A Guide to Schools & Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

Overcoming learning hurdles, physical difference, hearing loss, or vision loss may make daily life challenging. More so, going to college may be more difficult for those with disabilities. Thankfully, students have many support options to consider that could help them with college and its costs, like scholarships, even when dealing with a disability.

Rights of Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities have many legally protected rights. While many know that these apply to discrimination at work and getting services in elementary and high school, not all know that they also apply to college students. Consider these acts. 

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This act states that schools that receive federal funds may not discriminate because of disability. This is found in Section 504, the same section where students get the right to make 504 Plans in their elementary and high school years. If a school accepts federal grants, then it is responsible to follow this rule.

Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA’s Title II protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination from state and local gov’ts (including public colleges and universities). Title III requires that public places, including schools, provide accommodations to disabled people, such as making the space wheelchair accessible. This provides protection in private schools that are not subject to Title II. 

Does Your Condition Qualify? 

Many disabilities may qualify under Section 504 or the ADA. However, not all do. The ADA defines a disability as “as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The Rehab Act defines it as “has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities.” The act further explains that this can include loss of a body part, neurological conditions, mental and psych disorders, and even endocrine disorders.

So does your disability qualify? Here is a list of disabilities that may be protected by one or both of these laws. It may not be exhaustive, so students may wish to talk to a disability rights advocate to determine if they have protection:

  • Deafness or hearing loss 
  • Blindness or vision loss 
  • Medical conditions like diabetes, cancer, HIV infection, or epilepsy 
  • Autism 
  • Dyslexia, ADHD and other learning disabilities 
  • Intellectual disabilities 
  • Missing limbs 
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • Muscular dystrophy 
  • Bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other psychological conditions 
  • PTSD 
  • Mobility problems 
  • OCD 
  • Cerebral palsy 
  • Tourette’s Syndrome and other neurological disorders

Telling the School About Your Disability

To receive help from your school, you may need to disclose your disability. To receive financial aid for your disability, you may need documentation. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. Here are some helpful tips: 

Discuss Your Need with the Admissions Professional

Start by telling your admissions counselor about your disability and the accommodations you may need. They may direct you to the right people at the school to help.

Submit Medical Documentation

Ask your doctor for documents showing your disability. You may be required to submit this to the school and any scholarships you apply for.

Submit High School Plans for Services

If you had an IEP or Section 504 plan in high school, you may need to submit this as well. It may not replace your proof of disability, but it may show the school the assistance you may need.

Ask for Help Early

Ask for this assistance and submit the documents early in your application process. This could give the school time to consider and assess accommodations you may need. It also gives you time to get more documents if needed.

Distance Learning with a Disability

Students with special needs may often benefit from distance learning options. These could give you the chance to take classes at home via a computer, so you may take breaks or plan your schedule if you need to. Students do not have to worry about physical accommodation on campus or the challenge of travel with a disability. Having a flexible learning platform also helps. Distance learning may have some challenges for students with special needs. Schools might not always quick to assist online students. Distance learning platforms are not always created to be disability friendly. To help, schools need to make sure they use tech that works with assistive devices, like readers for visually impaired students or closed captioning for hearing impaired students.

Helpful Accessibility Apps

Some apps can help make it easier for students with unique needs to pursue their education. Consider these:

  • Speak It! This text to speech app lets non-verbal students type words the app speaks for them. 
  • Dragon Anywhere. This app helps students who struggle to write. It translates spoken words into written text. 
  • Talking Calculator. This app turns the phone into a talking calculator, which works great for visually impaired students. 
  • Voice Dream Reader. This tool scans text and reads it to the student, which helps students with reading and vision challenges. 
  • Petralex. This app amplifies sound for hearing impaired individuals. 

Federal Disability Benefits That Could Help Pay for College

Students who receive Social Security Disability benefits may continue to receive them while in school. However, SSDI is delivered to people whose disabilities make it impossible to work. The Social Security Administration may deem a college student who can go to class can also get a job. Students who still live at home and attend college full time may still qualify, but others may not. If you receive SSDI, you can use the payment to pay for anything, including college expenses.

