Post-secondary education remains a hurdle for many students with disabilities but recent studies offer insight into what characteristics separate individuals with special needs who are ultimately successful in higher education from those who are not able to meet the challenges.
In interviews with recent graduates with disabilities, researchers found that students who persevered to earn a degree shared the ability to self-advocate. These individuals also had good insight into their abilities as well as limitations and often cited a strong relationship with at least one faculty or staff member on campus.
Self-advocacy is essential for success in a post-secondary school environment as is self-determination. Self-advocacy refers to an individual's ability to effectively communicate their own interests, needs, rights and desires. It is important to know your particular strengths, needs and interests before you begin to be a self-advocate. Some of the considerations for self-advocacy include the following steps:
- Know and understand your rights and responsibilities
- Learn all you can about your disability, needs, strengths and weaknesses
- Know what accommodations you require as well as why you need them
- Know how to effectively communicate your needs and preferences
- Find out who the key people are and how to contact them when necessary
- Be willing to ask questions when something is unclear or you require clarification.
Before you choose a school to attend for post-secondary education, try to determine the support services which are already in place as well as the knowledge of the instructional staff in regards to students' legal rights. Adequate support systems provide information about differences in legal requirements for accommodations between secondary education and post-secondary education. These support systems also assist students with disabilities in choosing appropriate fields of study and services which are associated with the individual's particular disability types. Some of the newer research in this area suggests that the use of a mentor may be helpful in providing additional support when problems occur.
It is also important to remember that faculty, staff and administrators may have limited knowledge of disability rights law as well as what is considered appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. The student, through self-advocacy, must be willing to help educate the various instructors so that more positive attitudes and expectations are ensured for the specific student.