The Ultimate Guide
Eleven percent of college undergraduates report living with a disability, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Schools around the country—public research universities and small private liberal arts colleges alike—have noted the numbers and made substantial strides towards creating accessible, welcoming, and inclusive campuses. We’ve listed fifty of those schools below, and in addition to providing this definitive ranking of the best disability friendly colleges and universities in the country, we at College Choice have included everything else students and parents need to know about succeeding with disabilities in higher education. Scholarships, advice on choosing schools, laws and rights, distance learning—we’ve got it all covered. We at College Choice have attempted to consider every angle in presenting this resource
Disabilities Covered in this Resource
The lecture hall is an iconic image of college life, but for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, lectures present a huge challenge. However, many college and universities offer a number of aides, including note takers, speech-to-text tools, AT listening devices, captioned audiovisual tools, and sign language interpreters.
Braille is just one of the many tools provided by colleges and universities. Transcribed note-taking devices, speech-outputting computers, 3D models, CCTV magnification systems, enlarged calculators, and magnifiers are among just some of the tools that should be made available to students.
A wide range of conditions is included under the scope of chronic illness disabilities, from multiple sclerosis and hemophilia to cystic fibrosis and diabetes. Chronic illness presents innumerable hurdles for young students, and requires a school to offer an array of specialized accommodations, including a substantial student health care plan.
ADA standards require that colleges and universities create wheelchair-friendly campuses with accessible buildings, classrooms, and residence halls. Those schools that go above and beyond ADA standards do so by offering free transportation to classes, note-takers, specially designed keyboards, allowing oral over written exams, and more.
Cognitive or Intellectual Disability
Cognitive or Intellectual Disabilities are defined by the ADA and AAIDD (the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities) as those impairments in intellectual and behavioral functioning that radically affect one’s social experience. Despite the inherent challenges, nearly 58 percent of students with intellectual disabilities go on to attend college or university.
Definitions vary, but the term “learning disability” tends to include conditions that inhibit students from academic achievement because of difficulties with attention, time management, organization, reading, and memory function. These students, though struggling with ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia, are often highly intelligent.
Mental, Psychological, or Emotional Disability
Bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and panic disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD, and OCD among others, can hugely impact a student’s ability to perform academically. Any of these can be qualified as a disability under ADA if it’s chronic and substantially limiting major life activities.
Your Rights: Transitioning from High School to College
Transitioning from high school to college is not easy for anyone, but it is especially complicated for those with disabilities. Not only are students with disabilities required to do more research, about the kind of support they’ll receive once at college, but the differences between high school and college manifest in numerable and significant ways for students with disabilities.
For example, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), in high school the student is entitled to services and accommodations; whereas, in college that same student must meet criteria to be eligible for services, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This is not to say there is less chance of support for the student with disabilities, only that it entails a difference of initiative and perspective. We’ve explained more about that below.
Part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability. This civil rights statute requires that the needs of students with disabilities are to be accommodated as much as those non-disabled students.
A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) extends to all areas of public life, including school, transportation, public spaces, jobs, and more.
ADA’s Criteria for Disability
- You have a documented physical or mental impairment that substantially limits activities.
- You have a record of such an impairment.
- You are perceived as having such an impairment.
ADA and Section 504: What They Do (Or Should Do) For You
- A school may not discriminate on the basis of disability.
- All programs offered by the school, including extra-curriculars, must be accessible to students with disabilities.
- The school must provide accessible housing at the same cost and offer the same variety of choice that is available to other students.
- The school must provide transportation when relevant as well as auxiliary aids and services such as interpreters, listening systems, captioning, Braille materials, and much more.
- The school must offer testing accommodations when relevant.
- You do not have to disclose your disability if you do not require any accommodations.
Choosing the Right College or University
Though we’ve provided a definitive list of the 50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities, you’ll still need to utilize some tools of your own when doing your research. Below are questions to ask, contexts to consider, and what specifically to look for.
Questions to Ask
When researching colleges and universities there are crucial questions to ask yourself and, especially, an admissions counselor or a Disability Resource Center representative. Below are some examples of what to ask and where to begin.
- What are the percentages and ranges of disabilities on the campus?
- Does the campus provide a specific space that serves students with disabilities?
- Which papers and documents do you need to show as record of your disability? Inquire about how current those papers should be.
- How many accessible dorm rooms are available?
- Are all the buildings and classrooms accessible?
- Are there support groups and student-led clubs for students with disabilities?
- What should you do to apply for accommodations ahead of time? And which accommodations are commonly offered?
- Who should you notify of your disability and who will already be notified?
- What is the relationship between faculty and the student with a disability?
- What kind of tutoring is offered? Similarly, what kind of adaptive software will you have access to?
A college campus is made up of many contexts, from social to academic, so it’s important to visualize yourself in each, asking the above questions but also considering the varying elements that define the context.
- In the classroom: lectures, labs, desk set-ups.
- Outside the classroom: mobility around campus, transportation, navigation.
- Residence hall: roommates, climate control, food sensitivities.
- Extra-curriculars: clubs, athletics, student groups, support groups.
- Campus communication: using phones, email, computers.
- Homework: reading, computer use, library access.
Adaptive and Assistive Technology
For obvious reasons, it is important that a college or university make adaptive and assistive technology (AT) available and accessible, but there are still many details to consider before determining whether your needs will be wholly met.
For example, AT tools should be available twenty-four hours a day and on weekends. Training for those tools, as well as manuals or online tutorials are also important. Look into how many AT labs and how much equipment a school offers, and how often that equipment is maintained and updated. If you don’t see the specific AT tool you need, inquire whether the school will order and pay for what you require. More questions to ask yourself and an admissions counselor:
If you don’t see the specific AT tool you need, inquire whether the school will order and pay for what you require. More questions to ask yourself and an admissions counselor:
- What kind of AT equipment is available to you?
