College student in a wheelchair going down a ramp from a campus disability services building onto a wheelchair-ready golf cart.

Succeeding as a Disabled College Student

Last updated: January 2022

When it came time to start looking at colleges, there were two major items on my list that had to be checked: a wheelchair-accessible campus and an amazing football team. I won’t say which one was my top priority...it was the football team. I would’ve also settled for decent basketball.

Accessibility on a college campus

Either way, being able to successfully navigate the campus in my power wheelchair and receive academic accommodations to be a successful and independent student was definitely important.

Luckily, most colleges and universities have a disability resource center. Some are better than others and it’s important to do research when applying.

Disability resource center

For the universities I was interested in, I would schedule a conversation with someone who works at the resource center. Their information can be easily found on university websites and they are always happy to talk with potential students and they can help with your education.

They’ll offer accommodations like hiring a student to take notes for you in class, getting digital copies of books if they aren’t easily found/purchased online, and being a liaison between you and your professors.

The resource/accommodation center will also most likely be where you take your tests if you need extra time, the use of a computer, or special software.

Advocating for yourself is so important

The great part is there shouldn’t be any arguing over accommodations like most people with disabilities are unfortunately accustomed to in public schools. But it’s important to self-advocate for yourself and voice everything you need to be successful.

I ended up attending the University of Arizona (better basketball than football) which is known for being very wheelchair friendly as some of the Paralympic teams train there. So, at their disability resource center, they had a gym with equipment for wheelchair users as well as the ability to get physical therapy.

Transportation options for students with disabilities

Another great resource at the University of Arizona was their transportation options for students with disabilities. Since it’s always boiling hot in Arizona, it can get difficult to travel campus unless you enjoy getting baked in the desert sun.

UofA offered free golf carts to bring students to any building on campus. They even had a golf cart I could pull my wheelchair onto.

The disability center knew my class schedule and would have a cart waiting outside to bring me to my next class. Or, I could call them and request an unscheduled lift.

It was like a free Uber, but way better because I’d pass all my friends getting sunburn or sprinting to another building so they wouldn’t be late for a test.

Accessible dorm rooms and assistance

Another accommodation a college could offer is an accessible dorm room. Most of the time these are single rooms with a private bathroom and roll-in shower.

I’ve also heard from friends who attended another university that they lived in a dorm where other students were paid to help them get ready in the morning and into bed at night.

Whatever you need, just make sure to be open about it. Speak with the case manager at your disability resource center and get to know your professors. The best advocacy is self-advocacy.

But the most important takeaway is that going away to college is definitely achievable even if you have a disability.

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