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Navigating Your First Semester as a Disabled Student

Navigating your first college semester can be tricky enough. Everyone has stumbling blocks as they try to figure out the best ways to study, when to register for classes, and how to deal with professors that are less than ideal. Adding a disability into the mix can make things even harder as you have a whole new list of things to consider. There are some important things to keep in mind that can make your first semester easier.

First and foremost, reach out to disability services. You can usually find whatever your university’s department is called and their contact information by Googling “disabled” and the name of your school, or if you’re on campus, find out where the office is. Disability resource departments typically offer a wide variety of accommodations for a variety of needs, like extra time on tests, having a note-taker, being able to use your computer for note-taking, or flexibility regarding tardiness and absences related to your disability. They can also help secure accommodations for dining and housing, like a wheelchair-accessible room and shower. Although these things may require you to go through separate processes with their respective departments. It’s best to get your official accommodations sorted so you can have documentation ready for your professors as soon as you start.

Next, speak with your professors one-on-one. Particularly if the letter doesn’t mention things  about your condition that are important to you. It can be a helpful step in making sure they understand exactly what your needs are and potentially why. Some accommodations, like flexibility for attendance or deadlines, will be left largely to the professor’s discretion, so speaking with them can help you both know for sure how much flexibility you’ll have. Some professors may also have specific requests about alternate testing locations if you need to test in a separate space, so make sure you know where to go if that’s an accommodation you have. Individual meeting aren’t an absolute must, but they can go a long way in minimizing the risk of conflicts and misunderstandings, and help with resolving any that do arise. 

One important thing I did my very first weekend on campus was to take a walk around campus to exactly where all of my classes were.  Part of my disability includes difficulty reading maps and understanding how to navigate new spaces, so just reading a map on the first day of classes for a new big campus  was a recipe for constant lateness. Not only did taking a walk help me feel more confident about knowing where buildings were, but it also gave me the extra time to figure out where elevators are, what bathrooms were accessible, and what doors I’d need help opening. It makes the first day a lot less stressful. 

Most importantly, be honest about what you need, both with yourself and with others. Otherwise, you can’t get proper help, and the semester will only be harder. Even if you aren’t sure whether some of your needs can be met, bringing them up can’t hurt. There’s nothing wrong or burdensome about you or your needs.

I'm a writer and musician majoring in professional writing at Kutztown University. I love folk music, adaptive sports, and my dogs Roxie and Suzy Q.
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