your accommodations are in place for the start of your first semester. Once your college’s disability or accessibility services office has verified your eligibility, they will help coordinate the accommodations and services based on the documentation you provided.
At USF, you can apply for accommodations with the Student Accessibility Services (SAS) office once you’re admitted. About a week to 10 days after you submit documentation and an Application for Accommodations – which you can do online, in person or through email, mail or fax – someone from the office will reach out via email to set up an intake meeting. Intake meetings typically last about one hour.
How Do College and High School Disability Services Differ?
For students with disabilities and their parents, the leap from high school to college can be a bit of an adjustment as accommodations are handled differently at the collegiate level.
For example, colleges are not required to provide Individual Education Plans (IEPs) under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act the way that high schools are. Also, while high schools are required to identify disabilities, colleges are not; rather, it’s up to the student to come prepared with a diagnosis and an understanding of appropriate accommodations. Colleges also typically don’t assign a specific case manager for each student or bear the cost of a personal student aide, which some students may require.
One of the major differences between high school and college is the difference between success and access. High schools are required to help you be successful, whereas colleges are required to ensure that you have access to material. The goal is about ensuring that all students have access to materials. Student performance is not the end goal.
All in all, colleges place the responsibility for obtaining accommodations and advocating for services more squarely in the student’s hands. This can be a good thing, as you’ll gain valuable experience advocating for yourself and understanding what you truly need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.
What College Accommodations Are Typically Offered?
Colleges offer different levels of support when it comes to accommodations. That’s why it’s essential to do some research ahead of time on what a university offers before deciding if it will be a good fit for your needs.
Colleges may offer accommodations for exams and assignments, classroom learning, course load and more.
Some typical accommodations include:
- Extended time on exams
- Permission to record lectures
- Use of laptops for tests and exams
- Use of calculators for tests and exams
- Reduced course load
- Priority course registration
- Access to audiobooks, text-to-speech programs, voice recognition software, and other aides
- Note-taking assistance
You can find lots of information on how to register for accommodations as well as services offered right on most colleges’ websites. However, in-person visits can also help you get a feel for what you might expect once enrolled. So when you visit college campuses, it might be helpful to stop by the accessibility services offices, too.
The Campus Disability Resource (CeDaR) database is also a resource for finding accessibility-related information on colleges in the U.S. You can search by college name or by specific services or features that are important to you.
Accommodations at USF
Curious about what kinds of accessibility services USF offers? We’re proud to offer the following types of accommodations to eligible students:
- Alternative text
- Class notes and note takers
- Access to overheads or PowerPoint presentations
- Deaf and hard of hearing services
- Flexibility regarding course attendance
- Permission to leave or move about in class
- Permission to record class
- Preferential seating
- Use of a laptop for taking notes
- Course load reduction
- Course substitutions
- Priority registration
- Extended time
- Reduced-distraction environment
- Readers for exams
- Use of a calculator for exams
- Use of a computer for essay exams
- Use of spell check for exams
This is just a quick overview of the accommodations available. To learn more, please visit the accommodations page.
Assistive Technology and How it Can Help
In addition to accommodations, students should familiarize themselves with the assistive technology available on college campuses. There will likely be many tools at your disposal, from speech-to-text software to screen readers.
Assistive Technology at USF
USF offers a variety of assistive technology, including designated ADA computers that contain the following programs:
- Read & Write provides support tools for students in reading, writing, and research assignments, including speech-to-text, word translation, document scanning, and talking calculators.
- JAWS is a screen reader software that reads aloud text on the computer screen.
- ZoomText is an advanced magnification program that enlarges and enhances everything on the computer screen.
- Dragon Naturally Speaking is a speech-to-text software.
- Natural Reader is also a speech-to-text software that can convert any written text file into an audio file such as an MP3.
Additional tools, such as Livescribe Smartpens and Braille printers, are also available. To learn more, visit USF’s assistive technology page.
Tips on Using Accommodations
Want to make sure you get the most out of the services and accommodations your college offers and are ready to thrive in a university setting? Check out these tips from students who have used USF’s accessibility services.
Since your accommodations cannot be applied retroactively, you should request your accommodations before you need them. The effort it takes to request and secure them up front can help you prevent big problems later in the semester.
Connect with Your Professors.
At the beginning of each semester, you should meet with your professors outside of class to discuss your accommodations in a private setting. You should also check that each professor, in fact, knows how to provide your accommodations. Informing them of your situation upfront can help you down the line. For example, if you have to miss class for your disability, it’s a lot easier if you’ve already explained your situation and accommodations to your professor. Also, check in with your professor regularly throughout the semester to see how you are progressing and make sure you’re on track.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask
If you have questions or need help, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask your college’s student accessibility services office. You can find the contact information for Student Accessibility Services at each USF campus here.
About Haley DeLeon
Haley DeLeon is a content developer with extensive experience in the higher education sector. She is passionate about creating content that helps students and their families throughout the admissions journey.