The Importance of Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities

Having a disability may make life more costly. Doctor’s appointments and the need for assistance devices adds to your daily living costs. Financial aid could help students with disabilities and help you overcome these challenges and pursue your education. Financial aid may be available to those who qualify.

Getting Help with Your Scholarship and Financial Aid Form

Students who need help filling out their scholarship applications, FAFSA, and other financial aid forms should contact the financial aid office at their school or the guidance counselor at their high school. These professionals can provide needed assistance.

Other Financial Aid Options for Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities may apply to all types of federal student aid to help with their higher education costs. Federal student loans and grants through the U.S. Department of Education could provide needed support to qualified students. Some options include:

Additional Resources

Students with disabilities who need additional help with school or want more info about potential scholarships should contact these groups.

  • American Association of People with Disabilities. AAPD has a wealth of resources for disabled students. They have advocates who argue for disability rights and support networks for people with disabilities. Students can take part in summer internships. 
  • Easter Seals. Easter seals help adults and students with disabilities find services. They can also assist with getting students properly diagnosed. 
  • The Arc. The Arc serves people and families touched by intellectual and developmental disabilities, including 100 different diagnoses. This advocacy group provides employment programs and education support. 
  • Special Needs Alliance. This network of attorneys provides help for students and adults with a documented disability who need to understand their rights under the law. 
  • Comprehensive Transition Programs. These programs give students with intellectual disabilities help with the entire college process, from admissions to coursework. This is a federally funded program that students apply for through the participating school. 
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities. The NCLD provides help, support, and funding for people living with learning disabilities.

Scholarships for Students with Disabilities

If your disability qualifies for financial aid programs, there are a number of scholarships for students with disabilities to consider to help you pursue your career goals. These scholarship opportunities are a good place to start for financial assistance.

Attention Deficit Disorder

  • Rise Scholarship Foundation Inc. This scholarship awards $2,500 to students with ADHD or ADD along with one additional learning disability. It is an annual award and requires a 2.5 grade point average. The application deadline is Feb. 15. 
  • Anne Ford Scholarship. This award is $2,500 per academic year for four years. The scholarship is offered to qualified high school senior students with ADHD or another documented learning disability. They must be enrolled in a full time, four year degree program at an accredited school. The deadline is usually in the fall.

Autism Spectrum

  • Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism. In 2013 an autistic boy went missing. In his honor, a law firm, The Perecman Firm, opened a $1,000 annual scholarship for autistic individuals or the family member of someone with autism. The deadline is July 31. 
  • Kelly Law Team Autism Scholarship. Anyone with autism can apply for one of two $1,000 awards form this firm. Applicants submit an essay about how they would use the benefit. The essay with the many online votes gets the award. Essays are due June 30. 
  • Making a Difference for Autism. High school students and college students with autism can apply for this $500 scholarship. It is awarded multiple times a year. Applications are due April 26, and students can apply more than once. 
  • Organization for Autism Research. This $3,000 award is available to students on the spectrum. They must be full time students. The deadline is early May. 
  • Dan Archwamety Scholarship. This program awards $500 to students with ASD. It requires the student to use the money for an accredited college degree or certificate program. The deadline is early April.

General Disabilities

  • INCIGHT Scholarship. The INCIGHT College Scholarship is offered to qualified students in WA, OR, or CA who have any ADA, IDEA, or DSM-V defined or protected disability. Students must complete 30 hours of community service to maintain their award. 
  • AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability. This scholarship is for a student with a disability who is pursuing an undergrad program full time or grad degree full or part time. Students must currently be attending college as at least a sophomore. The award is $1,000. 
  • AbbVie Immunology Scholarship. This group awards up to $15,000 to students living with inflammatory diseases, such as Crohn’s disease. The deadline to apply is early December. 
  • Student Award Program of the Foundation for Science and Disability. This award of $1,000 is given to fourth year undergrad students or graduate students. Students must be studying STEM or computer science and must have a disability to apply. 
  • John Lepping Memorial Scholarship. This scholarship is for students with disabilities. It requires an essay about the student’s disability and its financial impact on the family. Students must reside in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania. The award is up to $5,000. 
  • BMO Capital Markets Lime Connect Equity Scholarship. This $10,000 education scholarship is merit based and open to students with all types of disabilities. Students must be pursuing four year degree programs in computer science, business, or a STEM related field.

