BY MEGAN LAUMAN
Back to school time is just around the corner, which means that it is the perfect time to start preparing for what’s ahead! Tangram life coaches have assembled the following tips to make the transition to college seamless for students with disabilities.
- Determine if college is the best option for you. Sometimes traditional 4-year college is perceived as the only option for young people to be successful, but the truth is that college isn’t always the best option, and certainly not the only option. Depending on your learning style, existing skills and interests, and your goals, you may consider alternatives like community college, trade schools, apprenticeships, or 2-year programs.
- Do your research. When looking at colleges, be sure to learn about the disability services offered at each potential school. Some colleges may have paid programs that offer additional support for students who sign up for the service. If you plan to do a college visit, call the school’s Office of Disability Services in advance of your visit to schedule a meeting with a counselor so you can learn what steps need to be taken and what paperwork needs to be filed to take advantage of the available resources. Knowing about the resources offered by each potential school will help you make the best decision.
- Assemble your support team before you leave for college. College may be all about independence, but all students need support systems in order to succeed, no matter their ability. Who will be on your support team? Parents? Siblings? Reliable friends? A professional, such as a life coach or therapist? Be sure to have these key players in place so your transition to college will be smooth.
- Enroll in Vocational Rehabilitation. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a state-administered program that supports people with disabilities in preparing for, obtaining, and retaining employment. While the name and processes may vary from state to state, each state has a similar operation. If you are enrolled in VR services in your state, be sure to tell your counselor if you are heading to college. VR may cover the cost of some supports at the college level. Once you graduate, be sure to inform your counselor if you intend to seek employment so they can get you on the right track as far as support goes.
- Get to know FERPA. FERPA is the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act. This is important to know because it defines what information can be disclosed about students, and to whom the information can be disclosed. Under FERPA, a parent’s rights to view educational records transfer to a student once the student turns 18. Colleges may require signed releases from the student giving permission to share educational records with certain persons. More information on FERPA can be found from the U.S. Department of Education.
- Communicate your needs. To receive services offered by the Office of Disability Services at your college, you will need to have a diagnosis. Once you have registered with this office, the college will tell you what accommodations they offer and what you’re eligible for. It’s the student’s responsibility to take advantage of these accommodations and to communicate with professors about the accommodations they are receiving. Make appointments to speak with each of your professors during the first week of school. They can help you understand what the class will be like so you can determine what types of supports will be necessary for you to succeed. Don’t wait until you hit a bump in the road to communicate your needs.
- Use technology to your advantage. There are hundreds of excellent tools that exist for students, many of them free. Look into websites, apps, smart pens, and other adaptive technology that can assist with taking notes, reading text, studying, and meeting deadlines.
- Learn about available resources. Not only will the Office of Disability Services at your school offer plenty of handy resources, but there will also be resources offered through other campus entities as well. Schools typically offer free tutoring through their different departments and also may have a writing center where you can get help writing papers. Colleges want their students to be successful, which is why they offer an abundance of resources to make that a reality. Academic advisors and disability services counselors should be able to point you in the right direction for both on- and off-campus resources.
- There’s more to college than academics. Academics are definitely an important part of the college experience, but don’t forget that college is also about preparing for adulthood in other ways—building independent living skills, earning real-world experience through internships, fostering relationships and connections by joining interest groups on campus, and so on. Identify opportunities that will encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and grow as a person.
About Megan Lauman
Megan Lauman is a behavior consultant for Tangram Life Coaching, where she provides behavioral support services to individuals with disabilities. She assists in the implementation of services for young adults with learning differences, such as ADD, ADHD, Asperger’s, social anxiety and other challenges. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from the University of Indianapolis and a master’s degree in Social Work from Indiana University. She is a licensed social worker and has spent her career working primarily with children and young adults.