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The Importance of Self-Advocacy as a Student with a Disability

College is not easy, which everyone will tell you. But, it is harder when you have a disability that could bring roadblocks on your journey. There are classes where you might struggle even more because you don’t know how to approach the professor or what your accommodations are. So, we’ve created a guide that will help you learn to be more independent as a college student, but you may have to work harder than the average student to succeed. Along with that, you will need to be able to self-advocate. It may seem like a whole new skill that you have to learn, but luckily there are ways for your journey to become smoother. Here are some tips to help practice your self-advocacy skills:

Tip 1: Contact your college’s office for students with disabilities.

When going to college, you want to make sure that you have the accommodations ready for you when classes start. That begins by making contact with someone in the office for students with disabilities. Along with that, have your paperwork ready for the office to review and make sure that the accommodations you need are indeed are available. Colleges will need documentation from your clinicians to be informed about your disability. You can find information about the office for students with disabilities on most colleges’ websites, or you can contact them via email or phone.

At NYU in particular, you will be assigned a coordinator who is responsible for arranging your accommodations, sending the accommodation letters to your professors, and making sure that you have everything needed for your success. If there is ever an issue with a professor who is not giving the accommodations you are entitled to, contact your coordinator immediately. The sooner you let your coordinator know, the more help and less time it will take to resolve the issue.

Tip 2: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses

Every student has a different method for succeeding in class. The same goes for the accommodations that you may need for class, as students with disabilities have many different resources available to them, such as note takers, extra time for exams, assistive technology for the classroom, and many others.

At NYU, schedule a meeting with your coordinator to discuss which accommodations would be best for you. Your coordinator may suggest something that you probably didn’t have in high school and could help in a college environment. Take that opportunity to see if it helps you or not. You may never know that it could bring a better experience for you in your classes. Each classroom environment will be different, so observe what is causing you to struggle. Consider what options you have to resolve the issue, and don’t be afraid of trying something new.

Tip 3: Know your rights

Years ago, the rights that you have now didn’t exist until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. This is a federal law that prevents discrimination against humans on the basis of disability. In college, you will probably encounter people who may discriminate against you because of your disability. Educate them on the ADA, as it is the law and people that disregard it could be in serious trouble. If there is an incident of discrimination, contact your coordinator and ask for help to take action.

Section 504 is another law that provides equal access for students with disabilities to higher education. This law requires higher education institutions to provide the accommodations for students with disabilities. Section 504 can come into play if the institution does not make an effort to make the college accessible for you as a student. That means if the institution does not provide accessible entrances, resources to get around campus, and other resources needed, you have the right to notify them of breaking Section 504. It is crucial that you know your rights because it will help you advocate for yourself.

Tip 4: Don’t hesitate to speak with a professor or TA

Sometimes you have easy classes that you have no problem in, but there are difficult classes that could stress you out. It can become even more difficult if you don’t inform your professor about your disability and what you need to succeed in his/her class. Before you start the semester, make sure to send your accommodation letters to your professors. These are letters explain what accommodations you have and ask that your professors respect them. Every professor will be different, but don’t hesitate to speak with them whenever you are struggling in his/her class. They can provide guidance or clarification. Sometimes, they might introduce something new that could benefit you in the classroom.

If speaking with them in-person seems too nerve-wracking, send them an email. Thanks to technology, there are other ways to send your message across. Let your professors know how they can help you in ways other than your accommodations. Sometimes in class, you could miss something or not be able to understand something. Letting your professor know rather than struggling will make your life easier.

Tip 5: Talk about your disability when needed

Sometimes, you need to tell your professors and even your classmates about your disability. There may be times when you have a group project and have a difficult time keeping up with your peers. What’s important is your peers and professors being aware of what you need so you are included. Telling them will help them understand and find ways to help make the environment be more inclusive. If a peer discriminates against you on the basis of your disability, tell a trusted person about it. You can talk to coordinators, professors, RAs, friends, and people who are close to you. They are there to support you and make sure that you have the best college experience.  

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A senior at NYU studying Communication Sciences and Disorders. Likes to read, watch Netflix and dance.
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