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 a spinal cord injury comes into play, all of this changes.

Even if you’re showing up to college in a wheelchair, don’t think for one second that your dream college experience is no longer possible. The social interactions, academic experiences, and everything else that makes college special can still happen, even if you are living with a spinal cord injury.

How to choose your college or university

Choosing the right college for you makes all the difference. Here in the United States, all public universities and colleges are required to follow the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires all aspects of campus to be accessible. Ask friends, family, and online disability sites for college recommendations. Private colleges and universities are exempt from the ADA, meaning they can decide if they want to be accessible or not. Most private colleges do try to be accessible, or at least partially (we recommend doing an on-campus tour to verify). For more information on Finding an Accessible Campus, check out our blog post.

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 accommodations that you need

Some of you may not need any accommodations in the classroom, except for 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 okay to bring someone to the classroom with you.

Also, if you need a longer time to take timed exams, 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 as you. Most professors are flexible and understanding, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

Most colleges and universities offer student services specifically for students with disabilities. These disability service centers can help you put in place any and all accommodations you need.

When interacting with your professors, knowing how to ask for accommodations the right way is important. Politeness is one of the most important things to keep in mind. You can always send them an email if that is more comfortable for you than talking to them in-person about your needs. However you end up approaching your professor, you’ll want to do it as soon as classes start.

Living on-campus

Many colleges also offer accessible housing so you can live on-campus and immerse yourself in campus life. Accessible dorms with an accessible stall in the main bathroom can be found at many universities, as well as accessible studios and 1 bedroom apartments. And, if you need caregivers, you can set it up so they come to your dorm morning, night, or whenever you need them. Colleges usually allow live-in aids on-campus, as well. 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).

If dorm life isn’t for you, many universities have accessible apartments with a private bathroom, letting you lead a more private life. For your bowel and bladder programs, this added privacy is great. You’ll definitely want to see what your university of choice offers before making your decision to enroll. Accessible housing can make for a great college experience, so make sure that this 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 U.S.) are required to be accessible
  • Private universities are not required to be accessible
  • You can study abroad, but choose the country 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

College Help Resources

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