- Will the Disability Resource Center make the AT arrangements on your behalf?
- Who should faculty members talk to about utilizing AT in the classroom?
- Do you need to sign up to use AT equipment? If so, how far in advance?
- Will you be able to utilize AT devices during exams?
- Is there AT equipment in the library? How about in classrooms and computer labs?
- Will the college make texts available in various formats, including electronic, audio, or large print?
- Is the college’s web platform (including course registration software, library catalogs, class discussion boards, etc.) compatible with screen-reading software?
Be sure to reach out to the college and university’s Disability Resource Centers to ask about AT and the school’s implementation of it. The questions provided here are merely suggestive; everyone has different needs and requirements. Think about what you’ll need to have a nourishing academic experience and ask for it.
50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities
Methodology and Criteria
From non-discrimination policies to the accessibility of dorms and lecture halls, there’s a breadth of considerations—social, economic, academic—to collate and compare when choosing a school. Such consolidation demands innumerable hours of research, the results being of crucial importance to your college experience and happiness.
Which is why we’ve done that work for you, compiling below the best schools for disability identified peoples, taking into account a combination of crucial features: academic rankings; student performance, satisfaction, and retention rates; the amount of disability resources, including clubs, organizations, and majors; the level of inclusion and acceptance a student with disabilities can anticipate; and more.
The scores below reflect the collective ranking of each of these factors.
Read the full ranking of the 50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities
The Disability Resource Center
Also known as Disability Student Services, the Learning Center, or the Center for Students with Disabilities, among others, a college or university’s Disability Resource Center has dual purposes: to serve the student with a disability and to make the campus a more affirming and accessible environment for that student.
Of course, this entails the provision of accommodations, from testing to assistive technology, but a good resource center will also create opportunities for the student to connect with other students. And the best resource centers will ensure against isolation and instead infuse themselves with a campus’ academic and social life.
We’ve explained below what to look for and how to discern if a school’s resource center will best serve you.
Resources and Accommodations
For those with either physical or cognitive disabilities, the campus resource center should provide the necessary forms and documents necessary for requesting assistance and accommodations.
These forms cover requests for housing, testing and exam accommodations, alternate text, use of specific assistive technology (more on that below), interpreters, classroom adjustments, and more. Additionally, the resource center should provide resources on local and state services.
Older, experienced students with disabilities who have proven their commitment to and involvement in the Disability Resource Center community often chose to become mentors to new or transfer students.
If your school provides this program (and they should), we encourage you to become a mentee, as it gives you the opportunity to connect with someone who can offer advice, resources, and support.
Campus-Wide Education and Training
Some Disability Resource Centers make education and training available to staff, faculty, and administration, reflecting not just a commitment to disability awareness, but emphasizing the importance of making such education accessible.
Often, students can participate in the trainings, connecting with other students and faculty alike. Examples of such trainings, taken from actual Disability Resource Centers, include:
- An introduction to the Disability Resource Center
- Explorations on the Social Justice Model of Disability
- Invisible Disabilities
- A Demonstration of Adaptive/Assistive Technology
- Effective Strategies for Communication and Interaction
- Incorporating Disabled Perspectives into Curriculum and Instruction
Organizational and Extra-Curricular Support
Not all colleges and universities, and their respective Disability Resource Centers, have groups and organizations specific to students with disabilities, but many do. Look for those, and look for groups that are relevant to your experience and needs.
Social groups are the nucleus of a vibrant community. A particularly active and high-functioning center will accommodate groups and organizations that align with various identities and needs.
The examples below reflect a sampling of student groups one can find through a university Disability Resource Center, and are, in fact, pulled from our list of Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities:
- Autism Spectrum Self-Advocacy Group
- Mobility International USA
- Advocates for Disability Awareness
- National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Intercollegiate Leagues
- Project Eye to Eye
- Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society
- AccessABILITY Student Union
- Black, Disabled, and Proud
Counselors and Tutors
While some Disability Resource Centers are run by students, we encourage finding a center that combines the efforts of students and (paid) staff.
Schools that prioritize all aspects of their students’ health—physical, emotional, mental—and prove that by staffing experienced counselors and tutors are schools creating higher success rates for their students. Look for a college that offers personal counseling, psychological and cognitive testing, academic advisors, vocational counseling, and note takers among others.
Such experienced counselors can help facilitate the transition to college life, as well as provide the support needed to perform well academically. Counselors can also help you manage an array of potential issues: stress, self-esteem, coping, anxiety, and balancing school with family and work life.
We’ve provided below a thorough list of scholarships that are available to students with disabilities, but internships can provide another option for affording school. Plus, they look great on a resume!
Generally, there are two kinds of internships: those directly affiliated with the school and those that will connect you with a local (and sometimes even national) organization. Your Disability Resource Center can, and should, facilitate this connection.
Tip: Some internships do not pay, but that does not mean they are not worthwhile. Many offer a range of other incentives, such as college cred, and the experience alone will serve you well.
Many liberal arts colleges and research universities have an interdisciplinary department that includes the possibility of majoring or minoring in disability studies or rehabilitative services, a field that has substantial scholarly interest, graduate options, and career opportunities.
For those students wishing to concentrate in disability studies, our list of the 50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities is a good place to start.
However, there are many other programs worth noting in addition to those, so we’ve listed below the colleges and universities where you can earn either a bachelor of arts in disability studies or combine a disability studies minor with another area of study.
