29 Disability Accommodations Explained

I scoured dozens of colleges’ websites to compile this list, so I dare say it’s pretty comprehensive. Your school might not offer every single one of these options, but it never hurts to ask. Keep in mind that while colleges in the US are required to provide accommodations, those requirements are different from the ones that apply to elementary, middle, and high schools. If you had an IEP or 504 plan previously, your accommodations as an undergraduate may undergo some significant changes. This article offers a helpful explanation of what that might look like in practice.

Housing accommodations

  1. Having a single in the dorms. This can be helpful if you think that having a roommate would be too overwhelming or exhausting.
  2. Living in a building with an elevator if you have a mobility impairment.
  3. Having an accessible bathroom. This is typically for physical disabilities and/or chronic illness.
  4. Access to a kitchen to prepare one’s own food. This one is usually only granted for those with conditions that severely limit their dietary options. Often, dining halls can accommodate certain food allergies or dietary restrictions. This only includes dietary restrictions that are medical in nature. If you follow certain dietary rules related to religion, your school may have a particular dining hall that you can use, but that wouldn’t be something that the disability services office is involved in.
  5. Emotional support animals. The definition of ESAs seems to vary a bit more from school to school.
  6. Service animals. Technically, this isn’t specific to housing, since service animals are with their owners most of the day. But there may be designated housing on campus for students with animals, especially given that some people have dog allergies (aka competing accessibility needs).
  7. Early move-in. My school grants this for a variety of reasons including disability, but also family circumstances, international students, athletes, etc. This was a game-changer for me; I got to settle in before campus was overrun with excited freshmen, and because I live close to my school, I actually went home and hid on the actual move-in day. I have no regrets.

Academic accommodations…

  1. Closed-captioning for d/Deaf and hard of hearing students. I happened to have this accommodation when doing online classes. The background noise on lecture videos was really difficult for me to filter out, to the point where I couldn’t watch more than about 20 minutes without being on the brink of a panic attack. Thank goodness for automatic captioning software.
  2. Adaptive technology, including audio textbooks, audio readers, and more. This can be helpful if you have dyslexia, low vision, or anything else that makes reading difficult. [link to online resources]
  3. Early access to course readings, which might be beneficial if you need more time to finish readings or if you have an episodic condition, like a chronic illness with unexpected flares.
  4. Assignment extensions are used for similar reasons. These can be tricky because after a certain point, using extensions might become more stress than they’re worth, and having more time may create additional anxiety. If you anticipate this becoming an issue, I would recommend considering…
  5. A reduced course load. My first quarter on campus, I took about half the number of units most people were enrolled in. It was a bit frustrating because I really wanted to do more, but I also knew that moving onto campus and getting used to a new environment would sap up a ton of my energy. Maybe I could have handled another class or two, but the potential risks of that would have outweighed the benefits. It’s important to acknowledge your limitations.
  6. Priority registration for courses. I’m actually not quite sure how this works, but it’s listed on a number of college disability service office websites.
  7. Exemption from a foreign language requirement. I know someone who got this because they’re dyslexic and they have an extremely hard time learning languages as a result.
  8. Flexible attendance policies are typically used for people with episodic conditions, and this accommodation in particular seems to vary a lot depending on the college.

