Should I register with disability services at college? Will employers know?

StudentStudyingEvery 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8 thoughts on “Should I register with disability services at college? Will employers know?

  1. I actually did register with my college’s disability services department but being that as a person with a physical disability and as such I was raised to be overtly independent in spite of that disability (mom says she raised me in denial, whatever that means). It seemed to me that to expect much from disability services was to admit that I couldn’t study as well, or as hard as others in my program. That having special accommodations for tests and assignments was a sign of academic weakness and therefore I never questioned if I could actually have certain things available to me. For example, time management can be a huge issue for anybody, but especially for one with a physical or intellectual disability. Say a professor gives a 10-15 page paper on a given or chosen subject and it is due to be turned in within say, three weeks of that class. Which I am sure is a reasonable scenario for a term paper perhaps. Some people with physical and intellectual disabilities take more time to complete adequate research, write a rough draft of the paper, edit, add references ect. and all of this is on top of major assignments and even co-op placements in other classes. Is it unreasonable to request that major assignments be decreeased in length for individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities so they are able to flourish within that academic program? The implications of this are also of it being unfair to other students to have to do “less work” that their academic counter-parts who have these disabilities but the reality is with some of the way certain college programs are structured, and with the amount of academic support people with disabilities recieve prior to college, making the trainsition to having very little assistance or modification to the academic program can leave that person being set up for failure. It seems this was partially my case, on top of dealing with depression, anxiety (even while in class, to which no one took notice of, and administration thought I was lying about when I claimed these were some of the reasons I was struggling so much and why I had a 2.1 GPA by the time I was expelled from my college) but I disgress a little from the topic of this article. I hope it all makes sense.

  2. D.B. I’m sorry you had what sounds like a somewhat negative experience in school. You’ve also raised a really interesting point about class expectations and how they impact people due to different disabilities.

    There is a big change when students move from high school to college and you’ve raised it here. Students move from having a lot of support (and least in theory) and alterations in expectations for assignments to suddenly being expected to perform the same work that all other students are expected to do – or at least equivalent kinds of work. So if everyone is expected to write a 10 page paper, someone with a disability has to write a 10 page paper, with the possible exception of someone with a serious language processing disorder – then they might be allowed to do at least part of the assignment orally.

    The school’s point of view is that everyone who graduates with the same degree has to be capable of the same kinds of work/knowledge. You are pointing out though the valid point that some people want continuing education as much for the sake of knowledge as for the degree and the classes they have to take can discourage them from continuing.

    There are schools that share the concept that knowledge is something that should be open to everyone. This is often the attitude of community colleges and schools focused on teaching rather than research. It can also make a big difference if a student is trying to take ‘a full course load’, or just one or two classes at a time. While there are financial aid implications for not being a full time student, as far as quality of life education goes, taking one or two classes at a time is often a much more manageable way to learn new information and keep up with the work load.

    You also raised an important point about depression and anxiety. Many, many college students experience this and increasingly often schools are offering counseling services on campus for students. Unfortunately, there is so much demand for these services that sometimes students can wait for several weeks to get in and talk to someone.

    I think though D.B. the most important point you’ve raised is that once in college, it is the student who is insistent on getting assistance who is most likely to be assisted. If a student sits back quietly and works hard, they may not get the assistance they need. Sometimes it isn’t just a matter of going to see the disability service provider but of showing up often, and also showing up regularly at your professor’s office hours, at counseling services, at learning centers – a student doesn’t have much time to figure out how to make the most use of the supports that are available and a student can be placed on academic suspension before figuring out who can really aid them.

    • Yep, I was placed on academic contract in my first semester of my second year in my Community Outreach program. I did very very well in my first year, better than I had expected to do actually. It is also true that once the program starts to get a little more difficult that there isnt much time to figure out who can help that particular person. For me, also thinking about it, and this is my flaw that I wish I could have gone back and fixed was the certain courses that were in my diploma program which had absolutely nothing to do with what I specifically wanted to do with my life, I just didnt care, I tried, but didnt care for the quality of work I was doing. A bit more effort was needed but that is not to say that as I mentioned, I was not struggling with stress related depression and anxiety, trying to keep up with my academic program, while running a chapter of a non profit agency on campus, which ultimately failed because the campus would only allow me to hold one fundraising initiative. Which effectively canceled my entire work placement from that point on which meant, I also failed a large portion of that semester which lead to my expulsion. On a plus note we did happen to raise $600 for my favorite charity, not bad for a one night event in a campus pub, i must say! Anyway, this is probably stuff i shoyuld write about in my blog haha.. I always do this, talk about more things in comments than on my blog, anyway, take care. Great Blog you have, I will enjoy continuing to read it, and share articles which I know will help younger people than myself who happen to have disabilities. Take care.

      • D.B. thanks for taking time to share your experience! I think that raising $600 in one night is pretty impressive. Sounds like you have a ton of work ethic and entrepreneurship that the university could have done a better job of harnessing.

        Unfortunately, sometimes we learn the most from hard experiences I guess. Anyone considering college could learn some things from what you went through.

      • Thank you. This is why I have within the last two years considered myself to be somewhat of a Peer Support for young people with disabilities. I got that title by being given a job at a summer camp for children and youth with disabilities, organized by the same charity I mentioned fundraising for. A community college/ college/university diploma or degree is albeit important, but not the end of the world in my mind if one does not achieve such success. The fact of the matter is, one can take what they have learned, even though they may have failed academically and use it to the benefit of others. That experience, good or bad, is essential when dealing with individuals with disabilities in particular, and it is my view that, who better to help or offer insight than someone who lives and breathes the challenges of a disability. Degree, or no Degree, it matters not, I will still keep helping in any way possible.

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