We have only chosen those programs that are theory based, meaning you won’t find special education or other applied programs. Finally, are you wondering how a disability studies degree will serve you and what kind of career it’ll afford you?
We’ve provided some suggestions and resources below the school listing.
- City University of New York / Bachelor of Arts in Disability Studies (online)
- Cornel University / major in Disability Studies through their Institute on Employment and Disability
- Eastern Washington University / Disability Studies Certificate
- Miami University / minor in Disability Studies
- Ohio State University / minor in Disability Studies
- Pacific University / minor in Disability Studies
- Shippensburg University / minor in Disability Studies
- University of California at Berkeley / minor in Disability Studies
- University of California at Los Angeles / minor in Disability Studies
- University of Georgia, Athens / Disability Studies Certificate
- University of Iowa / Disability Studies Certificate
- University of Maine / Bachelors in Interdisciplinary Disabilities Studies
- University of Memphis / Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS) with a concentration inDisability Studies and Rehabilitation Services
- University of Texas at Arlington / Interdisciplinary Minor in Disability Studies
- University of Toledo / Bachelor in Disability Studies
- University of Washington / offers both a minor in Disability Studies and an Individualized Studies Major in Disability Studies
- University of Wyoming / minor in Disability Studies
After Graduation: Careers for Disability Studies Students
Disability studies—whether a minor, major, or degree certificate—may not situate you on an explicit and predictable career track. Rather than see this nebulosity as problematic and a potential hindrance to finding a job, students of disability studies should feel confident that their studies have prepared them for a range of career options, and that this scope will set them apart.
Education, health, and public policy systems alike actively seek prospective employees with experience and expertise in diversity. In business, media, and philanthropic fields, the need for perspectives that embrace disability is of exponential importance.
There are also numerous graduate programs where you could build off your undergraduate studies, that is, if you are interested in pursuing more school. Wherever you decide to apply your academic experience, it’s of crucial importance to know your workplace rights as a person with disability:
A federal agency, the EEOC enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, including cases dealing with disability.
A service provided by the US Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, JAN enables the employment of workers with disabilities. They partner and collaborate with a number of organizations, including the US Business Leadership Network, Assistive Technology Industry Association, EEOC, the American Association of People with Disabilities, and more.
Workplace Fairness is a public education and advocacy organization with a vision to create a global workplace marked by fair treatment of workers. They have aggregated one of the most comprehensive collections of information on workplace rights, to which they provide free access.
Working to promote disability inclusion in the workplace, ILO Global Business and Disability Network is a global network of companies, national organizations, businesses, and disability groups. They publish a range of resources on workplace inclusivity and best business practices.
Online and Distance Learning
ADA and Section 504 do not specify and enforce explicit requirements on the distance and online learning programs offered by colleges and universities. However, by nature of those laws, students with disabilities should have the same access to online and distance learning as non-disabled students.
If you are considering acquiring a degree through distance education, we at College Choice encourage you to put forth the same measure of research you’d put into traditional programs. Talk to admissions counselors and find out what kind of accommodations will be made for you.
Below are more considerations and questions you may want to work through during the research and application process.
Why Distance Learning?
- Self pacing: Many online or distance programs give students the opportunity to advance through the material at their own pace. This flexibility allows students to slow down and allocate their time and energy where they see the most need. And vice-versa, students can work quickly through material about which they are confident.
- Affordability: Not only do you save on commute costs, housing, and board, but many online programs cost a fraction of the traditional program’s tuition.
- Environment: You know when and where you work best. Create your own class hours and classrooms.
- Stability: Distance education allows you to maintain the stability and support you receive from your schedules, habits, home life, job, and relationships.
- Individualized instruction: Your teachers—many of whom are full-time faculty on traditional campuses—connect with you by phone, email, or chat, making the academic experience highly individualized.
- Geography: Perhaps the schools closest to you don’t offer what you need, either academically or in terms of student support. With distance learning you can earn a degree from a college or university located anywhere in the country without having to relocate yourself. This often saves you out-of-state tuition and extends your options past your geographical area.
What to Look for as a Student
- Accreditation: Schools are required to list their accreditation on their websites. Ensure the school is accredited, but also that it’s accredited by a recognized and respected organization. Regionally accredited colleges and universities are usually non-profit or state-owned and are academically oriented. Nationally accredited schools are vocationally oriented, marked by their career and technical programs.
- Transferable credits and curriculum: Will you be able to transfer any of your distance-learning earned credits to another institution? If not, this tends to reflect a lack of academic recognition.
- Support services: Online learners require as much, and sometimes more, support than traditional students. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are there academic advisors?
- Is there a way to connect with others, both when you are actively a student and after graduation?
- Is there a career center?
- Is there an online library and/or bookstore?
- Admission requirements: A credible and quality online program will maintain the high admission standards as a traditional, on-campus program.
What to Look for as a Student with a Disability
Does the school provide the same AT tools to their online students as their traditional students?
Is the college’s web platform—including lecture material, assignment sections, library catalogs, captioning, keyboard and mouse alternatives, discussion boards, etc.—compatible with screen-reading software?
Will students be allowed to opt out of teleconferences, chats, and real-time discussions and presentations if their disability inhibits effective participation?
Can students still find connection to a student body, and especially to a community of other students with disabilities?
Applying and Preparing
Applying to college is one of the most important things you’ll do in your young adult life, and for that reason it can be a difficult and overwhelming process for any student. Applying to college as a student with a disability comes with added challenges. So, take each step slowly, thoughtfully working toward those goals and deadlines. Collaborate with counselors, parents, and educators to ensure all deadlines and requirements are met and met in full. Below are some considerations, tips, and advice for the application process.
