Accessing Disability Services: Barriers

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Section 5: Considering Potential Barriers or Concerns

Meet Brent, a student at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis! “When SITE staff first met Brent, he wasn’t communicative and was in the process of being expelled from high school due to non-compliance and truancy. He could not or did not articulate much of anything, including his frustrations and concerns. Now 21, Brent has moved out of his parents’ home, lives in his own apartment, and is employed full-time at a local manufacturing plant. He keeps in touch with his many friends via visits, phone calls, texts, and Facebook messages. College life allowed this formerly turned-off and unhappy young man to transform himself into a friendly, articulate, self-assured, and happy person." Find Brent’s story in the sidebar.

Moving beyond the barriers and concerns means student success.

Brent’s story exemplifies the value of moving beyond the growing pains and potential challenges that may come with postsecondary programs for students with ID. Barriers and concerns are bound to happen, but they are all fixable and easily addressed. Everything program staff does to overcome the barriers eventually leads to success - one student at a time. Below are a few questions that may arise as programs take root.

1. How much DS support should the developers of a new program for students with intellectual disabilities count on receiving?

Disability Services on college campuses vary significantly and many Disability Services offices on smaller campuses are run by a single staff person. In those situations, the DS professional is usually extremely busy and is focused on providing accommodations and direct student support. The ability to consult with the program developers and to network and advocate for the program’s needs may be limited. For both DS and ID program staff, planning ahead TOGETHER to think through some common concerns that might arise related to programs for students with ID can be useful. In this way, both parties can brainstorm and plan strategies to address potential challenges and prevent duplication of actions or general misunderstandings.

2. How much physical space would a program need on campus?

On most campuses, space is at a premium! Experience has demonstrated that these programs do not require much physical space, as the work  is done by a few (one or two) dedicated staff and a host of student workers (peer mentors, etc.). Quite a few programs educate a small number of participants, and large meeting spaces are not usually a priority since students in inclusive programs follow their own schedules. For those times that the cohort of students must meet, program coordinators can work with IHE staff to locate space ahead of time.

3. What are the costs of the program? What will our college be expected to provide? Will the college need to provide program staff and resources?

Students in the program for students with ID will interact with the DS offices as users of accommodations and auxiliary aids, the same as any other students with disabilities. They can request and receive accommodations from Disability Resources. In those cases, Disability Resources provides those supports and the college determines how to pay for the accommodations. Legally, neither a student nor a visitor on campus can be charged for receiving accommodations or access. The experience for students with ID will be similar to other college students who participate in Continuing Education, Adult Education, or English as a Second Language courses. Students in these courses pay tuition and/or course fees which could help support staff and other resources. Program partnerships might also be formed to assist with providing staff, resources, and funding. In addition, successful programs incorporate volunteer mentoring opportunities into their planning.

4. What will the program be like on campus? Do students attend classes?

While some programs may offer a few specialized courses that focus on adjustment to college life, independent living, career development and interpersonal growth, it is expected that students will audit college courses and work closely with program staff, faculty and peer mentors to create a meaningful learning experience. It is important to work closely with academic administrators, the registrar, and faculty to carefully choose courses that are open to auditing students. The ideal design is to have an inclusive program where students spend their time on campus with same-aged peers who do not have disabilities.

5. What is the liability of our college if a student gets hurt? How will behavior problems be handled?

There is no greater or unique liability for students with intellectual disabilities on campus, and students with intellectual disabilities are not at greater risk of being hurt. Behavior problems for students with intellectual disabilities are handled as for other students – in adherence with the Code of Conduct, college guidelines and applicable federal/state laws.

Addressing Preconceived Barriers or Concerns From Faculty

Postsecondary faculty and staff benefit from the diversity students with ID bring to the college. Students with ID attend and interact in the college classroom, and those interactions enhance teaching. A in the To Learn More sidebar share the thoughts and experiences of several faculty members in teaching students with intellectual disabilities.


This video features contributions from several faculty members and their personal experiences with students with intellectual disability participating in their classes.Read more

In this Think College Story, Gwen Chesterfield details a student's acquisition of confidence, happiness, and success through a two-year college, community-based transition program called SITE at Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis.Read more