College Transition: Eleanor Bolton

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on August 02, 2022 # Accessible College

EleanorEleanor Bolton and her family have always planned ahead, whether researching transportation options a year in advance of vacations or investigating the accessibility of a new restaurant before venturing out for dinner. The extra time and attention ensure that Bolton and a younger brother, who both live with spinal muscular atrophy and use power wheelchairs, can participate in routine aspects of life so easily taken for granted by others.

Although Bolton often feels frustrated by this necessity — “The effort it takes to navigate a world not built with you in mind is not something people without disabilities are aware of,” she says – the possibility of encountering physical and attitudinal barriers has not limited her pursuit of an independent and full life.

In 2021, Bolton was accepted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was one of just 76 students to receive the prestigious merit-based Morehead-Cain Scholarship. Thrilled, she reached out to the National Paralysis Resource Center’s College Transition Program, determined not to let the extra layers of logistics diminish her excitement for the next stage of her life.

“The transition to college from high school for people with disabilities is a whirlwind and figuring out what has to be done is incredibly complicated,” Bolton says. “I knew I wanted someone who understands it to help me get the best possible set-up.”

Students with disabilities account for roughly 19% of the college population across the United States. The NPRC’s College Transition Program provides free consultations to students with paralysis as they pursue higher education and prepare for future careers. Though they may have unique considerations alongside class selection—including accessibility and accommodation requirements–there is no reason these students cannot thrive at college.

Bolton worked with Reeve Foundation partner organization Accessible College, whose founder, Annie Tulkin, helped her navigate the transition even as the year was underway.

Eleanor“Annie helped me figure out everything: how to get from the library to the dorm, whether all the buses were accessible, if I could move in early, what the physical therapy options were on campus and off, the medical documentation that I needed,” Bolton says. “She helped me work through every single nuance possible.”

The support, Bolton says, was critical— especially while fighting for insurance coverage related to the personal care attendant she needed to hire for help in the morning and evenings.

“There were many times in the first week that I thought I would have to go home,” she said. “Navigating the insurance company was really emotionally difficult, but I was here on full ride and felt like I belonged. I didn’t want to give up. It was such a comfort to have someone there who said, ‘I’ve seen this before, but it’s going to work out.’ And it did.”

Bolton’s coverage came through, providing the support she needed to cultivate a busy and independent life on campus. Her first year of college was all that she had hoped for; she made new friends, took interesting classes, and worked with the student government to promote disability awareness around campus.

“I've already learned so much about myself,” she says. “People with disabilities can absolutely handle a college workload and absolutely thrive. I’m so happy I'm here. And a huge reason for that was the support of the Reeve Foundation.”

For more information about the College Transition Program, or to receive “Navigating and Transitioning to College with Paralysis," a comprehensive guide to help young adults with mobility impairments plan for college written by Tulkin, please contact the NPRC Information Specialist team at www.ChristopherReeve.org/Ask or call 800-539-7309.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.