So, take each step slowly, thoughtfully working toward those goals and deadlines. Collaborate with counselors, parents, and educators to ensure all deadlines and requirements are met and met in full. Below are some considerations, tips, and advice for the application process.
How to Start: Create a List of Prospective Schools
We at College Choice created this resource to guide you through all the nuances of being a student with a disability, aware that it all starts with finding the right school and surviving the application season. So start by creating a list of eight to ten prospective colleges and universities. Do your own research on
So start by creating a list of eight to ten prospective colleges and universities. Do your own research on schools, and a lot of it. Use our 50 Best Disability Friendly Colleges and Universities list to get started. But also think about a school’s location, affordability, and emphases—that is, does the school prioritize athletics and
But also think about a school’s location, affordability, and emphases—that is, does the school prioritize athletics and extra-curriculars, and do they excel in certain academic disciplines—as well as what they offer their students with disabilities (those considerations we’ve noted above in our “Choosing the Right College or University” section).
When: Start your research early, during either your sophomore or junior year. When you start your senior year of high school finalize your list of schools and make a calendar that includes the application and material deadlines of each school.
If it’s possible to visit the colleges and universities on your list, make it happen. You’ll want the opportunity to attend classes, meet with students and professors, and get a feel for the campus.
Additionally, schedule a time to visit with the Disability Resource Center, and meet with a counselor to ask about accommodations, accessibility, and services provided. The size of and services offered through the DRC will reveal how a school cares for their students with disabilities.
When: Reach out to college and university admission offices during your junior year. Visit in the spring of your junior year and again in the fall of your senior year, if possible.
Applying: The Question of Disclosure
It is within your right whether or not you disclose your disability on college applications. Likewise, you are not required to discuss any medical, psychological, or personal circumstances with admissions counselors.
However, it could be of benefit to you, your application, and an admissions office to disclose the disability if it has played a role in the reliability of your GPA, test scores, or extra-curricular activity. During the process of applying to college many students and families struggle with the disclosure issue, so here are some things to consider and to prepare, if you choose to disclose:
- Disclosure can actually reflect self-advocacy, determination, and awareness of the disability’s effects and nuances.
- Colleges and universities seek diversity and most consider disability a form of diversity.
- If your disability affects your academic history—for example, if your learning disability has resulted in consistently low grades and test scores—know that most admission offices will recognize this and recast those grades and test scores in a new light.
- Under “additional information” or in your personal statements, specify the disability, its effects on your daily life, and its effects on your academic life.
- Don’t just disclose. Explain how you’ve persevered despite the disability, how you’ve compensated for its adverse effects—noting specifically what you’ve done on your own, tutoring, and/or medication you take—and what you’ve learned from your experiences.
- Create a portfolio that includes recent assessments of the disability (if possible), thorough records of accommodations made on behalf of your high school, and letters of recommendation from counselors, doctors, or disability specialists.
- And, finally, if you don’t feel comfortable disclosing then listen to your intuition.
Tip: Hundreds of colleges and universities are “test optional,” meaning students can chose not to release their test scores. FairTest provides list of those schools.
All of the following will happen in the fall of your senior year of high school. Talk to counselors, parents, and teachers about applications and to together construct a plan for the process of applying.
Register for and complete the necessary application tests, including SAT, SAT subject, and/or ACT. It is possible to request accommodations—individual administration of the test, audio or large print test editions, extended time, special answer sheets, etc.—for these tests.
Write your application essays, making sure to have a guidance counselor, teacher, or parent proofread your final drafts. If you need assistance, reach out to your high school’s learning facilitator or to a local learning center.
Seek out letters of recommendations from teachers and counselors who can speak to your academic performance as well as your holistic approach to education. If you feel comfortable, ask them to explicitly comment on the challenges of your disability and how you’ve faced them.
Send in the finished applications, letters, test scores, and transcripts by the stated deadlines.
Start researching your financial aid options. More on that below.
College is expensive, but with some creativity and resilience, you can find a way to afford it (without relying too much on loans). Below we explain the options specific to students with disabilities.
Grants: Need-based awards given to students based on criteria (such as disability and/or family income), grants are usually provided by federal and state governments. The Federal Pell Grant is one of the most known in the country, given to students with financial need. For students with disabilities there is also the US Department of Education’s TRIO Program, which partners with a number of schools in the country, providing grants for students with severe disabilities.
Scholarships: Different from grants in that they are given based on certain qualities or achievements, scholarships are awarded by a variety of organizations, including the college itself. See our scholarship section for a full list of awards given specifically to students with disabilities.
- Waivers: Not all but some schools offer a tuition waiver or a discount for students with disabilities. The award criteria depends on the school but many require that the student have a severe and permanent disability. For example, Texas residents who are legally blind or deaf may be eligible for a tuition waver at public universities.
- Work Program: Connect with your local Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS). They’re a great resource for job opportunities, helping people with disabilities obtain and retain employment in their communities.
- FAFSA: Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, even if you don’t think you qualify.
- Official Benefactors: In exchange for service work, organizations like Americorps, Peace Corp, National Health Services Corps, and ROTC programs will help pay for college. Of course, there’s a serious time commitment for these.
Before you Begin: What to Do and How to Get Ready
Though the summer months between high school and college may seem like a waiting period, those months are actually some of the best for seizing opportunities that will benefit you throughout college.
Even if you are not starting college after high school, taking advantage of any time you have to prepare for this big transition will be critical to both your success and happiness as a college student.
Organize and Prepare Documents
Your high school will have maintained records of your accommodations and assessments. Before graduating, request copies of all these forms, including special testing records, as you may need to show them to your college’s disability services.