Hearing Impairment

Learning and Cognitive Disabilities

  • P. Buckley Moss Foundation for Children’s Education. This award is for students with language related learning disabilities who wish to pursue college education in the arts. The $1,000 award is based on financial need.
  • Guthrie Koch Scholarship. This award is for students who have PKU and control it with a low protein diet. It is open to undergrad students.
  • Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship. This scholarship fund awards $2,500 a year for two years to students attending community college with a learning disability. The deadline is in the fall.

Physical Disabilities

  • 1800wheelchair.com Scholarship. This $500 award goes to students who use wheelchairs or power chairs for mobility. The student must apply by May 30. No specific disability is required. 
  • Disabled Student Scholarship. This $500 award is offered to any student who has a debilitating condition and wishes to pursue education. A physician’s statement of the diagnosis is needed to apply.
  • Karman Healthcare Mobility Disability Scholarship. Students who use mobility devices due to their disability can apply for this award. They must write an essay and apply by Sept. 1. A GPA of 2.0 or higher is needed. The award is $500. 
  • Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation. CFSF awards are for students with CF. The award requires at least nine credit hours per semester and covers tuition, books, and board. The award is $1,000 a year.

Tourette’s Syndrome

  • Dollars 4 Tic Scholars. This program through the Kelsey D. Diamantis TS Scholarship Family Foundation awards at least one $1,000 award every year to a student with Tourette’s Syndrome. The program has two application deadlines each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. 
  • Kenny’s Dream Foundation. This scholarship provides up to $1,500 for college expenses for students with TS. Applicants must have a doctor’s diagnosis of the disorder.

Vision Loss and Blindness

  • Fred Scheigert Scholarship Program. The Fred Scheigert Scholarship Program awards $3,000 to three students with visual impairments. Students can apply between Jan. 1 and March 15. This is a highly competitive award and requires a phone interview. 
  • American Foundation for the Blind. AFB offers multiple scholarships for legally blind students ranging from $500 to $2,500.
  • National Federation of the Blind. This group has merit scholarships for blind students ranging from $3,000 to $12,000.
  • Lighthouse Guild. The Lighthouse Guild awards 17 students with blindness or low vision up to $10,000 to use for undergrad or graduate training. The award is based on academic merit.
  • American Council of the Blind Scholarship. ACB offers a scholarship program that awards between $2,000 to $7,500 for students who are legally blind. They must maintain a 3.0 average and be a full time student.

Schools for Students with Disabilities

While schools are required under the ADA to be accessible for people with disabilities, not all are as disability friendly as others. These are some schools to consider based on disability.

Attention Deficit Disorder

ADD/ADHD requires special tutoring and services, which can be found at these schools:

Southern Illinois University Carbondale

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A robust disability services program makes SIU Carbondale perfect for students with ADD and ADHD. It has a robust list of majors, including bachelor’s, masters, and PhD degrees. Degree programs include:

School Details:

  • HLC Accredited 

Autism Spectrum

These schools embrace neuro diversity: 

Drexel University

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Drexel University offers a wide range of social skills services to students with autism. Its Disability Resources department strives to help disabled students have a positive college experience. The school has over 120 grad degree and cert programs and 80 undergrad degrees. Programs include: 

School Details:

  • MSCHE Accredited 
  • Online Degree Programs: BS, MS 

Daemen College

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Daemen College has a disability support service specifically for autistic students. This small, suburban school has a strong focus on the healthcare field. It has multiple majors, including these: 

