Where colleges and universities are missing the mark in supporting students with disabilities

Far too often we hear how students with disabilities are struggling to find the right resources at their college or university to help them with receiving reasonable accommodations.


A current college student with auditory processing disorder, an invisible disability where symptoms often include difficulty in distinguishing between similar sounds, told Getting Hired: "I want my professors to know that just because I'm asking for help doesn't mean that I'm any less capable than my peers.


I don't need extra time on tests, I need a note taker or study guide because when information is verbalized too quickly, I can't process it as fast as my peers and I miss it.”


Often times, requested accommodations by individuals with disabilities are changes that everyone benefits from. In this example, the accommodation of having a note taker in every class, not only supports students with disabilities but would support all students if the professor speaks quickly, if the topic is complex to understand or if a student is out sick and misses the class, so why not standardize this?


Why are students with disabilities falling behind?


As we strive to understand where the gap is, it’s important to note that most students don’t identify with having a disability, in many cases because they’re unfamiliar with the definition of a disability.


An individual with a disability is defined by the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) as, “A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. This includes but is not limited to autism, epilepsy, dyslexia, depression, ADD, ADHD, diabetes, cancer and intellectual disabilities.


Furthermore, according to the Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities (COSD), over 70 percent of students’ disabilities are non-apparent, making the identification process even more difficult for students.


How to not miss the mark in supporting your students

  1. Listen to their requests: Asking for a note taker or recording the class, for example, could be an indicator of a student disclosing their disability.
  2. Location accommodations: Considering alternative settings to take tests, in small groups or in areas will minimal distractions are examples are common accommodations.
  3. Know your Support Contacts: Ensure you know the point of contact in the career center and disability center. Also, know that as a teacher, you are not responsible for providing the answer to an accommodation request as this should be answered by the point of contact within the accommodation statement.

For more information on common modifications and accommodations, learn more from our community partner, Understood here.

Educators keen to better engage with students with disabilities and to offer the best level of support to this group should also read our recent blog 'Tips educational institutions need to know about supporting students with disabilities’.