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Disabilities—such as ADHD, chronic illnesses, psychiatric conditions, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities—are more common among students than you might think. In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 17 percent of students said they’ve been diagnosed with a developmental, physical, psychiatric, or other type of disability. Most of these students qualify for academic accommodations, but 40 percent said they haven’t tried accessing them.

“So many students are concerned that their diploma will be different, that there will be a notation on their transcript [if they use disability services], or are concerned with what other students will think,” says Amy King, director of student accountability and disability services at the University of New Orleans. She assures students these things aren’t true. “We all have differences. We honestly all know someone who has some health, learning, or other impairment.”

Data published by the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment indicate the disabilities that are most prevalent on campuses.

Proportion of college students who reported any of the following:

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 8%
Psychiatric condition 9%
Chronic illness (e.g., cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorder) 6%
Learning disability 4%
Deafness/hearing loss 2%
Partial sightedness/blindness 3%
Speech or language disorder 1%
Mobility/dexterity disability 1%
Other disability 3%

Proportion of college students who felt their academics had been negatively affected by these conditions:

Depression 17%
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 6%
Chronic health problem or serious illness 4%
Learning disability 3%

Source: American College Health Association. American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference Group Executive Summary Fall 2018.

Why aren’t students accessing services?

Research from the National Center for Learning Disabilities shows that there’s a drop-off between high school and college when it comes to accessing disability services at school. There are several potential reasons why. For example, in our survey, some students with disabilities said they entered college wanting to make it on their own or didn’t feel they needed accommodations. Others said they didn’t know what help was available or how to request it. Some were concerned about judgment and stigma. Others had encountered difficulties navigating the system in various settings.

These things are all understandable, but not accessing services means you might be missing out. “The more students utilize all of the tools we offer to them as an institution, the more successful the student will be,” says King.

So if you decide you’d like to access support services, how do you get started?

Office of Student Access and Wellness Website

Experts say it’s never too late. Even if you find yourself at the end of your degree program and you haven’t accessed help yet, it’s still worth reaching out. “I have set up testing accommodations a day before a final,” says King. Going now can help you get any help you need for the remainder of the year and find out what’s available to you next year.

Students with disabilities explain how to get support

We asked students with disabilities what helped them the most. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Let go of the fear of being judged

“Just say what you need. Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. There’s no harm in needing help; we are all dependent in some way or another.”
—Third-year undergraduate, Aurora University, Illinois

“I struggle with knowing if my disability is ‘bad enough’ or if I ‘deserve’ accommodation. I know those are silly fears; however, I can’t help myself from having them.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, University of Maine

2. Get organized

closeup of paperwork being completed

“I had to coordinate with my audiologist for her to provide official documentation of my disability. I was able to overcome this difficulty.”
—Second-year undergraduate, Johns Hopkins University, Maryland

At Ashford, tertiary documentation, documentation from a third party or medical professional, may not be required. Begin by submitting your accommodation request and discuss the need for additional documentation once connected with a member of the Student Access and Wellness team.

3. Find the right support team

Person contacting Ashford support

Disability Services is known as Student Access and Wellness at Ashford. You can find information about this support service in the classroom resources, on the Ashford website, or in your student portal. Feel welcome to reach out for information, even if you aren’t certain you want to move forward with a formal request for academic accommodations.

4. Be up-front with your professors

At Ashford, students are empowered to notify their instructor’s that they have coordinated accommodations and intend to use them. Following the process of notifying your instructor of your status with the Office of Student Access and Wellness at the beginning of each course ensures your accommodations are active during that course. Confirming with your instructor when you intend to use an accommodation on a specific quiz or assignment can be helpful, and keeps a line of communication open in case there are any additional impacts that occur.

“Most professors are more than accommodating, but you have to advocate for yourself. If you don’t tell them that you need or receive accommodations, they cannot provide them to you.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, Minnesota State University Moorhead

“It is difficult because many students don’t understand a disability, especially if it is not seen visually. Not everyone who has a disability is able to show it physically. I also find that it is difficult for staff to assist at times because they don’t usually see what is happening.”
—First-year undergraduate, Lambton College, Ontario

5. Be persistent if you’re not getting the help you need

serious male on laptop

“Make sure to advocate for what you think you need, and don’t be afraid to talk to people’s bosses if you’re not happy with how they are treating you.”
—Second-year undergraduate, Michigan Technological University

“If you have a documented disability, you cannot take no for an answer when it comes to accommodations. I have learned from my siblings before me that you must be relentless where personnel are unwilling to give you the accommodations you have a right to. People with disabilities want to achieve their full potential and be given the same opportunity to do so as their peers—accommodations for people with disabilities level the playing field, not give them a leg up on their peers. If you meet resistance toward having your academic needs met, you must fight for your rights.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, Missouri University of Science and Technology

Most importantly, make sure you coordinate academic accommodations through the Office of Student Access and Wellness

opening letter

Our Access & Wellness team is here to assist you in accessing the full breadth of your educational journey.  Please connect with us to initiate accommodations.  Our counselors will answer any questions or hesitations you have and outline the process for establishing and accessing accommodations throughout your Ashford experience.
-Rachel Orlansky, Director of the Office of Student Access and Wellness at Ashford University

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Article sources

Amy Baldwin, MA, director of University College, University of Central Arkansas.

Amy King, director of student accountability and disability services, University of New Orleans.

Rick Hanson, PhD, psychologist, associate vice president for Academic and Professional Success, MidAmerica Nazarene University, Kansas.

American College Health Association. (2018, Fall). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Reference group executive summary fall 2018. Retrieved from https://www.acha.org/documents/ncha/NCHA-II_Fall_2018_Reference_Group_Executive_Summary.pdf

Higher Education Research Institute. (2011, April). College students with hidden disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.heri.ucla.edu/PDFs/pubs/briefs/HERI_ResearchBrief_Disabilities_2011_April_25v2.pdf

Krupnick, M. (2014, February 13). Colleges respond to growing ranks of learning disabled. Hechinger Report. Retrieved from http://hechingerreport.org/colleges-respond-to-growing-ranks-of-learning-disabled/

National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). Fast facts: Students with disabilities. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60

Raue, K., & Lewis, L. (2011). Students with disabilities at degree-granting postsecondary institutions. US Department of Education. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2011018

Student Health 101 survey, November 2015.

Student Health 101 survey, June 2019.

Wolanin, T. R., & Steele, P. E. (2004). Higher education opportunities for students with disabilities. Institute for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved from https://www.ahead.org/uploads/docs/resources/ada/Opportunities%20for%20Students%20with%20Disabilities.pdf