  • Visual and Performing Arts (BA) 
  • Business Admin (BS) 
  • Social Work (BA) 
  • Health Promotion (BS)
  • School Details:
  • MSCHE Accredited 

Disability Programs

General Disabilities

The disability support at these schools aims to help students with varied disabilities: 

University of Arizona

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University of Arizona may be a great option for disabled students. It has over 250 undergrad programs as well as master’s and PhD level programs. Some of the degree programs include: 

  • Bio Chem (BS) 
  • Engineering Management (BS) 
  • Accounting (BS) 
  • Business Admin (BS)
  • School Details:
  • HLC Accredited 

Disability Programs

Hearing Impairment

Students who struggle to hear may find these schools accommodate them well:

Gallaudet University

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Gallaudet University has specific programs for students with hearing impairment, with all courses taught in both spoken English and signed English. It is the only university that targets deaf students specifically. Other disabilities are also accommodated, and hearing students are welcome. Degree programs include: 

  • American Sign Language (BA) 
  • Education (BA) 
  • Psychology (BA) 
  • Theatre Arts (BA)
  • School Details:

Midwest Institute

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Admission Requirements:

  • High school or GED considered but not required
  • Admission Rate: 100%
  • Grad Rate: 90%
  • Average Annual Cost: $22,126
  • Median Salary After Completing: $16,700 to $22,400
  • Dental Assistant
  • Medical Assisting
  • Massage Therapy
  • HVAC

Learning and Cognitive Disabilities

Learning differences require additional support at school, and these schools have risen to the challenge: 

University of Iowa

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Students with learning disabilities may achieve a Big Ten college experience through the University of Iowa. This school has a disability program for cognitive disabilities that focuses on career training. Undergrad degree programs include: 

  • Civil Engineering (BSE) 
  • Public Health (BA) 
  • Secondary Ed (BS) 
  • Sports Studies (BA)
  • School Details:

Disability Programs 

Physical Disabilities

Navigating a campus with a physical disability is challenging, but these schools strive to make it easier: 

University of California Berkeley 

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UC Berkeley has recently performed campus improvements to make its campus more wheelchair friendly. This means students with physical disabilities can get around campus easily. This school has over 350 degree programs across 184 departments. It holds the distinction of 31 alumni who earned Nobel Prizes. This school has many undergrad degree programs, like: 

  • Social Welfare (BA) 
  • Environmental Science (BS) 
  • Business Admin (BS) 
  • Bio Engineering (BS) 
  • School Details:

Disability Programs 

  • N/A

Tourette’s Syndrome

Though there are no specific programs for students with this condition at any colleges, students with Tourette’s Syndrome could find excellent support at: 

West Virginia Wesleyan College

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West Virginia Wesleyan has 56 undergrad majors for students to consider. It also has four master’s programs and a Doctor of Nursing Practice option. Many programs to assist students with special needs as well as Mentor Advantage Program tutoring services could help students with TS get off to a good start. Degrees include: 

  • Exercise Science (BS) 
  • Business Administration (BS) 
  • Physics (BA) 
  • El Ed (BS)
  • School Details:
  • HLC Accredited 
  • Online Degree Programs: BS, BA 

Disability Programs

Vision Loss and Blindness

These schools offer good accessibility for students with vision loss and blindness: 

Missouri State University

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Missouri State University has 102 bachelor’s programs, 61 master’s programs, and 7 doctoral programs. Its Disability Resource Center keeps visually impaired students well informed about things that affect their navigation of campus. Undergrad programs at this school include: 

  • School Details:
  • Online Degree Programs: Doctoral, MS, BS 
  • HLC Accredited 

Disability Programs

  • TRIO Student Support Services 
  • Disability Resource Center

University of Connecticut 

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UConn has a large campus with a small student to faculty ratio. The Center for Students with Disabilities helps modify the campus when needed for students with visual impairments. The school regularly has over 1,000 students with this disability. It has 14 schools and over 100 undergrad majors, including: 

  • School Details:
  • NECHE accreditation 
  • Online degree programs: MS

Disability Programs

  • Center for Students with Disabilities 

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