Register for classes as soon as you can. Often, registration works on a first-come first-serve basis, so it’s best to not delay. Most colleges publish their course descriptions online in addition to sending complete course catalogs to their students, so decide what you’d like to take before registration forms appear in your mailbox.
Connect with the local Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS) office once you’ve been accepted to and have chosen a college. They can facilitate job placements, internship opportunities, vocational assessments, and more on your behalf.
Reach out to the college’s Disability Resource Center. Ask for more information and inform them of what you’ll need in the fall. They can advise you on how best to prepare over the summer and tell you what to expect as a first-year student.
Become Your Own Advocate
College is substantially different from high school in a number of ways, but the most important difference, one that specifically affects students with disabilities, is that in high school the responsibility of accommodations falls on the school’s staff and administrators. In college, you must be your own advocate, requesting the tools, access, and help that ensures your full range of needs are met.
Once you’ve been accepted, your college will start sending you important information over the summer, including registration and housing forms, as well as inquiring about extra-curricular interests. Use this opportunity to get pre-emptively involved!
If you’re planning to live on-campus, housing information is usually sent to students in mid-to-late summer, so use those last summer weeks to reach out to your roommate. Get to know him or her through email, social media, and phone.
Work on Independent Living Skills
Really, everyone could use a brush-up on the nuances of laundry before college, but for students with disabilities, increasing your independent living skills will not only make the transition to college life easier, but it’ll give you more confidence to tackle other obstacles.
Here are some things to consider:
- Finances: Do you feel comfortable managing your checking and savings accounts? How about writing checks and balancing credit cards?
- Resident Life: Are you prepared to do your own laundry, practice good personal hygiene, stay physically fit, and maintain your living space? Do you feel comfortable contacting RAs, landlords, utility service people for basic household help? How about knowing when to seek medical assistance?
- Food Prep: Understanding the significance of good nutrition goes a long way to improving the overall health of your life. Do you know how to prepare and store food safely? How about planning meals in advance and creating a food budget?
- Work Life: You may want to find a part-time job or volunteer position over the summer to work on socialization skills and to give yourself an idea of workplace expectations. Then later, when you need to find work while in college, you’ll be better able to balance school and work.
It may seem intuitive, but knowing yourself ensures a successful college experience. Figure out how you learn. Are you a visual, auditory, or hands-on learner? What does this mean for your study habits?
Research your disability. Perhaps this is work you did years ago, but maybe you were recently diagnosed, or maybe new research has developed. Know everything you can about your disability and how it affects all areas of your life.
Identify your strengths and weaknesses. This will lead you to determine how you organize your work and schedule, how you problem solve, what habits (both good and bad) you develop, what fears you have, and how to overcome those fears.
Veterans with Disabilities
For Veterans with disabilities—whether physical, psychological, or cognitive—the transition from soldier to student is fraught with challenges, especially for all those who are still acclimating to the newness of their disability.
However, education will not only clear the path toward fulfilling career opportunities, but it can provide needed enrichment post employment. Here are some considerations to work through and some resources to help facilitate the shift from soldier to student.
The Age Difference
Starting college at twenty-five (or older) rather than eighteen means there are not only those many years of experience separating you and your classmate, but your needs vary, sometimes radically.
For example, while the eighteen-year-old student fresh out of high school is eager to enter the dorm, you have already experienced the barracks. Look into non-traditional resident options. Inquire with the admissions office about living in graduate housing or look into applying your G.I. Bill benefits to off-campus housing. The age difference may also create an isolated campus experience, so see below about finding allies.
A great resource to help pay your way through college, the G.I. Bill comes in varying amounts and packages. Know your options, what’s required, and how best to utilize the benefits.
In addition to the funds received through the G.I. Bill, you also have access to hundreds of scholarships specifically committed to promoting education among vets. While these merit-based awards range in amounts and requirements, the diversity of scholarships connotes high probability that you will find a relevant award.
To start, non-active and active military vets who are disabled because of wounds received in combat can receive a scholarship from the AFCEA, called the AFCEA Disabled War Veterans Scholarship. Also see our “Scholarship” section for more.
Traditional vs. Non-traditional Education
There are pros and cons to both traditional and non-traditional education (regarding the latter, see our “Online and Distance Learning” section). Traditional academia offers on-campus opportunities such as extra-curriculars and athletics, national accreditation, relationships with faculty and classmates, and the discipline of class schedules, deadlines, and appointments.
Non-traditional is flexible, but often more isolating. Think through your needs and ask yourself what ranks as most important to you in your college experience.
Some colleges are considered more military friendly than others. Though, beware of those for-profit colleges boasting deep tuition discounts for vets. While it may be cheaper, for-profits usually don’t maintain the same academic standards as public and non-profit institutions.
The Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision of the G.I. Bill that allows veterans to attend private schools and graduate programs despite their higher tuition rates. For a list of schools that participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program visit here.
Whether you decide to enroll in distance learning or a traditional program, it’s crucial to connect with your peers, and especially with other veterans. Find organizations, clubs, support groups, and discussion groups where you can meet other like-minded folk who may empathize with your experiences. It’s also important to make connections with classmates who have diverging experiences, too.
Most colleges and universities offer healthcare and include counseling in their plan. Utilize this resource. Find a counselor you trust and meet with him or her at least a couple times throughout the term.
Likewise, meet with an academic advisor if you need help planning and implementing your studies. Advisors can help with everything from scheduling and organizing to proofing papers and sharing test-taking strategies.
A charity that serves veterans with disabilities, they work primarily with vets in homeless populations, women vets, and those with posttraumatic stress disorder. They offer financial support to veteran organizations as well as supplemental assistance to the homeless and those with low-incomes.
