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Helping Disabled Students Become the Best They Can Be

Finger Lakes Community College students in library chairs from overhead.

Navigating college can be a challenge for any new student, as you will need to be focused and ask many questions at the onset and at any point in your college career. When you have a disability, starting in a new environment may present some challenges. SUNY campuses have a Disability Services Office that can help students navigate their way through college. This office works in line with New York State Law and SUNY Policies in order to ensure that every student has the best possible experience. The office will work with you to determine your needs and to assess what campus resources can assist you.

Every campus offers specific services and will work with students to match need to service or accommodation. If the campus does not have the specific service needed or requested, referrals will be made. Services may include taped texts, Braille books, assistive listening devices, notetakers, large print materials, video text displays, interpreters, talking calculators, test accommodations, readers, and television enlargers. Coordinators and councilors work with disabled students to find out specific needs and provide appropriate accommodations on a case by case basis. Students are treated individually and campus services are dedicated to finding the best solutions for each student.

In 2013 I identified myself as a disabled student and joined the Disability Center at UAlbany. My disability is mental, not physical. Rather than needing Braille and talking calculators I was in need of counseling, safe spaces, and testing accommodations. After turning in my paperwork, and speaking with the staff at the office, we were able to work out the best plan for me. And in addition to my accommodations, the disability office emails me to alert me of important events as well as scholarship and work opportunities. The SUNY community gave me the resources to become the best version of myself. I was given the agency to succeed, in class and outside of it.

The 64 campuses of the SUNY system are dedicated to fairness and diversity in every aspect. 1 in 28 SUNY students has reported some type of disability to their school, meaning that 1 in 28 students has one (or more) of these medically documented impairments: mobility, hearing and speech difficulties, learning disabilities, ADHD, psychological problems, and other health issues that significantly impede academic performance and discussed with the campus disabilities official.  The campus will have policies related to how to present or document information and how services or accommodations are provided.

Things to Know

If you are starting college with a disability there are a few things you should know:

  • Each of the 64 SUNY campuses has a Disability Services Office:
    • Students registered with this office may be offered accommodations. These accommodations can be tailored to suit specific needs and include considerations for physical, psychological, and learning disabilities, for example. Once you have worked with these offices to create your specific accommodations you will receive letters which explain your accommodations, but not your condition. You are in charge of which professors receive these letters and how much information they are privy to. Your health is your business.
    • Many of these offices also hold helpful and social events such as therapy dog events to relieve stress. Even if you do not feel that you need special accommodations, it may be worth contacting the office to stay in touch with these events.
    • The contact information for each of these disability service offices can be found within the university life section on SUNY website.
  • Students must self-identify in order to become a part of Disability Services:
    • While many public high schools have a system identifying disabled students and will sometimes set things up automatically, in college you must identify yourself and decide course of action.
    • You will be required to provide the necessary documentation to the office.
  • You may request an accommodation related to campus orientation which will specifically work with your disability:
    • If you feel, for example, that the typical campus tour may be a challenge for you, you can let the university know and they will be sure to create a route that suits your needs.
    • You may also ask if there are orientation groups or presentations that can be arranged for you/your family. For example,  you may want to see smaller dining halls, or access to buildings, elevators.
  • It is important to be your own advocate:
    • While the Disability Services Office will be working present your concerns and needs to faculty and campus officials, they can only do so with your consent and for specific reasons.  You will find that it is then  important that you learn to speak on your own behalf. There is no one who better understands your needs than you. Please ask the Disability Services staff to help rehearse your conversations or to help you write out your requests when you feel you need help phrasing things or being heard correctly.
    • If there are times when people act insensitively or misinterpret your requests, ask for support and advocacy.  The campus offices in student affairs will know how to assist you.

With these things in mind, all that’s left is to enjoy your college experience!

Written by Kay Broughton

Kay is a student assistant with the SUNY Office of New Media. She is a University at Albany undergraduate working towards a double major in English and East Asian studies with a double minor in communications and film.

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  • Lola says:

    I suffer from a mental illness and college was a real struggle for me. I have a certified service dog that helps me manage my anxiety and other issues I suffer from. It was great having her with me during class and really put me at ease during exam time. You should look into it!

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