50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities

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Find the Best Colleges and Universities for Students with Disabilities

The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was a landmark achievement for everyone from those suffering from discrimination in the workplace due to mental or physical disabilities to those struggling with equal access within the realm of higher education at the time. As a result of the law, many college campuses began to rethink their facilities, programs and curriculums in an effort to begin the slow process of better accommodating students with learning disabilities and special needs. Today, most mainstream students may notice indicators of these accommodations being prevalent on their college campus with the addition of powered accessible doors, wheelchair ramps and elevators in all multi-floor buildings, however a recent survey concluded that even though 86% of universities enroll and educate students with disabilities, only 24% of the schools polled say they offer those students assistance “to a major extent”.

While they may still be in the minority nationwide, the schools listed below have shown a consistent value and priority for meeting the physical, social and academic needs of students with learning disabilities and special needs. The majority of these campuses offer special needs-focused centers that are professionally staffed and open every weekday. The services usually consist of programs that encourage accessibility, advocacy and opportunity for the academic success of all students needing assistance. Many services provided by these schools are done so free of charge and are offered through the generous work of volunteers.   

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Our Methodology For This Ranking

The following ranking highlights universities that have strong programming and solid support services for students with needs including, but not limited to, learning disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), visual and hearing impairment and those with physical needs that require special access, accommodations, service animals and/or alternative transportation. These exceptional schools are some of the best in the country at committing resources and funding to equipping their students with tools they need to not only become a successful student in the classroom but also a valuable member of the student body as a whole on the campus and in the community. The schools that made our list far exceeded the minimum legal requirements for accessibility and were also evaluated and ranked based on characteristics like academic reputation, student satisfaction, affordability, and average financial aid awarded.

  1. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

    Ann Arbor, MI



    Home to the Wolverines, the University of Michigan is located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, just 40 miles west of Detroit. The school was founded in 1817 under the original name of “Catholepistemiad” and located in Detroit until moving to Ann Arbor in 1837. The current President’s residence is one of the original buildings on the Michigan campus. Today the student body consists of 43,000 students with a lower student to instructor ratio of 12 to 1. Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Michigan alumni include the inventor of the iPod, co-founder of Google and the first American to walk in space.

    Service to the disabled student body came into focus at Michigan just five months after the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when the university officially recognized the Office of Disabled Student Services. The office was renamed Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) in 1989 and since then the organization has advocated for students with disabilities at state, national and even international levels. The SSD was the first to establish “an adaptive technology computing lab and together with the Provost’s office a fund to support mandated accommodations”. These trailblazing efforts have since been repeated by many major universities nationwide. The SSD, whose services are free to students, features Modern Language Aptitude Testing throughout the year and maintains the well-resourced HathiTrust Digital Library.

  2. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA



    42,000 students are currently enrolled at the University of Southern California located in sunny, Los Angeles, California. It is a far cry from 1880 when the school of just 35 students and 10 teachers was established before LA would have paved roads, electric lighting or even the telephone in place. Today USC’s full-time faculty makes it the single largest private employer in the City of Los Angeles. The school’s connection to the motion picture industry is well-known as over over 234 hours of motion picture film is produced annually by students of the School of Cinematic Arts. Popular USC alumni include directors Ron Howard and Robert Zemeckis. The University of Southern California is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

    Housed within the Division of Student Affairs, USC offers the Disability Services and Programs (DSP) which “provides support services necessary to enable students with disabilities to develop their maximum academic potential while having the dignity to work independently”. Autonomy is a top priority for the DSP which encourages students who seek their services to focus on self-advocacy within the mainstream of the school’s academic and social culture. “While we provide personal and administrative support, our philosophy encourages students to take responsibility for their academic and co-curricular activities.” The free services provided by DSP include tutoring, note taking, special accommodations for testing, assistive technology and a stress on meeting the unique needs of students based on their specific disabilities.