This government-run military veteran benefit system provides resources on every sector of post-employment life. From healthcare and education to job placement and vet center information, they are the largest, most encompassing resource on and authority about what it means to thrive as a veteran.
SOC is a liaison between military members and higher education, helping coordinate educational opportunities and improve access to and the experience of educational programs for service members.
Best U.S. Cities for People with Disabilities
Depending on your economic and logistic situation, it may not be feasible to travel far for college. In-state tuition is notably lower than out-of-state tuition, often a third of the price, if not less.
But if finding a disability friendly environment is a significant priority, it’s then advisable to look into a metro area known not only for being accessible, but for its higher population of people with disabilities, the range of disabilities represented, and disability pride events.
We’ve compiled a list of the ten best cities for people with disabilities, plus ten honorable mention cities, taking into account the disability population numbers, organizations that promote and cultivate independence, the number of events and activities, and the accessibility of transit, city attractions, and businesses.
We’ve also included disability friendly colleges and universities populating those cities to expedite your search for an accessible campus.
1. SEATTLE, WA
Seattle may only conjure images of hills and rain, but it’s also consistently ranked as one of the most disability friendly cities in the country, as it is home to several autism centers, including one for kids, as well as visual and hearing impairment centers.
Light rail, city buses, water ferries, and taxies alike provide wheelchair ramps and since some of their transportation is new it was built to fully comply with ADA standards. The city’s main attractions are noted for their accessibility; the Seattle Aquarium, Pike Place Market, the Experience Music Project Museum, the Seattle Museum, and the Space Needle each strive to accommodate their visitors with disabilities.
The Washington Coalition for Citizens with Disabilities has a sizeable and active presence in the city.
Less than an hour from both Seattle and Olympia National Park, Evergreen State College is an experimental public liberal arts college where there are over sixty emphases to choose from, covering everything from biology and art history to somatic studies and sustainability.
Not only is Evergreen considered one of the best colleges on the West Coast, as ranked by The Princeton Review and the U.S. News and World Report, but Evergreen is a pioneer in innovative education and a leader in diversity. For more about being a student with a disability at Evergreen, check out their Access Services program.
Finally, Evergreen is an affordable education option with an in-state tuition of $8,200 and an out-of-state tuition at $22,321.
Bellevue College is located near Seattle in Bellevue, Washington. Not only are their annual tuition rates seriously affordable ($3,754 in-state and $8,944 out-of-state), but their innovative OLS program is one of the first of its kind.
An associate degree program tailored specifically for students with cognitive disabilities, the curriculum was designed to lead to employment after graduation. Their Disability Resource Center is also one of the best nationwide.
2. DENVER, CO
Denver, Colorado, with its integrated disability-specific arts programs, paratransit door-to-door service, and a renowned hospital serving people with head and spinal cord injuries, competes for being the best city for those with disabilities.
The Denver Office of Disability Rights, the Center for People with Disabilities, and the National Sports Center for the Disabled are just some of the organizations based in the Mile-High City, working towards improving the lives their disability communities. The University of Denver ranks twenty-first among best disability friendly colleges on our list. See above for more on DU.
The University of Colorado Denver is both nationally ranked for its academics and known for its disability resources and services. In the last few years the university has created a diversity council to focus on the importance of disability diversity, raise awareness, cultivate a more supportive community for students with disabilities, and to educate the faculty, staff, and administration on issues related to disabilities.
3. CHICAGO, IL
Home to an annual Disability Pride Parade, Chicago boasts a disability community that is close, active, and spirited. Chicago is also known for its accessible transit system—almost all railways are accessible to the physically handicapped and wheelchair users get discounted fares—as well as a strong healthcare system by way of the University of Illinois, which created a Healthy Community Mapping System.
The map helps one navigate the city’s fitness centers, sidewalks, businesses, parks, and more. DePaul University, located in the heart of the city, ranks twenty-eighth among best disability friendly colleges on our list. See above for more on DU.
Columbia College is a liberal arts college specializing in arts and media. Their programs cover everything from art history to nonfiction, from music technology to theatre, animation, design, marketing, and more.
They offer a BA in Deaf Studies, a program designed to educate students who will become advocates for deaf and hard of hearing communities, as well as an ASL minor. The Services for Students with Disabilities Office provides accommodations, resources, and is a place for connection. Tuition is $23,544 annually.
4. BERKELEY, CA
Berkeley’s history is a testament to why it is ranked one of the friendliest cities for those with disabilities; not only have people with disabilities been a public presence for a long time, but it was also the first city in the country to organize a CIL, a Center for Independent Living.
Berkeley offers paratransit all days of the week and is a short, accessible train ride to Oakland and San Francisco, which are also known for their leadership in disability equality, social action, and arts scene (most notable is the AXIS Dance Company).
The University of California Berkeley is one of the most academically renowned universities in the country, often ranked first in a number of disciplines by U.S. News and World Report.
Their Disabled Students’ Program currently serves more than 1,600 students at UC Berkeley and is one of nine federal TRIO programs in the country. Tuition for in-state students is $13,432 and $38,140 for out-of-state students.
5. NEW YORK CITY, NY
The numbers that make New York City—from population size to the amount of renowned museums, theatres, and attractions—instill among the skyscrapers and interminable sidewalks the kind of diversity that negates a norm.
People with disabilities won’t feel they stand out in the City that Never Sleeps. New York City is also home to an accessible transit system, an Office for People with Disabilities connected to the mayoral office, the Learning Disabilities Association headquarters, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
The City University of New York demonstrates its commitment to its students with disabilities through several ongoing projects and services. Project REACH (Resources and Education on Autism as CUNY’s Hallmark) has been working for years to better the college experience for students with autism spectrum disorders.
