Disabled, But Still Successful: Navigating College with a Disability

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Starting college is stressful enough. But when you’re a student with a disability, college may seem almost impossible. For some, college may actually be only a dream. Disabilities can range from hearing impairments to ADHD. The good news is you’re not alone and there are free resources offered by universities to help you succeed. Resources range from having a note taker for day to day classes to having a quiet environment for test taking. Whatever your case may be, looking into your university student disabilities service center can help you be the best student you can be.

Best part? Your professor won’t know what your disability is, only that you’re registered to receive services. Other students won’t know who you are, unless you choose to tell them. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has made it possible for students to succeed in college, and later on in life. But don’t take my word for it; read some student success stories.

After being left blind by a car accident, a University of Central Florida graduate* was very nervous about starting college and living on her own for the first time. She knew that her university had many resources for her to use, including on campus transportation, making her tests, quizzes and notes in brail type and having scribes to help her with writing class essays.

But even with all that, she was nervous about how successful she could really be. “Being registered helped me succeed in my classes, but the community that was built from the disabilities service center made my confidence go up. I made many friends, all who encouraged me to be successful and helped me be the best I could possibly be,” she said. The graduate now teaches blind children and counsels and provides emotional support to the parents of blind children.

A junior at the University of North Florida who is hearing impaired (Note: Deaf is a culture and NOT a disability. Hearing impairment refers to the disability). The student grew up in the deaf culture, but wanted to leave the deaf community for college. He explained that there are some universities that have deaf communities, but he decided that he wanted to break out of his comfort zone and meet new people. “The hardest part was being thought of as ‘disabled.'” Although he sometimes dealt with a language barrier with those who couldn’t understand American Sign Language, he said he never considered himself disabled before.

He said he was fortunate enough to meet many other registered students during his first week. “They helped me through my first week, and realized I may be labeled as disabled, but I’m no less than the student sitting next to me in bio class.” As a hearing impaired student, he receives a translator for his classes and special accommodations for any oral presentations. He said having these accommodations allows him to pursue his passions as a college student.

A senior from FSU shared her story about having ADHD and depression. “I came to college knowing that I had depression. But it was actually because of the disability services that I learned I had ADHD as well.” One of her accommodations was having a note taker for her classes. She explained that by having a note taker, she was able to be relaxed in class and it helped her take control of her ADHD.

Finally, a junior at Thomas University and a former staff member at the Disability Support Services, explained how the services could work for students. “It’s up to the student to make the most of it. The purpose of the services is to help you be more successful.” He said that most professors are very willing to help out, and give their students the help they need. The office he worked in was designed to allow the students to remain anonymous, but still be successful and receive the necessary accommodations.

If you have a disability, be sure to visit the disability office when you visit prospective universities. Get to know the office, the faculty you’ll be working with and what accommodations they can offer you. Find out how to register, what documentation you’ll need and how to prepare for starting college. Remember that you’re not alone, and there are people there to help you.

Types of Resources Offered:

  • Note takers
  • Extended time on quizzes, test and exams
  • Separate testing center
  • Smart pens
  • Alternate texts
  • Scribes and readers on exams
  • Recorders

*Note: Names withheld to protect privacy.

Arianna Theofan is a senior at Florida State University studying Editing, Writing and Media. She is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, Tallahassee Community Choir and FSU Women's Glee. In her spare time she practices aerial acrobatics.

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