Colleges Must Be Ready to Serve Students with Disabilities

As access to postsecondary education grows, more students who in the past wouldn’t have considered attending college are attending, and they need resources to succeed. One growing subset of college students comprises those with disabilities and chronic illnesses. According to an article by Denise Trunk, roughly 600,000 patients with chronic illnesses turn 18 each year, a number I’m sure has risen since she wrote. Colleges must have resources in place for and promote understanding of students with disabilities.

Have Resources

Colleges large and small need funding and staff members devoted to serving students with disabilities. Enough staff need to be available to allow one-on-one meetings with students, preferably with video chat and e-mail options for students’ convenience. Forms students use to request accommodations and staff use to verify disabilities must be simple to complete and easy to find, perhaps in a container mounted to the door of the disability services office and as PDF files on the school’s website. Speaking of websites, disability services information must be easy to find online. A website devoted to the services should detail the steps to gaining accommodations, detail the range of accommodations, and suggest wording for students to use when explaining their needs to faculty and classmates. These resources are vital for students’ success.

Promote Understanding

I had very little understanding of people with disabilities until in college I developed a chronic illness and befriended someone with a physical disability, so I feel a college that merely supports the academic achievement of students with disabilities isn’t doing enough. Colleges must promote understanding of these students so that classmates without disabilities will treat them properly and befriend them. Examples of ways colleges can do this include:

  • Events where students use devices to simulate various disabilities (I’ve used devices that simulate dyslexia and rheumatoid arthritis)
  • Posters on campus and handouts in composition courses of appropriate and inappropriate language to use to refer to people with disabilities
  • Training of residence hall assistants and faculty in identifying and responding to inappropriate treatment of people with disabilities and in awareness of invisible disabilities

Colleges must promote awareness and understanding of visible and invisible disabilities to make students feel comfortable on campus.


Colleges have always needed to serve those with disabilities, but this population is growing. Promoting understanding may be even more important than providing accommodations and resources. Postsecondary education has to teach more than just course material, and being able to treat all people properly is a vital life skill.

Photo: Gauge, Flickr Creative Commons


Darla Word

About Darla Word

I'm a writing tutor and editor from Michigan. My favorite subject to write about is writing because making better writers is my calling. I also enjoy reading, singing, swimming, and cardmaking.

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