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If you have a disability, has it affected your ability to engage in a course? Data collected by the American College Health Association (2015) suggests that most students with ADHD, chronic illness, a learning disability, or one of several other diagnoses feel that their health has negatively affected their academic performance.

In part, this is because many students who qualify for appropriate accommodations are not accessing them. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, although most of today’s high school students with learning disabilities will receive support, there is a significant discrepancy in the number who will utilize services in undergraduate and beyond.

This reflects a variety of barriers. According to Ashford’s Access and Wellness Counselor, Liz Wilke, there are several factors that influence a student’s decision to access academic accommodations. “Some considerations include selecting a modality that reduces the need for accommodation; being concerned about stigma or discrimination; as well as confusion navigating the request process or not having awareness to our office as a resource.”

In our surveys, students commonly express regret that they waited too long to take advantage of resources. We asked students with disabilities what helped them access support. For resources, see Find out more today.

Which disabilities are most common in college?

Eleven percent of undergraduates in 2011–12 reported having a disability, according to the US Department of Education. Those numbers decrease slightly for those pursuing post-graduate degrees. Data published by the American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment indicate the disabilities that are most prevalent among students.

Proportion of college students who reported any of the following:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): 7%
  • Psychiatric condition: 7%
  • Chronic illness (e.g., cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disorder): 5%
  • Learning disability: 4%
  • Deafness/hearing loss: 2%
  • Partial sightedness/blindness: 2%
  • Speech or language disorder: 1%
  • Mobility/dexterity disability: 1%
  • Other disability: 2%

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

  • Depression: 14%
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): 5%
  • 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 Spring 2015.


Reconsider your perspective

“My biggest struggle with self-advocacy was not receiving the necessary support from my school or work, but rather my own misplaced embarrassment over a learning disability. Getting over oneself is the first step in finding the assistance you need.” —First-year student in a certificate program, Durham College, Ontario

“I’m worried about being judged”

“Requesting academic accommodations can leave student’s feeling vulnerable. For some students, it’s important to know how the process works and how information is maintained in advance. For other students, it’s having an interaction with the professional staff to feel confident that your request is being met without judgment. What ever the source of your concern, don’t let anyone keep you from taking the steps necessary to position yourself for success.” —Katie Tewes, Acccess and Wellness Counselor, Ashford University

“Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Everyone has something they work on, whether it be mental health, physical fitness, or learning disabilities. Nobody is the same.” —Second-year student, Rowan University, New Jersey


Get your information in order

At Ashford, additional supportive documentation (tertiary) may be requested after meeting with an Access and Wellness Counselor. The Counselor works together with students to help with this process.

“Get your information in order“

“An IEP [Individualized Education Program] does not transfer from high school to college.” Students will want to locate their Disability Services [or equivalent office] to make a formal request.” —Amy Baldwin, director of University College, University of Central Arkansas


Take advantage of available support

“If you think you may have a diagnosed disability or health condition that is impacting your academic experience, reach out to your medical provider. They may be able to make referrals for specialized testing or resources.” —Johnny Barner, Student Advocate, Ashford University

“Who and what helped me”

“There is a distinct difference between disclosing a medical related impact and making a formal request for academic accommodations with the appropriate university office. Only when you provide official documentation of accommodation status are faculty aware of the accommodations you have coordinated”
—Ashley Kirwan, Lead Veteran Access and Wellness Counselor, Ashford University

Disability Services is known as Access and Wellness at at Ashford University Other common names include Accessibility Services and DSPS.

“Explore the resources that are available to you should your student experience not be what you expect. While it’s important to be flexible and consider what is reasonable when making requests, there are individuals within the university that are there to help you when you find yourself unsure of an obstacle.” —Matt Galloway, Student Care Manager, Ashford University


Communicate your accommodations to your instructor at the beginning of each course

“Reach out to your instructor via email as soon as your course begins and provide your authorized accommodation form. This will ensure that your instructor is aware and able to offer their support.” —Shaylah Turk, Access and Wellness Counselor, Ashford University

“What I said (and should have said)”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for alternate assignments if you need to—before you turn in a weak piece of work.” It is better to seek additional options early rather than to try and navigate an exception for resubmitting work after it doesn’t work out. —Recent graduate, Kutztown University of Pennsylvania

“I explain to teachers at the start of the semester that I struggle with depression and anxiety, and that there is a chance that it may affect my academic performance at some point in the future. So if something comes up they are not surprised.” —Third-year student, Humboldt State University, California


Self Advocate–if necessary, seek assistance

“It’s possible that you may encounter an instructor who is not familiar with implementing accommodations. Reach out to clarify concerns with a professional communication. If problems persist, reach out to your Access and Wellness Counselor of additional advocacy.” —Jason Allen, Access and Wellness Counselor, Ashford University

“How persistence pays off”

“As a disability services practitioner, I regularly work with the Faculty, Faculty Development and Support team, as well as the Curriculum Coordinators. We strive to provide accessible courses and work collaboratively when accommodations are not implemented correctly. It’s important to self-advocate if a student believes an accommodation has not been honored or feels they are being treated differently because of utilizing coordinated accommodations” —Steve Salter, Director of the Office of Student Access and Wellness, Ashford University

“Disability law is complex. Students can reach out to disability advocacy organizations to understand their legal rights. If you encounter gaps in your school’s policies, this is likely unintentional; you can work constructively with the University to address them.” —Recent graduate, Massachusetts

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