Learning disabilities and other learning challenges are more common than you might think. Many students suffer in silence — or maybe even quit college — because of the difficulties they have encountered. But there is a better way. Accommodations are options that “level the playing field” so that everyone can get a fair chance at college even if they have learning disabilities.
If you think you might need accommodations, you can speak up for yourself to access these options. By doing so, you can be more successful at reaching your goals!
In this article, we’ll talk about the prevalence of learning disabilities and common health issues that qualify for accommodations. We’ll help you understand why accommodations are important, what kinds of accommodations are out there, and how you can take advantage of them. And if you were a student who may have left college because of a learning challenge, you might just feel encouraged and empowered to return.
If college seemed extra-difficult for you in the past, it’s possible that you face some special challenges that make learning more difficult. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed disability, this article will show how you CAN succeed in spite of any learning disability or health challenge you may be facing!
Many things can impact your ability to learn
Learning disabilities exist in college and beyond. They’re more common than you think, and no one should feel ashamed of them. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 19% of all undergraduate students and 12% of all graduate students reported having at least one diagnosed disability. (source) That’s almost one in five students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
Also: it’s impossible to tell the real number, but the Learning Disabilities Association of America estimates that “60% of adults who struggle with literacy have undetected or untreated learning disabilities.” (source) They also estimate that most adults (59%) who have learning and attention issues are undiagnosed. (source) So, if school has been difficult for you, it’s very likely that you face an unrealized learning disability. There’s no need to feel “not smart”… maybe there’s a root cause making school difficult, and maybe it could be helped!
Many students with disabilities feel alone. They don’t realize the prevalence of disabilities in our society and on college campuses if they even realize that they’re dealing with a special challenge like a learning disability. Maybe they have been misdiagnosed or ignored. Maybe they feared the stigma of seeking help and chose to leave school rather than seeking accommodations.
Even if learning disabilities aren’t recognized or acknowledged, the need for a “level playing field” for every college student is real. Thankfully, many accommodations are already in place to make college a welcoming experience for people with any ability or challenge!
What are Accommodations and why are they important?
Accommodations are the changes made to help a student with a disability receive equal access to education. As an example, a student with a visual impairment might get to have test questions read to them, or someone with a learning disability might get more time to finish a timed quiz. We’ll go into many more examples below.
Accommodations are important because students with disabilities deserve to participate in all possible aspects of college life. Why should you be denied the experiences, education, and activities that other students take for granted just because of your disability? You shouldn’t.
You are a valuable individual no matter what disability you have. Your challenges may mean that you have to work harder or speak up for yourself in certain areas. However, you deserve the opportunities that come from a college education just as much as anyone else, if not more.
In addition, accommodations are important because having students with disabilities among the student body makes the whole college experience richer for EVERYONE. It increases the diversity of the student body, which anyone would agree is a beneficial thing. A diverse student body helps people to make friends, build bridges, and cultivate better understanding of the world around them, including people with disabilities and the challenges they face.
Accommodations are also important because colleges and universities are required to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other applicable laws. These laws were written to prohibit discrimination, help remove barriers, and help give people with disabilities the same opportunities as everyone else.
Therefore, accommodations aren’t a nicety — accommodations are your civil right. Since universities and community colleges are committed to offering accommodations to those who need them, why shouldn’t you take advantage of the accommodations you qualify for?
Common issues that may qualify for accommodations
A disability is something that affects or limits your ability to participate in course activities or meet course requirements. Accommodations for that disability will vary depending on the disability. Disabilities can fall under many different categories.
Here’s a list of common “disabilities” or conditions that may qualify a person for accommodations. Just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean you should not seek accommodations. This is not an exhaustive list, but it can get you thinking about what kinds of conditions might necessitate accommodations.
- Developmental disabilities
- Dyslexia (disability affecting reading)
- Dyscalculia (disability affecting math)
- Dysgraphia (disability affecting writing)
- Auditory processing disorder
- Language processing disorder
- Nonverbal learning disorders
- Visual perception disorders
- Physical conditions
- Hearing impairment
- Visual impairment
- Speech or language impairment
- Orthopedic impairment
- Mobility disabilities
- Cerebral palsy
- Medical conditions
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Bell’s Palsy
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Sleep disorders
- Mental health conditions
- Difficulty with sustained concentration
- Emotional Disturbance
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders
Some disabilities are visible to others and some are not. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even protects people who used to have a disorder such as cancer, or who are even just regarded by others as having a disability. In addition, the ADA applies regardless of whether you can mitigate your disability using medication, devices such as glasses or hearing aids, assistive technology, or other measures.
You might not even realize that you have a disability that qualifies you for accommodations. For example, perhaps you were misdiagnosed as not having a learning disability. Or maybe you are someone who survived childhood cancer only to be suffering the after-effects of chemo and radiation. Or maybe you are aware that you are struggling, and you can’t explain why. Regardless of the cause, if you are struggling, there may be more help available than you realize.
