Self-Advocacy Tips for Requesting College Accommodations

Student in dorm using headphones and a smartphone

Editor’s note: Have you begun requesting college accommodations as a student who is blind or low vision? The following tips on requesting college accommodations have been updated by Lori Scharff, APH CareerConnect Content Lead, as of August 2023.

Being nervous, anxious, and unsure is normal when transitioning from high school to college or a university. If this is you, you’re in good company.

A long list of changes is inevitable and exciting. Will you leave home to live on or off campus? Will you enjoy the company of your roommate(s)? Is the meal plan worth the money? Are you confident in your cooking skills? (Hey, let’s be honest—most college students aren’t known for their cooking skills.) How many classes can you handle in your first semester?

There are changes in how accommodations are handled to meet the specific needs of your blindness or low vision and other disabilities. You had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in high school. Your IEP team, hopefully with you as the lead, decided on necessary accommodations, and the school provided the support to help you succeed. The school was legally bound and federally funded, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to assess your needs and provide you with a free and appropriate education as required by law.

Alternatively, your college, university, or other post-secondary program will not provide a team to write an IEP; it cannot even legally approach you and offer assistance. This is where you will need to start to self-advocate.

Access to your education

The focus of any disability accommodation service at the university level is to provide access to programs and services supported through the university. Programs and services include dorms, meal services, the library, a lab or classrooms, and course materials. It will be your responsibility to request what you will need. Sometimes, this can be hard as you may not know what you need until you are in a specific situation.

Advocacy tips

Here’s basic information to help you advocate for resources likely available at your college or university:

  • You must identify yourself as a person with a disability. Contact the school’s disability resource center and schedule a meeting to discuss services before the start of school.
  • You must be qualified to receive accommodations. Ask your university for the documentation they require. If you are blind or low vision, a recent eye report or letter from a physician will be necessary.
  • Describe the accommodations you’ve used at the disability resource center meeting. Provide documentation, such as a recent Functional Vision Assessment, learning media assessment, or IEP.
  • Advocate for your accessibility needs, such as receiving handouts in braille or accessible electronic materials, taking tests with extended time or large print, accessing textbooks in a format that is accessible and usable by you, using a scribe for notetaking in a foreign language or math courses, accessing tactile graphs, using a reader to read textbooks to you after class, etc.
  • You will have the same workload as the general population of students. You are responsible for knowing the materials; however, you can ask for pictures, maps, and graph descriptions. If you need support learning the material, universities typically offer tutoring services (sometimes free) you can schedule.
  • Most colleges have a dedicated computer lab with assistive technology such as video magnifiers, screen enlargement or text-to-voice software, dictation software, braille embossers, etc. Ask if these resources are available to you.
  • Ask the disability resource center to recommend community resources, such as a local agency that provides orientation and mobility services or vision rehabilitation therapy to help you access campus or do your laundry.

Learn how to self-advocate assertively. Entering post-secondary education is an opportunity to practice requesting reasonable accommodations, just as you will continue doing throughout life.

If you are blind or low vision, visit APH ConnectCenter to browse blogs, articles, and resources you can utilize throughout college and your career journey.

Learn more

Join the APH ConnectCenter for College Conversations: Navigating Disability Resources and Critical Campus Supports. From enrollment to test-taking accommodations, hear how activating disability resources can be a game changer for entering college students. The one-hour webinar will also discuss how additional campus and neighboring community supports can aid in successful acclimation to campus and community life.