The next step to becoming a self-advocate is to determine what you need and want. It is important to assess and manage needs in each area of your life to provide some kind of life balance. Similarly, having a vision of your hopes and dreams will give you a reason to keep striving and working. As you focus on your academic pursuits, it is essential for you to understand your rights and responsibilities as a college student so that you can effectively address your learning needs through accommodations if needed. Additionally, having an awareness of campus resources will give you even more tools to use as you decide what you need and want.
Develop a Vision for Your Future
Having a vision for your future will help you stay motivated and engaged in college. Your vision may not be perfectly in focus yet, this will take time. However, it is still possible to develop a vision for the future that makes your hard work in school worthwhile.
It is not unusual to enter college with an “undeclared major”. You may not know the exact career you would like to have at this point in your life. However, you may have a general idea of a field or fields of study that you are interested in. Now is the time to explore these fields! Go to the Career Services Office on campus and talki to your advisor. Take time to check out different majors. For the activities in this chapter, if you are "undeclared," imagine yourself working in an area of interest.
Dreams for the Future
If you take a moment to dream about your future you probably have an idea of how you would like your life to be. Think about five years after college when you are working in your career…
Now it's your turn...
To start the visioning process, consider the following questions:
- Geographically, where are you living?
- What type of setting? Large city, medium city, town, rural setting, etc.
- What type of place are you living in?
- How do you get around?
- What type of a job do you have?
- What type of work do you do on a daily basis?
- Are you working with people, animals, things, other?
- Are you working inside or outside?
- What do you like about your job?
- Who are your coworkers?
- What do you do for fun?
- How is your health?
- What do you do to stay healthy?
- Who are the significant people in your life?
- Is spirituality a part of your life?
- What is your life’s purpose?
Develop a Vision for Your Future
Once again, consider all of the areas of your life and what you hope for in each area. How is your vision for the future the same or different from your current life picture? Remember to strive for some type of balance between your life areas…
Now you are ready to put your future down in writing. As you complete the next worksheet ask yourself how this compares to “My Life Right Now Worksheet”. Have your challenges and needs changed? Is your life balanced? Can you think of what you need to do to get from where you are now with your life to your future hopes and dreams?
Develop a vision for your future: Worksheet
Know Your Rights and Responsibilities
As a student in an institution of higher education, there are certain legal mandates that uphold the rights and responsibilities of qualified students with disabilities and faculty as they relate to your participation in higher education and to making accommodations.
Students with disabilities have the right to:
- participate in higher education if they are qualified for admission
- equal access to academic content and educational opportunities
- participate in student activities
- academic adjustments (reasonable accommodations)
- file a formal or informal complaint if discrimination is occurring
- confidentiality of all disability-related information
Students with disabilities are responsible for:
- providing appropriate documentation of their disability
- advocating for their learning needs
- connecting with the Disability Service Office (DSO) and other student services
- seeking a reasonable accommodation (when necessary) in a timely manner
Faculty members have the right to:
- maintain the rigor and the fundamental nature of their course content
- require students to demonstrate their knowledge of crucial course content
- negotiate an accommodation with the student and the Disability Service Office (DSO) if the accommodation seems unreasonable
- request verification of a student's eligibility for an accommodation—faculty can turn down the request for an accommodation without proper documentation. However, faculty should encourage the student to continue communicating about learning challenges and suggest that the student go to the DSO on campus to make an official request for an accommodation
Faculty members are responsible for:
- implementing best practices in teaching to reach a diversity of learners
- sharing information on how students can request an accommodation (Many universities and colleges require that an accommodation statement be included on every syllabus. Check with your DSO about the accommodation procedure on your campus.)
- working with the Disability Service Office and with students with disabilities to make reasonable accommodations in a timely manner
- having an awareness of campus resources available for students and faculty maintaining confidentiality
To further understand your rights and responsibilities, it is helpful to understand the related legislative mandates. The following information will provide an overview of how these laws apply to postsecondary education.
Brief Background of K-12
As you have probably noticed, your responsibilities in the K-12 system were far different than the responsibilities you now have in postsecondary education. A major reason for this shift is because of the corresponding shift in legislation.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (1990)
In K-12 many students with disabilities receive services through IDEA. IDEA is programmatic legislation that provides funding to states that meet the IDEA guidelines. This legislation actually has a “child find” component that seeks out qualified children with disabilities for service provision and empowers parents to be active partners in the planning of educational services. Together with families, the K-12 system takes care of and advocates for students with disabilities. This systematic approach changes in postsecondary education. The postsecondary system requires students rather than the system to take the initiative to connect with needed services and support. As a result, some students with disabilities come to college thinking their parents or the institution will advocate for them. They are unprepared to advocate for themselves which may lead to academic difficulties.
