Advocating for Accommodations in College

Wisconsin Promise presents our College Bound Series

“College is all about discovering yourself and learning how to do things on your own.”

This is one of the most important skills people learn and perfect while there. It is also crucial to getting the accommodations you need.

Advocating may be scary – I know it was for me. However, don’t let that stop you. Don’t throw yourself a pity party because you have to go extra lengths to figure this stuff out. At first I did, because I didn’t like being put on the spot. I didn’t like the idea of getting special treatment. But it is not about getting special treatment; the process of getting accommodations is about equal opportunities.

“Because you have to go to extra lengths to get equal opportunities, you will gain more skills than other freshman.”

Advocating helps you learn how to communicate. You get practice talking to teachers. You also learn how to negotiate. Because you will have to do this on a regular basis, it helps build your confidence. In the long run, these skills are valuable. For example, they come in handy when searching for a job.

“When thrown into a pool full of sharks, the only way to get a life buoy is to yell for it”

Advocating for yourself means asking for help with your accommodations. For crying out loud, ask for help!  One way of advocating for yourself is to get help from the Disability Services Office at your college. Here are some tips for doing that:

  • Start early. Think about your accommodations even before you talk to Disability Services. Starting early also means getting information about the process of getting accommodations. There is always a process; the more you know about it the easier it will be to get what you need.
  • Provide documentation. Just because you say you need something does not mean you automatically get it. You will need to provide the paperwork that the Disability Services office requests in order to qualify for accommodations and supports. They aren’t doing this to be mean or to make things difficult.  They are required to show you need the accommodations and the services they provide. So be prepared and send it in as soon as possible. Ask questions if you aren’t sure what they need.
  • Work closely with Disability Services to get your accommodations. Disability Services are your best allies. They are the ones who can make things happen, and can help you through any unforeseen roadblocks. If you have questions regarding your accommodations, they are the ones who can answer these questions.
  • Be ready to negotiate. For example, there will be times when you do not get the exact accommodations you had hoped for. Other times, Disability Services and your professors may have even better ideas for accommodations that you hadn’t thought of.
  • Think beyond academics. Work with Disability Services not just on academics but in other areas as well, such as housing accommodations. You may need a flashing alarm like I did, or a single room because you have medical equipment that takes up extra space. They can also help move classes you want to take if you use a wheelchair and the class is in a building that’s not accessible.
  • Communicate with your Professors. Each term, send emails explaining your accommodations to all of your professors as soon as you can. Remember they don’t know what you need if you don’t tell them.
  • Be honest and open in your communication with Disability Services. You are the only person who really knows what is best for you. Tell Disability Services all about your strengths and weaknesses so you can accurately judge their response. Ask yourself the question “How equipped are they to help you?” Being honest can help answer this question.

“There will be a life buoy… You just need to ask for it!”

In college, people will not ask you if you need help. Your parents cannot always advocate for you. It is up to you to tell teachers what you need since they cannot read your mind.

This is what college is all about, learning how to do things on your own. This does not mean you are completely isolated, or thrown unaware into a pool full of sharks. There will be a life buoy… You just need to ask for it!


About the Author

Claire Wisniewski

Claire is a freshman at a small liberal arts college. Through her blog, she shares her experiences in choosing a college and navigating her first year. Do you have a question for Claire? Send her your comments or questions below!

More about Claire


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