Making College Work

We all fantasize about the exciting things that college and university life has to offer; friends, parties, living on campus and of course the classes (the fun ones at least). But when an injury comes into play, all of this changes.

But even if you're showing up to college in a wheelchair, don't think for one second your dream college experience is kaput. The social interactions, academic experiences and everything else that makes college special can still happen even if you have a spinal cord injury.


How to Choose Your College or University?

Choosing the right college makes all the difference. Here in the US, all public universities and colleges are required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires all aspects of the campus to be accessible. Ask friends, family and online disability sites for college recommendations. As for private colleges, private universities can decide if they want to be accessible since they are exempt from the ADA. Most do try to be however, or at least partially are (definitely do an on-campus tours to verify).

If you want to study abroad, accessibility should definitely be researched. Throughout the rest of the world, you'll find that some colleges will be accessible, such as in European countries like Sweden, Norway, United Kingdom, and Germany. Australia, Canada and South Africa also offer accessible schools.

Getting the accomodations that you need

Some of you may not need any accommodations in the classroom, except maybe an accessible desk. For many quadriplegics however, several accommodations are required to take part in classes. For example, some people may need a note-taker to accompany them to class (this is usually another student that the university pays to help you). You will want to check with your professors to make sure that it is ok for you to bring someone with to the classroom.

Also, if you need longer test times (if they're timed, and many in college are) you'll have to ask your professor for permission. If there are any other accommodations you may need, it’s important to run all of this by your professor to make sure they're on the same page with you and ok with what you need. Most professors are flexible so this shouldn't be a problem.

Also, most colleges and universities offer student services specifically for people with disabilities and they can help you put any accommodations you need in place.

When interacting with your professors, knowing how to ask for accommodations the right way as well is important, and politeness is one of the most important things to remember. You can send an e-mail if that is more comfortable instead of talking to them about their needs. However you end up approaching your professor, you'll want to do it as soon as the classes start. Most colleges and universities offer student services specifically for people with disabilities and they can help you put any accommodations you need in place.

Living on-campus

Many colleges also offer accessible housing so you can live on-campus and be truly involved in campus life. Accessible dorms with an accessible stall in the main bathroom can be found at many universities, as well as full-blown accessible studio and 1 bedroom apartments. And, if you need caregivers, you can set it up so they come to your dorm morning or night (or whenever you need them). You can even look for help on-campus in the student population. Students can make some of the best PCAs (as long as they're responsible).

And if dorm life isn't for you, many universities have accessible apartments and suites that are available with a private bathroom letting you lead a more private life. For your bowel program stuff, this added privacy is great. You'll definitely want to see what your university of choice offers before deciding 100% to enroll. Accessible housing can make for a great college experience, so make sure it is an opportunity you can take advantage of.

Please watch the following video on making college successful after a spinal cord injury, and afterwards please check out the Takeaway Points below.

Video: Life in College with a Spinal Cord Injury

Takeaway Points

  • All public universities (in the US) are required to be accessible
  • Private universities are not required to be accessible
  • You can study abroad, but choose the country you go to wisely
  • Professors will need to approve any accommodations you may need in class
  • Living on campus is still a possibility. Many colleges offer accessible housing

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