What is Advocacy?
In college, to advocate effectively for yourself, you will need to learn about yourself, your disability, and the laws that ensure your rights.
Advocate from the Start - Inform Your College about Your Disability During the Registration Process
First, to effectively prove you have a disability, it is important to keep good records from grade school. If you attended a public school, your educational program was provided for by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). You will need copies of documentation from your program to verify that you are eligible for adaptations and accommodations in college.
In college or vocational school, you may qualify for accommodations under Section 504 in programs that are covered by that law. You will need, at minimum, your most recent evaluation report with your diagnosis, Individual Education Program (IEP), or your Section 504 plan. Students with learning disabilities typically have two folders, a regular education folder, and a special education folder. Schools will typically provide one copy of these records upon written request. Ask for copies of materials in both folders. As always, it is best to begin keep special education records at home during elementary and high school years. A notebook system is easy to maintain.
In your college program , keep records of your program of studies, course completion, and grades. Keep all of your academic records in a three-ring binder. After graduation, use your binder to help you develop a resume.
Advocate with Counseling Professionals - Talk With Your College Guidance Counselor About Your Learning Disability
Early on, tell your adviser about your learning disability. Be prepared to explain how your disability affects your ability to participate in class and what adaptations and accommodations you will need to be successful. Ask your adviser to assist you with choosing appropriate courses and referring you to support services available on campus.
Advocate within Your Rights - Know the Limits of Your Rights - Not All Colleges and Vocational Programs are Required to Comply with Section 504
Public, government funded institutions such as state and regional colleges and vocational programs must comply with Section 504 and are required to make reasonable modifications and adaptations for students with disabilities that significantly impact their education, learning, or physical ability to participate in programs. Private schools, however, may not be required to make accommodations and adaptations for students with disabilities. To find out if a college or vocational program is required to comply with Section 504, contact an academic adviser or student ombudsman employed by the school. Some private schools will provide accommodations for students with disabilities, even if they are not required to do so. Always ask. However, be sure to avoid these common advocacy mistakes.
Prepare for Advocacy - Make a List of Questions for your Counselor and Professors Concerning Your Disability and the School's Policies and Programs
Prepare a list of questions in advance. Write your adviser's answers to your questions. If your writing is affected by your learning disability, let your adviser know this, and ask if you can record your discussion so you can write down his answers later.
Get and keep a copy of the institution's policies and requirements related to your specific program. Get a copy of the specific course requirements and their descriptions. Keep them in or with your binder or notebook
Make a checklist of the courses you are required to take, in the sequence you are required to take them. As you complete them, date them. Keep your grade reports with your course requirements in your binder. Make time to learn good organizational and planning skills.
Questions to Ask Your Counselor: Know Your School's Programs and Your Rights to Advocate Effectively
- What are the institution's policies on accommodating students with disabilities? What are the testing and homework policies? Are you permitted to share notes, have extended time on tests, or flexibility on the amount of homework you must complete?
- Where can you get a copy or access the school's policies?
- Is there an office on campus that assists students with disabilities?
- Is there an academic assistance service where you can get tutoring or other assistance for your disabilities?
- Are there specific courses, professors, buildings, or classrooms that are more easily adapted to accommodate your disability?
- Is there an organization for students with SLDs or other disabilities?
- Where is the campus office that mediates disputes between students and professors or campus programs?
- Read up on Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Be Your Own Advocate, But Tap Your Parents' Expertise Too
Learn about your rights as a student with a disability. As an adult, you must learn to be assertive in a positive way to ensure your success in school and in life. Make the extra effort it may take to find out what services and resources are available to you on campus. Along the way, remember that your parents have spent many years as your advocates. Talk with them about their experiences with this, and don't hesitate to ask them questions about your disability, your academic history and needs, and your rights.