Should my disability impact where I choose to study?

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Those of us who are disabled wish to have the same freedom of choice that other citizens enjoy and most people want the freedom to study where ever they would choose to. In reality though, most people do have a number of factors that weigh in their decision of where they will study including their: economics, aptitude, geographic location, desired field of study; and simply their ability to research a limited number of schools before needing to make a decision.

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Those of us who are disabled should also consider factors such as: the size of classes and how that will impact our ability to focus or necessitate being in close contact with large numbers of others; the geographic layout of campus and if this will complicate moving from class to class; the school’s familiarity with our particular disability; the available accommodations and applicable resources at each specific campus. While no one of these considerations is necessarily a deciding factor, it seems realistic to keep these points in mind as we reach a decision of where is the best fit for us to study.

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Individuals who find large numbers of people, or a great deal of noise distracting or distressing are generally poorly served by attending very large universities, where class sizes may be 500 – 2,500 students in their first year or two of study. There are a number of very good medium and small schools where potentially overwhelming numbers will not be a factor in a student’s success.

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Those with mobility issues should consider the availability of public transport or parking spaces if their intended campus is large enough to making traveling between classes a challenge. Climate is also a mitigating factor for many disabilities – snow, humidity, heat can each differently impact a person’s mobility or otherwise complicate a person’s health.

Some students like the challenge of being a trail blazer, which is usually what is required of a student when the school they plan to attend is unfamiliar with the disability the student is living with. In circumstances like this, it is best for the student to be in communication with the disability service provider months before they actually enroll — students may need to be very specific about the kind of accommodations that will be necessary and disability service providers will need to analyze a school’s capacity for being prepared.

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Students may also have a disability which requires them to be near a larger medical center, or a population center were more services are readily available than one would find in remote, rural locations — like the one where I currently work and live.

The institution where I currently work is isolated enough that obtaining sign language services usually means using a computer with camera and students with complex medical needs are required to drive three to five hours to receive services.

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Each disabled student and his or her family will have a comfort level for the kind of programs and services that will be necessary, those that will be desirable, and those that are optional. Students are best prepared for success when they weigh all these considerations before agreeing to sign up for four or five years of study with an institution…although a student can always transfer, most students prefer to find their ‘new home’ and start settling in sooner rather than later.

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