Every year I end up working with at least some students who are concerned about registering with the office of student disability services when they start college. Some students think that since college is a new start, a new chapter in their lives, they should try to manage without any accommodations. (They usually end up in my office after at least one semester of low grades.)
Other students have been told that if they register with disability services, this will somehow show up on their permanent record and reflect negatively on their future job applications.
I continue to encounter people who believe this — that if a potential employer finds out a job applicant is disabled they will hesitate to hire that person. In fact, with the changes in federal law and social understandings of what it means to have a diverse workplace, the opposite may be true. Some employers, including the federal government, are actively recruiting disabled employees.
First, let’s address the concern that an employer will know you registered as disabled if you use services in college.
This is not true. Disability records, like counseling records, are kept separately from the rest of a student’s file; the information in them is not released unless a student signs a waiver that states exactly who can look at their record and what information the viewer is allowed to see.
Next, let’s consider the idea that college is a new phase in life, and therefore a student should try at least their first semester without using accommodations. I work every year with students who try this. The reality is, the way a disability impacts a person’s ability to learn is not changed just by moving to a new physical address. If a student benefited from extended test time in high school, that student will continue to benefit from extended time in college.
Students who do not use accommodations that they need will usually have grades that suffer as a result. This can lead to a student being placed on academic probation after their first semester, or first year at college — unlike high school where the impact of a low grade might just be repeating the class — at college too many low grades will mean being dismissed, i.e. a student is eventually told to leave and may not be allowed to come back.
If a good grade point average is important to a student/their family, then I would suggest the student be positioned for success right from the beginning.
This means not only registering with the disability service provider on campus but also finding out about other academic supports that are available on campus. Basically every campus now has some version of ‘learning centers’ where students can go to work with people on subjects they are struggling with; these centers usually include a writing center, math center, and more — or there may be one centralized center that supports a range of topics.
Remember, the most successful students at college are not the ones who try and do everything by themselves; successful students use all the resources they need including accommodations, talking to professors, and learning centers. As a result, these students have better grades (and are learning/remembering more) and are in a better position when it is time to apply for work.