Postsecondary Legislative Mandates
In higher education qualified students with disabilities should receive benefits and services comparable to those given their nondisabled peers primarily through two laws—The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title II and III) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Sections 504 and 508). The mandates of the ADA apply to all institutions of higher education, regardless of the receipt of federal funds while Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act apply to colleges and universities receiving federal financial assistance. Additionally, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is another law to be aware of because it pertains to the confidentiality of students’ educational records.
The three legislative mandates that address the need for access and accommodation in post-secondary education are as follows:
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973)
Section 504 ensures that any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of disability. Section 504 states that, “No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States, as defined in section 7(20), shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance…” On a college campus Section 504 ensures the opportunity for students with disabilities to fully participate in academic programs, student services and student activities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (1990)
The ADA is wide-ranging legislation intended to make society more accessible to people with disabilities. The ADA extends the provisions of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 1973 to entities not receiving federal funding. It protects fundamental rights and extends equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to the areas of public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications. According to the ADA, “no otherwise qualified individual with a disability shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity of a public entity.”
Title II of the ADA ensures equal opportunity and access to state funded higher education programs (universities, community colleges and vocational schools) for otherwise qualified college students with disabilities. Title III covers private colleges and vocational schools.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (1998)
Section 508 covers products and technologies procured by the Federal government, including computer hardware and software, Web sites, phone systems, fax machines, and copiers, among others. Section 508 requires Federal departments and agencies that develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology to ensure that Federal employees and members of the public with disabilities have access to and use of information and data comparable to that of the employees and members of the public without disabilities.
The following mandate addresses confidentiality of educational records for college students:
Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
In general, FERPA requires institutions of postsecondary education to obtain written permission from students to release information from a student’s educational record. However, when it is necessary for school officials to share information with each other regarding a student’s educational records, this can be done without consent, when there is a “legitimate educational interest” or, in cases where there may be a threat to health and safety, as well as a number of other extenuating circumstances (34 CFR § 99.31).
This law may come into play if a parent of a student with a disability were to contact faculty to discuss or get information about a student’s grades. FERPA also applies to disability information on file with the DSO or disclosed to faculty. This information is considered part of the educational record and is therefore, covered under FERPA.
Find Resources on Campus
As noted in the previous chapter, connecting with resources available on campus is up to you. Every college campus has a multitude of services and supports available. You must identify and connect with the resources that will be helpful to you.
Most services for students will be found under the organizational structure of programs in the Division of Student Affairs or, Student Services. In this area you will find academic support services, student diversity and advocacy programs (including disability services), sororities and fraternities, adult learners, health and wellness, counseling services, legal services, student housing, student government, student activities, student leadership, service learning, book store, student center, recreation center, etc. In addition, there are services available through academic and administrative units.
Search the University Website
Investigate the homepage of your institution. Try searching for the following terminology:
- division of student affairs
- student services
- financial services
- student employment
- student leadership
- disability services
- student activities
- health services
- campus ministry
- cultural centers
- student government
- assistive technology
- career services
- parking service
- counseling services
- academic tutoring
- student clubs/organizations
Try to attend a freshman orientation programs offered the summer before your freshman year or freshman seminars during the fall of your freshman year. These programs are designed to give information about available services and programs to help with the transition from high school to college.
Disability Service Center
Whether you are requesting an academic accommodation or not, visiting with a Disability Service Office (DSO) representative is a good idea. This office will be able to give you information about campus services and resources (ask if there a student services resource guide) and help with specific disability related needs and issues. Finding out about the steps to take to get an academic accommodation will help you if or when you need an accommodation.
Academic units usually provide academic advising and office hours with faculty. They may also offer tutoring support, writing support, computer labs, leadership opportunities, professional organizations, etc.
Most campuses provide a hard copy of their campus directory. This book contains contact information for all of the services, academic units, faculty and students. Browsing through the directory will help you get a sense of all of the entities on campus. For example, looking up the student center will give you an idea of all of the services, businesses, and offices located in the student center.
Most campuses have a student center which provides essential community and campus services in a one-stop setup. Students can access anything from food courts, restaurants, banking, haircuts, bookstore, copy center, computer lab, student organizations, campus events etc. Student centers also usually have an information desk that is a good resource for finding out information about campus resources and student center options.
Last, but not least, is the important skill of networking. Ask every campus affiliated person that you interact with what services or resources that they recommend. Also ask fellow students and upperclassman for pointers on services and resources.
Colorado State University Resources
Numerous resources can be found at the Assistive Technology Resource Center's (ATRC) Resource page, including: