You can go: Bright disabled teens thrive in standard four- year colleges | Teen Ink

You can go: Bright disabled teens thrive in standard four- year colleges

October 5, 2012
By PaigeT GOLD, West Tisbury, Massachusetts
PaigeT GOLD, West Tisbury, Massachusetts
13 articles 15 photos 15 comments

Disabled people reading this article, come forth to me now and show yourselves. As a minority, we all have been no strangers to stigma, that's for sure. I want to ask you this: have you ever seen a minority, such as ourselves, experience any kind of stigma without having significantly lower expectations than the majority? The response that you are thinking of is probably no. Let's face it. We are not the norm. People treat us differently. With this comes lower expectations than usual.

It is estimated that 90 percent of teenagers have the desire to go to a non-open admissions four year college, but obviously that percentage has automatically shrunk due to various reasons. One of the main reasons is having other people or themselves believing that they cannot go to a four-year school (for something other than financial issues, which is a whole other category), but we've got to prove these statistics and studies wrong and push several layers of a boundary as disabled people.

I just started my junior year in high school in early September. All my life, I have been a top student, who has been capable of doing honors and AP classes for virtually every subject, except math, which I've always been remedial in and have to take SPED classes for it. Currently, in terms of math, I am at a seventh grade level. (I don't take advanced classes for any of my other subjects because it takes me much longer to complete the work than average on a physical level)

Hi. My name is Paige, and I will go to college. I have cerebral palsy, undiagnosed dyscalculia (math learning disability), and an undiagnosed and unspecified emotional disorder and I will go to college. A four-year college, Maybe not today, maybe not after I graduate even, but I will, and you can too. I promise. Here's how.
Disabled housing - If you require an ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) dorm like I most likely will, you can get one. They have things like adapted showers, sinks, toilet frames, kitchens, etc. The other great thing about these rooms is, depending on your preference you can choose whether or not to have roommates. College life directors are aware that students who have physical and/or emotional disabilities don't always feel that comfortable with roommates, as they often will need help with bathing and personal hygiene.

Commuting - If you don't think either regular housing or disabled housing on campus would really work for you, there is always the option of not living there and commuting. An influx of disabled people have opted for commuting, especially in the last few years or so. Researchers have attributed this to better housing options for this particular demographic because of the efficiency of getting the correct help that they need. Just keep in mind that if you are planning on commuting when you're college is in an urban setting such as New York City that places to live can be pricey.

Wheelchair access - If you are a part-time or full-time wheelchair user and you plan to use your chair in college, you are obviously going to need to check off that on your college requirements list. Note: Most colleges in the US have this. However, if you are considering photography as one of your major possibilities, like I am (or even minor) possibilities(, you may want to visit the photography departments themselves and form some sort of cohesive collaboration between them and the college disability services department office(s) to find out about accessible darkrooms.

Personal care assistants - PCAs are similar to your aides or assistants in high school, except less involved. They help you in your housing, scribing for notes, and other things. Some colleges don't even have people officially hired for these jobs. Instead, some recruit students majoring in disability-related fields, such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, special education, social work, disability advocacy, speech pathology, and other fields.

Other accommodations for people with physical disabilities not otherwise specified - These include scribes, authorized computer usage in cases where it would usually be unauthorized for most, word processing readers (such as Kurtzwell 3000), extended time on quizzes and tests, et cetera, as based off of your standard IEP or 504 plan (Ahhhh, lovely official documents, right?)

Services for blind individuals/visually impaired - Go to individual college websites, such as for specific information.

Services for deaf individuals/hearing impaired - Sign language interpreters (SLIs) are biggies here. They'll hire an on-call sign language interpreter from a local care facility or hospital.

Services for people with speech/communication disorders - If you are mute from a specific disorder or speech, communication, or possibly both is greatly inhibited due to some kind of disorder including but not limited to mild autism, mild Asperger's syndrome, or Down's syndrome, with official documentation from a medical professional, you may be eligible for on-campus services carried out by a local speech pathologist.

Counseling services for people with emotional disorders - As we all know, being a disabled person leaves us extremely prone to emotional disorders. For this reason, if you provide valid history of emotional disturbances, you will have access to counseling services.

Services for people with learning disabilities - (See Other accommodations for people with physical disabilities not otherwise specified)

Non-standard high school course prerequisites - Now, this is not to say that if you were to state that you were disabled, you would get out of the loop for having to meet the high school course prerequisite requirements for a particular school. However, if you do not meet the the usual requirements for most schools, a lot of schools don't actually go by the standard requirements. After doing a BigFuture College Search quiz on, under the admissions tab for a specific college, there is a section marked “Academic Requirements” which tells you all the stuff you need to know! NOTE: You need to be taking college prep curriculum in order for the year(s) to count. (AP, IB, Honors, C1, C2)

Remedial instruction - I know what you're probably thinking. You're wondering how in the world would you need to take “remedial instruction” in college if you're studying something you're obviously good at? Plus, people who need that wouldn't be fit for college anyway. That's wrong. If you took SPED classes for any subject in high school because you were at least officially one grade level behind in any of your core academics, you actually were placed into a remedial instruction class. Weird, right? Here's another thing: you will have to take some amount of your core classes in high school. Most schools will have you take an entrance exam at the beginning of the year to see “where you fall”, while other may just use your SAT or ACT scores to gauge your placement.

Accommodations on the PSAT, SAT, or ACT - As we all know, one of the hardest things about taking standardized tests for college admissions or entrance exams is that they are timed. If you usually get extra time on tests, you'll most likely receive double the amount of time that non-disabled people get. (Disabled people advantages for the win!) Other accommodations may include scribes, authorized computer usage, etc) as indicated by your IEP or 504 plan. Keep in mind though that these accommodations will not be guaranteed via those documents, so your liason will have to call College Board (who administers the PSAT and SAT) to officially request those accommodations for you.

Disability scholarships - The captain of the football team, the valedictorian of the class, or the person with the low family income aren't the only ones getting the money from schools. If there was anything more great and confusing at the same time, it's the fact that you can get thousands of dollars just for being totally ungainly or not being able to decipher how to say certain words! (Again, can you say disabled people advantages...booyah!)

Affirmative Action - To me, this kinda sounds like an English translation of a bad title for a kung fu movie. Instead of kung fu movies, this a definite disabled people advantage. If you're a minority, whether gay, not white or disabled, you have a better chance of being admitted. The reason for this is that college need to “look good” for statistics and reports on diversity. (Disabled people advantage in the house!)
Gap years - We all imagine people taking a gap year as helping starving children in Uganda. But here's something you might be pleasantly surprised by. Some physically disabled people use this year to strengthen their independence.

Best colleges for physical disability services:

University of California at Berkeley (Berkeley, CA)

Edinboro University of Pennsylvania (Edinboro, PA)

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champlaign (Urbana, IL)

University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (Milwaukee, WI)

Best colleges for learning disability services:
Curry College (Milton, MA)
Bridgewater State University (Bridgewater, MA)
Kutztown University of Pennsylvania (Kutztown, PA)
Adelphi University (Garden City, NY)

Go on Google to find out more about disability scholarships and Affirmative Action.

If you would like to learn more about me, colleges, or colleges I'm looking into, please contact me via the comments section on

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