Having a disability may mean that you have to work harder, but it doesn’t have to stop you from reaching your goals.
Examples of Accommodations that Help Level the Playing Field
Accommodations exist to help level the playing field during college. Here are some examples of accommodations that community colleges and universities may offer. This is not an exhaustive list, so there may be additional kinds of accommodation that you can receive depending on the ways that your disability creates barriers or impairments.
- Early registration to allow for optimum class selection
- Course substitutions
- In-class assistance
- Time extensions on assignments
- Extended time on exams
- Relocating exams in a less distracting environment
- Use of laptops for tests and exams
- Use of calculators for tests and exams
- Access to braille or alternate format textbooks
- Access to text-to-speech programs
- Use of assistive technology such as magnifiers, real-time captioning, or Braille embossers
- Use of Audio/video recordings
- Use of note takers
- Mentoring programs
- Student support groups
- Use of a service animal on campus
- Use of assistants or personal attendants
How to request and receive accommodations
Basically, to access the accommodation you need, you typically need to ask. Accommodations may not be offered to you, especially if you have a disability that is less visible. Generally, you do need to advocate for yourself to get the accommodations you need.
Here are several practical steps that you can take to get accommodations:
- You may need your disability to be documented to qualify for all the accommodations you need. If you can, get your disability documented if you haven’t done so already. You can typically find out the documentation requirements through your school’s Disability Services Program.
- Check the accommodations policy at your community college or university. This is generally something you can find on the website if you search for a term like “accommodations policy.” Student affairs should also be able to help you with this.
- If you are a C2C participant, be sure to ask your C2C Coach about accommodations that might be available at your campus. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your medical or learning disability with them, you can always ask them to direct you to information about accommodations.
- Check with your professor. Professors are human beings, and they might have additional concessions or creative alternatives for you that you won’t know about unless you ask. Think about it — if you broke your leg during a semester, you’d be able to talk to the professor to make a plan for keeping up with the class. The same thing applies for your disability. Let your professors know what challenges you’re up against and involve them in helping you to succeed.
- Report an accessibility barrier if you run into one at college. Be vocal if necessary. It’s only right for unreasonable barriers to be removed by those who have the power to do so. You should start by reporting it to someone you feel comfortable approaching at your college such as a professor, advisor, or your C2C Coach. If you don’t feel heard and helped, bring the issues to department directors. Finally, if the issue is not resolved, you can report ADA violations to the Department of Justice using this website. (https://www.ada.gov/file-a-complaint/)
Don’t let these obstacles stop you from asking for accommodations
Certain obstacles might hinder you from asking for accommodations in the first place. Even if you want accommodations, you might not ask for them because of these real-life factors. Here are a few of these obstacles and how you can overcome them.
1. You’re not aware of all the accommodations that exist
You can’t expect to know everything. Just because you weren’t aware of an accommodation doesn’t mean that it doesn’t or couldn’t exist. The list above is only a starting point. The best way to find out is to directly ask questions like these:
- What accommodations are available for my disability?
- Are there any other accommodations I could be taking advantage of?
- My disability makes __ a significant barrier for me. What can be done to help me overcome that?
- It affects me negatively when __ happens. What ideas do you have to reduce the impact on me from this?
Different professors and different programs may offer different levels of support, and you never know what you might find out if you ask.
For C2C participants, your coach is the first person to ask. They are experts in connecting adults with resources to help them successfully finish their degrees!
2. You feel shy or unworthy to request accommodations
Recognize when you are feeling this resistance and don’t feel ashamed of advocating for yourself. It’s your path to achieving a better life for yourself!
3. You’re feeling ambitious and you don’t like feeling like you need help.
Check in with yourself to see if you’re being too hard on yourself and setting yourself up for failure. Remember that your college degree is a means to a greater end. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you receive legitimate accommodations to help you get there. The important thing is that you get the degree and enter the new path of life that it opens up for you.
4. It’s exhausting to jump through all the hoops to get accommodations
Let’s face it — there’s a real burden on students to collect documentation and file the necessary requests for accommodations. If this feels daunting to you, what can you do to make it easier for you to get accommodations? For instance — if you tend to feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by all the legwork required, can you ask someone else to help you? Consider asking a family member, friend, or mentor. Your C2C Coach can also be a great person to ask… if they are not able to assist personally they can connect you with other helpers.
You don’t have to do this all by yourself. Enlist support to help you jump through the hoops that will land you the accommodation you need.
Also, remember that going through the challenges of accessing accommodations should make it easier for you to succeed at college!
No matter what barriers you may be facing, C2C exists to help adults return to college and finish their degrees. If you are a prior student who may have left due to a learning challenge, maybe C2C could help you return.
If you dream of succeeding at college but face some of these challenges, better accommodations might be the path for you. We’d be happy to help you take the next step. Complete the simple C2C registration to connect with a C2C Coach who can help you navigate the challenges YOU are facing as you return to college.