Disability Support Services
"Most students with IBD may not realize that they can register with the Disability Services or Center for Accessible Education at their college. I am so relieved that I receive certain accommodations regarding my on campus housing and exams! You never know when they'll come in handy." - Amy Bugwadia, National Council of College Leaders
“I find that my accommodations help to reduce my stress. I don’t have to worry about missing a test or not being able to make it to lab class if I am sick. I know the plan for what will happen if I can’t make it, and I know I won’t be penalized. It also helps me take better care of myself. It makes me feel more comfortable with taking a day off when I start to feel sick to rest and recover before it gets worse.” - Aleah DeSchmidt, National Council of College Leaders
Protecting Students Living with IBD
While you are choosing which college to attend, it is also important to learn more about each school’s disability policies. Applying for accommodations is helpful regardless of where you are in your IBD journey, because IBD symptoms can be unexpected, and return at any time. Having accommodations in place can reduce the stress you may experience at school, and help you feel more secure when you experience symptoms. Schools work with students to make sure necessary accommodations are in place to ensure that each student, regardless of disability, or chronic illness, has equal access to quality education.
According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act), public, government-funded institutions such as state and regional colleges and vocational programs, 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.
Section 504 pertains to all levels of education—grade school to college and even to graduate schools that accept federal funding. One goal of the Rehabilitation Act is to promote the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities into places of learning. This statute reaches beyond education to any federally funded program, providing protection against discrimination based on disability. You can learn more about Section 504 by downloading this article.
Please note that private schools may not be required to make accommodations and adaptations for students who are living with disabilities such as Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. To find out if the college you are applying to is required to comply with Section 504, speak to a student services representative or academic advisor. You will discover that most private schools will make proper accommodations for students living with disabilities—but it’s always best to ask first.
Regardless of which college you attend and whatever accommodations they provide, you should definitely contact your school’s Disability Support Services Office as soon as possible to help you adjust to your new environment.
What Accommodations Can I Receive?
While each college or university may differ in the exact accommodations offered to students who need them, below is a list of some important accommodations that may be included. Talk to your healthcare provider about what accommodations may be appropriate for you:
- Priority Enrollment: This allows students to have an earlier enrollment time for classes. This allows you to build a schedule that works better for your body and life with IBD. For example, if you are more likely to experience symptoms at a certain time of day, you can avoid scheduling class at that time. You can also be proactive about scheduling classes around your medical appointments and infusions.
- Note Taking Support: This allows other student volunteers to consistently take notes for students with IBD who may not be able to attend every class. This is particularly helpful for classes which are not recorded by the professor or TA. Access to these notes can come in handy if you are experiencing a flare or symptoms, and don't feel well enough to make it to class.
- Adjusted Deadlines: This allows students with IBD to get reasonable extensions on projects and assignments if necessary. The nature of deadline adjustments can vary from school to school. Your school's ADA/504 Compliance Officer can help you in the event you are not receiving reasonable adjustments.
- Adjusted Attendance: These policies allow professors to work with students to come up with alternatives to making up attendance credit for missed classes. This can help alleviate the stress that comes with missing class due to symptoms or a flare.
- Exam Accommodations/ Extended Time: This allows for extra time when taking timed exams. For students with IBD, this can mean "stopping the clock" when you need to use the bathroom and not losing time. Additionally, this may allow for rescheduling an exam due to illness, or extra time before taking an exam in the event you were sick and unable to study. Putting an exam accommodation plan in place can help put you at ease around exam time throughout the semester.
- Housing: Disability Support Services (or your schools disability department) can work with Housing Services on campus to make sure that your living needs are accommodated. Depending on the types of housing offered, you may be able to request a certain type of room, such as one with your own bathroom, or a single room without roommates. You may also be able to request certain things based on your medical treatment such as having your own fridge, or access to bathroom with a tub, in case you require a sitz bath. It's important to talk through exactly what you need with your healthcare provider before you talk to disability support services.
- Dining: If you are living on campus, you may be able to request a room with a kitchen if its offered. If not, some colleges may have a special kitchen that only certain students have access to. If you are on a certain diet, you may be able to discuss having a different meal plan than what is offered to other students. You may also be able to request specially prepared food from campus dining services, or get access to special pantries that are not available to every student (such as gluten-free).
- Mobility Accommodations: If getting around campus is a challenge due to fatigue, joint pain or other IBD-related reasons, transportation to, from, and in between classes and your dorm can be requested.
How Do I Register or Apply to Receive Accommodations?
Most schools have a disability office which is usually called the "Disability Resource Center", the "Center for Accessible Education" or something similar. You will likely need to have an intake appointment, or meeting with a staff member from this office to discuss what accommodations are available and right for you. You will also need to provide required paperwork confirming your diagnosis of IBD (from your gastroenterologist) and need for certain accommodations. It's best to check with the office before your meetings (and the start of the semester) to make sure you have all the required information.
When you discuss your accommodations with your school's center, you want to make sure you understand what the process is for continuity of accommodations throughout your college experience. Some arrangements will need to be discussed with each professor at the beginning of every semester. Your school may also offer an online portal where you can communicate with your professors about your accommodations.
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation has Sample Letter Templates for the different accommodations you may need during your time in college.