Student View: Changes Needed to Support College Applicants with Disabilities

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Colleges must do more to provide and improve accommodations for students with disabilities, grad student Valerie Piro wrote in a recent essay published by Inside Higher Ed.

Piro, who uses a wheelchair and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, highlighted the challenges she faced when touring colleges as a high school student.

At one university, she had to use a makeshift wooden ramp to navigate a short flight of stairs. At another school, her prospective residence hall was located at the bottom of a steep hill and the college’s dorm rooms were much too small to accommodate her physical therapy equipment.

“Physical space and a well-functioning infrastructure on a campus cannot be overlooked, especially when one has a disability,” wrote Piro, who is paralyzed from the chest down. “What better way to tell a wheelchair user that they don’t belong at a college or university than by strewing the campus with stairs, broken help buttons, and pitiful excuses for ramps?”

In her essay, Piro shared the factors she used when deciding which college to attend. In addition to campus visits, Piro made a rule for herself: If she couldn’t find information about disability services on a college’s website within two minutes, it would probably be a bad fit.

She also checked campus accessibility maps, pored over shuttle schedules, and asked college officials about the accommodations she’d receive on campus.

Eventually, Piro found a right-fit college. Now, as a grad student, she’s calling on all institutions of higher education to make the changes needed to support students with disabilities.

“If a student has been accepted to a college, their ability to attend should never be in question,” Piro wrote. “It’s time to take the burden off students with disabilities in the application process and ensure that all colleges and universities can accommodate their needs.”

Read the full story and check out these college search tips for students with paralysis.

Admitted writer/editor Mary Stegmeir welcomes additional comments and story ideas at mstegmeir@nacacnet.org.

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