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Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash A group of graduates wear black robes with blue and golden hoods. They throw their caps into a cloudy sky.

Photo by Pang Yuhao on Unsplash

A group of graduates wear black robes with blue and golden hoods. They throw their caps into a cloudy sky.

A Fresh Start

Starting college is an exciting time in a young adult’s life. After a lifetime of daily structure and schedules set by others, you are independent. You have the opportunity to create the class and work schedule that works best for you. You may also be living on your own for the first time. There is no one to enforce your curfew or monitor your diet. As fabulous as these changes may seem, they also come with newfound responsibilities and anxieties.

While the high school to college transition is stressful for all students, chronic illnesses like IBD can exacerbate these challenges. Fortunately, we have you covered! Read on to learn about the laws that protect you as a college student and how to make the most out of them.

Disability Law in College

Most students entering college have limited knowledge on the laws that protected them throughout their K-12 years. Your parents and teachers likely handled the bulk of your accommodations in high school through a 504 plan or Individualized Education Plan, and your guidance counselor communicated your needs to your teachers.

Once students reach college, they are expected to be their own advocates. There is no need for panic. You can become a strong self-advocate by learning the basics of disability law and basic communication skills.

The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 protect the rights of people with disabilities, such as IBD. They act to prevent discrimination and ensure access to reasonable accommodations in educational and employment settings.

*If you are interested in learning more about ADA law, check out our ADA blog.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash Two people speak at a table with a laptop in the center.

Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

Two people speak at a table with a laptop in the center.

How to Apply for Accommodations on Campus

Contact your campus’s office of disability services.

The first step to securing reasonable accommodations for your chronic illness is contacting your university’s disability services offices. You should be able to find a link to their contact information on your college’s main website. Offices use different titles such as ‘Accommodation Center,’ ‘Access Office,’ or ‘Resources and Abilities Office,” so it may take some browsing. If you cannot find the office’s contact information on your school website, call your school’s main number and ask for this information.

Once you have the contact information, call the office and arrange a meeting. Make sure to ask them what type of documentation they will require so that you can have it at your appointment.

Organize the Documentation You Need

Most disability services offices will ask you to provide some form of documentation. Do not let this make you nervous. The Association of Higher Education and Disability holds that documentation should not be a burdensome process. The specific requirements will vary for each office, but you will likely need to provide a doctor’s note with a diagnosis and explanation of the limits your illness poses.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America has a form letter that you can give to your physician as a guide.

You should also make a list of the accommodations that have helped you in the past and any concerns you have about managing IBD/ an ostomy in college. While coming up with this list, make sure that you think beyond the classroom. Accommodations are intended to provide access to both academics and campus life as a whole.

If you are new to IBD or accommodations, speak with your doctor about adjustments that might contribute to your success.

Work with the Office to Determine the Reasonable Accommodations that are Best for You.

Reasonable Accommodations are equity measures that remove barriers for people with disabilities. A reasonable accommodation does not place an undue hardship on the college or fundamentally alter an academic program. While decisions about the reasonable nature of accommodations are made on a case-by-case basis, colleges need sufficient evidence to claim that an accommodation is unreasonable (Learn more about reasonable/ unreasonable accommodations here).

While discussing accommodations, it is essential to be honest about any concerns you have. I fully understand that talking about IBD symptoms can be uncomfortable at times, but you will be speaking with a professional. Honesty will help ensure that you get the right accommodations.

Common Accommodations Used by Students with IBD

Academic

  • Extended time on examinations.
  • Stop-the-clock bathroom breaks.
  • Unlimited bathroom breaks.
  • Flexibility in attendance.
  • Adjusted deadline.
  • Notes from missed classes.
  • Classes in close proximity to bathrooms.

Residential/ Campus Life

  • Alternative living arrangements (single or room with easy access to the bathroom).
  • A bathroom with a bathtub (for stiz baths)
  • Access to a kitchen.
  • Meal-plan adjustments.
  • Specially prepared food from campus dining services.
  • Assistance with mobility and transportation.

*Please note that accommodation options will vary spending on the school. This is especially true for dorm accommodations.

Who Will Know About My Accommodations?

While the exact procedure varies from office to office, most disability services offices will provide you with a letter stating that you are registered with their office and listing your accommodations. The letter will not name your specific diagnosis or provide medical details.

It is up to you to give this letter to your professors. It is a good idea to email your professor and set a time to meet with them. You can then give them your accommodations letter and tell them any additional information you are comfortable sharing. This gives you the opportunity to express any concerns you have about class while simultaneously giving your professor the opportunity to clear up any confusion. You are under no legal obligation to share the specifics of your diagnosis. However, clear communication is a great way to prevent misunderstanding.

Maintain Communication with Your Professors and the Disability Services Office Throughout Your Academic Journey

If you begin experiencing a problem in a class or with a particular aspect of campus life, reach out to those directly involved as well as the disability services office as soon as possible. Explain the nature of the problem and adjustments that might help. Do not worry if you cannot think of an accommodation that would help. The disability services office is there to help you with this.

College is a special time in your life, but it comes with many new challenges. Knowing your rights and utilizing campus resources can help ease some of the additional anxieties posed by navigating college with a chronic illness. I hope that these tips enhance your college experience. It is your time to thrive!!

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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