  3. Northeastern University

    Boston, MA



    Northeastern University’s reputation for high academic standards is clear from the onset as 70% of incoming freshmen are in the top ten of their high school’s graduating class. The 19,000 enrolled students at NU, 65% of which are female and 35% of which are male, enjoy a 90% success rate in job placement or grad school acceptance just 9 months after receiving their undergraduate degree. As for diversity, Northeastern, located in Boston, Massachusetts, has seen a 48% increase in students of color since 2006. The university was established in 1898 and is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

    Northeastern’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) is open every weekday and offers an array of services to disabled students free of charge once the register with the office. The Center hosts a sizable group of volunteer students who take notes for DRC supported students. 5 sessions of transitional tutoring are also included that guide DRC students from getting a general overview of the program, becoming a successful self-advocate, resources available on campus, getting the most from the DRC and an overview of the many technological opportunities on the Northeastern campus.

  4. Xavier University

    Cincinnati, OH



    Accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Xavier University is a Jesuit institution that stresses knowledge and social justice as part of its mission statement to education. Even though Xavier is rooted in the Catholic faith, its 6,500 students are exposed to over 15 religious groups represented on campus. Located in Cincinnati, the city named by Forbes as the 5th most affordable city in America, Xavier students enjoy the perks of a car-friendly campus, HBO On Demand and free tickets to its sports events for freshmen. As for networking, 560 companies are active in Xavier’s Mentoring Program, the school holds 5 career fairs each year and there are 200 local and national service organizations on campus.

    Xavier offers two free programs that work in tandem to both accommodate students with disabilities and support them to better facilitate learning. The first is Disability Services (DS) which “works in partnership with the student and collaborates with faculty to ensure the provision of reasonable and appropriate accommodations.” Services include exam accommodations, alternative formats of textbooks and class resources, access and assistance with class notes, academic coaching, housing and assistance animal accommodations. ClockWork is another free service provided which allows access to “scheduling and database software Disability Services uses for managing accommodations”. Along with DS The Learning Assistance Center is where students can receive tutoring, take tests in a less-distracting environment and utilize assistive technology

  5. The University of Texas at Austin

    Austin, TX



    U.S. News & World Report hails the University of Texas, located in Texas’ state capitol Austin, as one of the top 20 public universities in the country; while the Latin American history, accounting and petroleum engineering programs lead the nation in their respective areas. 51,000 students are enrolled at UT which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Popular and famous personalities among the vast total number of 484,000 alumni include actors Matthew McConaughey and Marcia Gay Harden, director Robert Rodriguez, businessmen Michael Dell and Rex Tillerson and journalist Walter Cronkite.

    Within their Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the University of Texas maintains the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) offices in the student services building on campus. The SSD holds events throughout the year and promotes such resources as easy access to reporting a Bias Incident directly to the Campus Climate Response Team. Services include assistance programs with alternative text, adaptive testing, assistive technology information course load reduction and sign language interpreters. Each semester the SSD publishes a newsletter containing “important office and staff updates, changes to policies and procedures, a calendar of events, academic dates and deadlines, and other news of interest to students”.

  6. College of Charleston

    Charleston, SC



    Founded six years before America would declare its independence from England in 1776, The College of Charleston, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, is currently the oldest university south of Virginia and the 13th oldest in all of the Unites States. Today the school’s enrollment of 11,000, 3,000 of which live on campus, come from 49 states and 62 countries worldwide. Steeped in tradition, graduates of the College of Charleston forgo the usual cap and gown attire worn at most college commencements and instead don white dinner jackets for men and white dresses for women in the spring ceremony and black tuxedos and black dresses during the December commencement.

    Accessibility is of the utmost importance to the Center for Disability Services at the College of Charleston. The Center’s staff and volunteers work to ensure an environment of “reasonable and effective accommodations while promoting independence in the student”. One program unique to the Center is SNAP (Students Needing Access Parity). SNAP provides support and guidance to those students with documented disabilities like bridging communication with instructors in order to raise awareness of disabled students’ learning differences and course alternatives to math/logic and foreign language requirements for certain mainstream degree programs. The College of Charleston currently has 900 students enrolled in the SNAP program.

  7. University of Connecticut

    Storrs, CT



    Located in Storrs, Connecticut and accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Connecticut is comprised of 14 schools offering 108 majors and was listed in 2016’s U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s top 25 universities in the nation. The school was first established in 1880 as Storrs Agricultural School when brothers Charles and Augustus Storrs donated 170 acres, a former orphanage and $6,000 to the state. Today’s enrollment is 26,000 and the alumni network is made up of over 242,000 former students, over half of which still reside in Connecticut.

    Originally named the Program for the Physically Handicapped in 1967, the Center for Students with Disabilities (CSD) gained momentum on UC’s campus in 1977 as a result of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 when the campus began to make accessibility for all students a top priority. The school’s work in establishing modified sidewalks, ramps and elevators in less-accessible areas of campus resulted in the University of Connecticut’s being named one of the top ten most disabled-friendly colleges in 1999 by New Mobility Magazine. The CSD touts a large staff that includes over 200 student employees while the campus currently provides 11 accessible residence halls to its over 700 students with disabilities. CSD services include academic advising, access to personal assistants (paid by students) and technology assistance through a program called CSDTech.

  8. Marist College

    Poughkeepsie, NY



    For high school students interested in getting a jump on their college career, Marist College of Poughkeepsie, New York offers a summer program called “Pre-College” where students can earn college credit through one of its 13 academic programs before receiving their high school diploma. Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Marist was established in 1929 and is located on the Hudson River between Albany and New York City. The student body of 6,300 students can choose from 46 undergraduate programs and 13 master’s programs.

    Education Insider News Blog recently named Marist College as the 3rd best campus for students with learning disabilities. The school’s Learning Disability Support Program (LDSP) was established almost 30 years ago in an effort to emphasis students’ unique learning styles and help with the changing climate of assistive technologies in higher education. In their own words, the LDSP exists to “provide individualized support to students with disabilities to ensure access to a complete education, to promote full independence in the academic environment and the greater society, and to increase awareness and sensitivity of the campus and community of the need of individuals with disabilities”.

  9. Messiah College

    Mechanicsburg, PA



    The small, 4-year private Messiah College has a student body of 3,200 and a student to instructor ratio of 13 to 1. Despite its size, Messiah’s athletic program boasts “23 NCAA DIII National Championships since 2000” and the school offers 80+ programs of study. Located just outside the state capital city of Harrisburg in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, MC received its charter in 1909. It was originally founded as the Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home by the Brethren in Christ Church and today is ranked as the 5th Best Regional College in the Northeast by U.S. News and World Report.

    The Office of Disability Services at Messiah College currently supports and accommodates nearly 200 students with physical, psychological and learning disabilities. As they state, “Messiah College is committed, not only to the legal requirements of the ADA, but to the moral and ethical responsibility to treat all members of the community with fairness.” One interesting feature of the services offered at Messiah is the creation of an Accommodation Profile (AP) that is negotiated between the Director of Disability Services and the student seeking aid. Common assistance given as a result of the AP may include extended time on exams, proctored exams, note-taking assistance and alternative text forms. These primary services are free while more specialized assistance is available at the expense of the student.

  10. University of the Ozarks

    Clarksville, AR



    In 1834 a group of Cumberland Presbyterians assembled to establish the Cane Hill School in Cane Hill, Arkansas. Over a hundred years later, the school would be renamed the University of the Ozarks in 1987. Today the school is planted on 30 acres in Clarksville, AR and is an exclusively undergraduate, private school accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools with a total enrollment of 587 students. Despite its low numbers, UO is still able to offer over 60 majors, minors and pre-professional programs. A trailblazing milestone achievement of University of the Ozarks includes its being the first college in Arkansas to admit women in 1875.

    University of the Ozarks offers the Jones Learning Center as a program designed for students with learning disabilities, AD/HD, and ASD. This comprehensive fee-based program “provides students with learning disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with the skill sets to succeed academically and build brighter futures. The JLC offers more services than any other collegiate program for students with learning disabilities in the nation.” The JLC works to empower students by focusing on essential areas of academic and social success which providing access to academic support staff, peer tutors and notetakers, specific skill specialists, technology assistance and ASD support. The program enjoys a 100% referral rate from UO graduates for students with similar backgrounds.

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