Empowered through Education

Hey there beauties! The topic of conversation this week is a good one, so let’s dive right in to it! Transitioning into college life is a rite of passage; A sign of independence and growing up. For many young adults, this means leaving home and finally spreading their wings. College can be a challenge for any new student. These challenges are not made any easier if you are an individual who also lives with a disability. In fact, the challenges are often doubled, which can lead to discouraging outcomes for students who desire post-secondary education.

While in high school, disabled students are provided access to multiple services and accommodations, such as a note taker, assistive technology, and even extended time for tests. This is all made possible with the help of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The student’s IEP makes sure that they receive the services and accommodations necessary to ensure their academic progress and achievement. In addition, students with disabilities in high school are also protected by provisions stated in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

 IDEA is a four-part piece of legislation that ensures students with a disability are provided with free appropriate public education. It was written and designed specifically to facilitate success for students who encounter educational barriers due to his or her disability. However, once a student completes his or her high school career, everything changes and all of those provisions end.

In post-secondary education the way a student with a disability receives services changes dramatically because of a simple shift in the law. The student is now only able to attain his or her accommodations provided in accordance with the ADA. The Americans with Disabilities Act has both protections and provisions within it to provide access to post-secondary education.

Clearly, the ADA and IDEA are two separate pieces of legislation that overall grant two very different things. In short, colleges don’t have the same legal obligations as high schools. The hard fact is that, yes, colleges provide some accommodations to students who are eligible under the ADA. However, most struggle when it comes to compliance. Some colleges have even fought against having alternate formats for testing and for evaluation, including more time to take tests.

Sadly, a large number of students who are leaving high school and transitioning into college often lack the knowledge and or skills to advocate for themselves. That being said, it is imperative that they learn and develop self-advocacy skills, as well as cultivate a strong sense of empowerment before exiting high school.

These advocacy skills become useful within the college setting in a plethora of ways, both inside and outside of the classroom, for students who are interested in participating in on and off campus life including study groups, clubs, and more.  All of these different activities may require specific accommodations in order for the individual to have an inclusive experience and may require the individual to personally advocate for what he or she needs. Students should also be aware that most colleges fear that renovating their campuses, adding sign-language interpreters, installing wheelchair accessible facilities, and providing accommodations in a wide variety of areas  would be both difficult to achieve and costly.

If a disabled student has any interest in becoming a part of either fraternity or sorority life, he or she may have to speak with a disability student services representative and or other affiliated college staff member prior to applying to that particular school. Many Greek organizations’ houses are not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning they are not easily accessible to those with physical disabilities. The majority of all Greek houses are privately owned, meaning organizations themselves are responsible for their own ADA compliance. Some fraternities and sororities are now making efforts to improve accessibility and providing accommodations so that disabled students can become more active in what may be considered a large part of campus life. However, only a small percent of undergraduate students who happen to have a disability belong to an organization they would call their second family. Not every student can access them.  We at Slick Chicks believe we should honor the progress made by so many students and faculty with disabilities, but we should also remember that colleges have a long way to go toward providing accessible and barrier-free education to all in every way. Advocate for it!

Obtaining post-secondary credentials has become a necessity to succeed in all aspects of life these days. Sadly, some students drop out because they do not have the ability to pay for tuition all four years. Imagine a society where everyone got to do what elevated their spirit and allowed them to fulfill a personal goal. Making college tuition free would eliminate this and allow post-secondary education to be accessible in every way for all who desire it.

One last piece of advice to freshmen, college is not just about your education. It is about building your character. Yes, you will learn in the classroom, but you will also learn from the life experiences you go through in a year. It can be a year where you make all your decisions yourself, with no parents babysitting your choices. You get to own your choices, but with that comes the fact that you and you alone have to bear the consequences of those choices. Make good ones!  Do the right thing even when it’s hard.  Learn everything you can because the knowledge you gain will be with you forever. Most of all, value the experience because it will never happen again.

Slick Chicks are supporters of Free Public College Education for ALL! And we encourage you, our readers, to write your state leaders in regards to this topic. YOUR VOICE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!

“Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”  - Nelson Mandela

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See ya in your skivvies!
Shannon and the Slick Chicks Team

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