In-class accommodations

  1. Permission to audio-record classes. Colleges are careful with granting this one for a couple reasons. First, there’s the issue of a professor’s lecture being their intellectual property, and second, there’s the potential for cheating (if you were to share the recording with other students). So if you do get this accommodation, you should be aware of your school’s particular stipulations to make sure you’re following their protocols. This also might get easier with the covid situation and online classes, especially if you’re in a mostly asynchronous course where lectures are recorded for all students.
  2. There are a number of different apps and software programs that can be used to record classes. Your disability services office may be able to give you software at a significantly cheaper price than you’d have to pay on your own, and they may have an assistive technology specialist who can review these options with you. Here are a couple of ideas…
    1. The Rev Voice Recorder app is free. You can download it on iPhones and Androids. The audio is pretty high quality, and it can record for a long time if your phone is sufficiently charged. You can also share audio files via email, Dropbox, and Evernote, so you don’t have to listen to them on your phone. You can pay to have recordings transcribed, but it’s pretty expensive ($1.25/minute).
    2. ASR Voice Recorder is another free app for Android and Google Play. The reviews are decent, and there’s cloud integration, meaning you can easily send audio files to Google Drive or Dropbox.
    3. LectureNotes is an Android app that integrates note taking with audio recording and organization. It appears to cost $6.49, but there may be more in-app purchases. It has an entire wiki fandom devoted to it, so make of that what you will…
    4. Livescribe pens audio-record as you write, and you can then go back to any point in your written notes and play the recording to hear what the professor was saying in the moment. They’re quite expensive ($100-$200), but maybe a good investment if you use them a lot?
  3. American Sign Language interpreters for d/Deaf and hard of hearing students.
  4. Notetakers in class, meaning that another student takes notes that you get to keep. The disability services office will do this in a way that protects your confidentiality – the notetaker student just sends their notes to a disability services employee, who then sends them to you..
  5. Preferential seating, which might include being able to sit up at the front of the classroom (for example, if you have low vision or you are hard of hearing and need to be able to see the professor). I have this accommodation because I get overwhelmed when sitting around lots of people. My letter specifies that I have to arrive early to facilitate this. So far, it’s worked out smoothly.
  6. Short breaks during class. This can be helpful if you tend to get overwhelmed by sensory input, or by anything else, for that matter. During those breaks, you’ll probably step outside the classroom in a nearby hall or courtyard for a few minutes and then return. It may be that you have this accommodation and don’t actually need to use it, because college students are adults, and many professors are fine with students stepping out briefly for whatever reason. But it’s better to have the accommodation and not need it than the other way around.
  7. Alternatives to in-class presentations. For example, you might record your presentation in advance or work out another arrangement with your professor. If you have nonspeaking episodes or significant social anxiety, this might be a good option to look into.
  8. “Classroom participation accommodations.” This is listed rather vaguely on my letter, but in practice, it means that:
    1. Professors tell me in advance if they’re going to cold-call students (i.e., just call on students to answer questions rather than waiting for them to raise their hands).
    2. I’m allowed to use my assistive technology text-to-speech app to participate in discussions.
    3. If I’m having a nonverbal episode during class, I can just sit and not participate and then later, I email the instructor with a written reflection on the content (and if I can’t pay attention, then I use the audio recording).

Testing accommodations

  1. A reduced distraction environment, meaning that you take a test in a separate room, usually with other students who have the same accommodation. This can be helpful if you are easily distracted, if you’re bothered by certain noises, or if you get anxious among large groups of people.
  2. Extended time (usually 150% to 200%; usually not unlimited) if you have any sort of learning disability, slower processing speed, significant anxiety, or other condition that would make a test take longer.
  3. Using a word-processor instead of writing by hand. Typically for dyslexia/dysgraphia, but can also be helpful if you have poor motor skills.
  4. Using a calculator (typically for dyscalculia).
  5. Use of exam aids (i.e., noise-cancelling headphones and/or earplugs). This one is a lifesaver for me.
  6. Being allowed to bring food/beverages/medications into exams, which could be necessary for all manner of reasons.

Accommodations that aren’t offered…

Paraprofessionals/care takers. Whereas high schools may be required to provide these, colleges aren’t. However, your disability services office may be able to help you figure out how to afford personal care takers, figure out logistics, and connect you to other services and/or organizations that can help with this.

Tutors. This kind of falls under the above category – colleges won’t pay specific professionals to provide services. But again, your disability services office could be helpful here. Many schools have tutoring centers where you can seek help for particular subjects, and there may also be peer tutoring programs or something to that effect. And office hours and TAs (teaching assistants) can be wonderful resources, too – more on that soon!

Diagnostic evaluations to assess disability. You’ll need to have a diagnostic evaluation in order to apply for accommodations – without that, you won’t be able to register with the disability services office. However, if you get a diagnostic evaluation or you have another disability/health thing come up during college, you should be able to apply for more accommodations, as long as you provide the proper documentation.

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