CUNY also boasts an assistive technology specialist team called CATS, which is both an on-campus community of experts trying to stay on the forefront of AT and an online resource for AT professionals. Tuition at CUNY varies depending on the campus.
6. PORTLAND, OR
TriMet—the bus, light rail, and commuter rail transit system in Portland—offers reduced fares to people with disabilities, as well as use of neighborhood shuttles, a paratransit service with over 250 minibuses and cars, and disability-friendly stations and stops.
Located in the middle of downtown, the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital provides a range of services and facilities to those with physical, cognitive, and mental disabilities. There are numerous legal offices that specifically handle cases regarding disability discrimination and Adaptive Sports Northwest—an organization that provides sport and recreation opportunities to those with disabilities—is located just outside the city.
Lewis & Clark College is a private liberal arts college specializing in arts, sciences, education, and law. They provide a range of support, services, and advocacy for their students with disabilities, as well as for faculty and staff. For more about being a student with a disability at Lewis & Clark, check out the Student Support Services. Tuition is $45,100 a year.
Reed College, a very small (there are only 1,400 undergrads) private, liberal arts college with a forested canyon nature preserve at the center of campus, is known for its interdisciplinary studies program, which allows students to combine disciplines and academic pursuits.
Their Disability Support Services center serves both students and faculty to create a successful academic experience for the disability community on campus. Tuition is $47,760 annually.
7. MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Minneapolis has received accolades and awards for its service to its disability community from highly regarded groups like the National Organization on Disability.
The city’s Skyway System—a network of enclosed walkways that connect most of downtown—provides relief from the severe seasonal weather in addition to easy transit around town.
Minneapolis’ CIP, Community Involvement Programs, is a non-profit that serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, connecting those individuals with a number of programs, groups, mentors, and more.
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities is one of the largest campuses in the country with approximately 50,000 students, and it is the oldest school in the University of Minnesota system.
The Disability Resource Center provides peer note takers, testing options, education and training, and a number of scholarships offered through both the DRC and outside advocacy groups. In-state tuition is $13,560 annually and out-of-state is $20,810.
8. WASHINGTON, DC
Our nation’s capital has over two hundred wheelchair-converted taxies, over 70 percent of the metro buses are accessible, and the metro stations are 100 percent accessible by elevator, which means you’ll have few problems frequenting the numerous museums across the city.
The distinguished museums and monuments in DC offer group or individual tours for those with hearing or visual impairments, including the help of an interpreter if needed.
Dozens of learning disability therapists are located in Washington DC, as is the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders, and the Disability Power and Pride organization, a group that works to unify the disability community.
Often named one of the most politically active schools in the country, American University boasts a lively Academic Support & Access Center. They host an academic skills workshop series, provide courtesy testing, study abroad opportunities, a variety of AT software, and they actively pair their students with job and internship opportunities. Tuition is $43,103 annually.
9. ALBUQUERQUE, NM
For milder weather, head south to Albuquerque, New Mexico, a city with excellent curb cuts, a paratransit service, and the University of New Mexico Hospital, which houses the Center for Development and Disability.
Though the main transit system is newly (and thus not fully) accessible, the city offsets this with navigable sidewalks and a flat, gridded network of streets. Albuquerque also has numerous therapists and tutors who work with students who have learning and cognitive disabilities.
The state’s flagship university, the University of New Mexico’s Albuquerque campus encompasses over six hundred acres, four museums, and the Center for Development and Disability Information Network Library.
Their active Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) works both with students and faculty to help students with disabilities gain equal access to education. For those living in New Mexico, tuition is highly affordable with annual rates of $6,846. Non-residents pay $20,664 annually.
10. BALTIMORE, MD
The League for People with Disabilities has served individuals with physical, cognitive, and neurological disabilities for nearly a century through their vocational, rehabilitative, educational, medical, and social services.
Also based in Baltimore, the national non-profit Kennedy Krieger Institute is an affiliate of John Hopkins that provides care for youth with learning disabilities. The museums, aquariums, monuments, visitor centers, and transit systems throughout the city are known to be accessible and some even offer discounts for wheelchair users.
Loyola University at Maryland aims to give all students equal opportunity to participate in the school’s programs and activities. The Disability Support Services ensures barriers—physical, programmatic, technological, or cultural—are eliminated, elevating the diversity that marks Loyola’s core values.
Students have access to a number of accommodations at Loyola including a range of AT software and devices, scholarship resources, organization coaches, tech labs, and much more. Tuition at Loyola is $45,365 a year.
Coppin State University is a small school of approximately 2,600 undergraduates known for its Rehabilitation Counseling program. The major (they also offer a graduate degree) prepares its students to provide rehabilitation services to a wide variety of people with a variety of disabilities.
Coppin’s Disability Support Services works to promote a greater understanding of disability culture and accessibility issues across campus and beyond. Coppin is very affordable: tuition for residents is $6,624 and is $11,885 for non-residents.
Scholarships for Students with Disabilities
Less than half of high school students who have a disability go on to pursue higher education. Though this statistic is alarming, it used to be much worse; twenty years ago only a quarter of high school students with a disability went to college.
The increase can be attributed to gains in disability rights, the enforcement of ADA standards, and greater visibility. Adding financial hardship on top of those challenges already in place can make college seem inaccessible at best and impossible at worst.
However, scholarships can be key to making college a possibility, and there are hundreds of scholarships specific to students with disabilities. We’ve compiled below a list of such scholarships; while some are general, others have specific eligibility requirements.
AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability
Though preference is given to applicants who will major in public health, disability studies, disability research, rehabilitation engineering, disability policy, audiology, or a similar field, students with any kind of disability—learning, cognitive, physical, etc.—are eligible.
Horatio Alger Association Scholarship
Seeking students who have shown perseverance in the face of adversity, and who have a demonstrated financial need, the Horatio Alger Association scholarship program is one of the nation’s largest scholarships programs in the country.
“Business Plan” Scholarship for Students with Disabilities
Founders of Fit Small Business award a scholarship twice a year to a student with a disability. One of the eligibility requirements includes submitting a 500–1,000 word essay on creating a business plan, making this a scholarship open to everyone but perhaps best suited to business, communication, marketing, and economics students.
Application deadline: April 1 and November 1
Award range: $1,000
National Multiple Sclerosis Society Scholarship Program
Students with MS who have demonstrated leadership qualities, commitment to their communities, academic performance, goals and aspirations post high school, and who are in financial need are eligible for this scholarship awarded by the National MS Society each year.
Application deadline: January 15
Award range: $1,000–$3,000
The Independence Foundation Scholarship
The Independence Foundation provides support and assistance to people with physical disabilities in an effort to help them live independent, self-directed lives. Each year they award three scholarships to students with a physical disability. Application requires a five hundred-word essay about how your physical limitation has presented challenges and how you have preserved despite those challenges.
Categories: physical disability
Application deadline: April 15
Award range: $500
JC Runyon Foundation Moving Forward Scholarship
For many students who have struggled with emotional and mental health and have had in-patient treatment, a difficult choice must be made: pay off expensive medical bills or attend college. The JC Runyon Foundation and the Moving Forward Scholarship seeks to eliminate that decision.
Categories: emotional / behavioral health
Application deadline: May 1
Award range: $2,000 per semester for up to eight semesters (or $16,000 total)
Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships
Awarded by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, these two scholarships are given to two graduating high school seniors with documented learning disabilities. The Allegra Ford scholarship is a one-time award while the Anne Ford scholarship is given once a year for four years.
Categories: learning disability
Application deadline: December 15
Award range: $2,500 / $10,000
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
Blind college students have the opportunity to win one of thirty merit-based scholarships through the National Federation of Blind’s scholarship program. Eligible applicants must prove an excellent academic history, dedication to community service, and leadership qualities.
Categories: visual impairment
Application deadline: March 31
Award range: $3,000–$12,000
OAR Scholarship Program
OAR, the Organization for Autism Research, grants numerous scholarships each year to college students who have a medical diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. The program is highly competitive with over five hundred students applying each year.
Categories: autism spectrum disability
Application deadline: May 1
Award range: $3,000
Tip: There are hundreds of scholarships for students with disabilities. While some of those scholarships are not specific to a kind of disability, many are. So, you should continue researching your options to make college as affordable as possible.
The American Association of People with Disabilities, the nation’s largest disability rights organization, advocates for the legal rights of people with disabilities, primarily through implementation of and enacting the requirements of ADA. AAPD offers internships, leadership awards, scholarships, and hosts events, campaigns, initiatives, and coalitions throughout the year.
Passed by the US Congress in 1990, the Americans with Disability Act protects the civil rights of people with disabilities. Their website explicates the details of the law, its titles, and its regulations.
With nearly three thousand members worldwide, the Association on Higher Education and Disability is a professional organization that develops policy and services on behalf of people with disabilities in all areas of higher education. Becoming a student member introduces one to a number of resources and benefits, including academic journal subscriptions, access to online job postings, discounts on workshops and conferences, eligibility for awards, and much more.
A membership organization that supports a national university network of disability centers, the AUCD promotes leadership, congress advocacy, networking and partnering, and communication among the centers. From listserves to information on network centers, the AUCD provides innumerable resources for students with disabilities.
Run by and for individuals on the autism spectrum, ASAN seeks to bring to people with autism the same access, rights, and opportunities as everyone else, heartily pushing for more autistic voices in media, policy, education, and professional venues. With chapters throughout the country, there are many ways to get involved, from Autistic Pride Day to mentoring opportunities.
CLE works directly with college students to promote independent living. They help people with cognitive and learning disabilities to pursue higher education, develop social skills, navigate career goals, manage personal finances, handle household responsibilities, and more. An application and interview is required before partnering with CLE, but students can reach out at any time throughout the year.
The largest, most encompassing resource on being a person with a disability, Disability.gov has an abundance of information on civil rights, health, employment, technology, housing, transportation, community life, and education. Disability.gov is the authority on what it means to thrive as a person with a disability.
Though affiliated with the University of Washington and based in Seattle, DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) is a global-wide effort to empower people with disabilities through education and technology. By providing teachers, administrators, librarians, and other educators with online content, publications, videos, and other resources for students with disabilities, DO-IT increases the academic success of people with disabilities.
Though not strictly focused on issues of disability, Lumina Foundation’s mission is to expand student access to and success in higher education. They have created over 250 million dollars in grants since their founding and are currently working to increase the number of Americans with degrees by 60 percent.
Twenty percent of children and adults have a learning or attention disability in our country. NCLD seeks to transform schools to give everyone the same opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally. Their programs have something for everyone—parents, students, doctors, and educators alike—including an online community that offers support to young adults with learning disabilities.
In the vein of TEDx, the National Youth Leadership Network’s online platform hosts numerous videos on being a teen, with special emphasis on being a young adult with a disability. There are also videos and resources for leaders.
A national organization committed to improving and expanding the higher education experience for people with intellectual disabilities, Think College can help you find a college, guide you through the methods and means of affording college, and provide training and technical assistance to your educators and administrators.
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