​Starting College or Returning to College with Paralysis

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on April 08, 2021 # Lifestyle

By: Annie Tulkin, MS, Founder and Director of Accessible College

This post is part two of a two-part series on transitioning to college with paralysis.woman in wheelchair holding books next to man walking with backpack

Through Accessible College’s partnership with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, Accessible College is providing a limited number of free consultations for eligible students with paralysis. It’s a great primer for getting students of all ages ready to transition to college. There is a wide range of students with varying levels of paralysis currently engaged with this project. In part one of this blog series, I shared some takeaways from the sessions I had with high school students and their guardians. In this piece, I will focus on some takeaways in working with the adult students who are a part of this project, who are working toward starting college or returning to college with paralysis.

Going to college is a big transition for all students, regardless of age or ability. Students who are starting college or returning to college with paralysis have more things to consider. Many of these students have not previously received or needed accommodations in order to be able to attend school. Without prior experience in this area, it can be difficult to know what types of accommodations will be necessary and how to request those accommodations. Whether you are an adult with paralysis who is starting college or a student with paralysis who is returning to college, the accommodations you request through the college’s Disability Support Office (DSO) will be key in making sure that you are able to succeed. The purpose of accommodations is to level the playing field, not give an unfair advantage. They are meant to assist you in accessing education. There are a variety of accommodations that a student may need ranging from academic, to programmatic, to transportation. In addition to accommodations, it’s important to know that many colleges offer academic support services, such as tutoring, writing assistance, career advising, and academic coaching. These are resources that you may want to take advantage of and inquire about when looking at colleges.

For both adult students who are starting college for the first time with paralysis and students who are returning to college post-paralysis, one of the biggest challenges can be understanding the process for requesting accommodations and identifying accommodations and supports that are going to be useful. Here are some tips to help guide you:

  1. Connect with the Disability Support Office: Every college has a disability support office or an administrator whose role is to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified students with disabilities
    1. Ask if they are able to connect you with other students who use wheelchairs on campus. It may help to understand the types of challenges these students have faced, and the areas where they have had successes with programs, professors, and administrators.
    2. Find out what types of accommodations they might suggest for a student who has paralysis. Start by outlining the areas where you may need support. This could range from support with taking notes, relocating classes to accessible spaces, and an accessible parking spot on campus.
  2. Utilize your existing resources: The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has a peer mentoring program and offers support from Information Specialists. Through connecting with other people who have navigated college, you can learn more about the types of accommodations and support that you may want to request. You can also use the Reeve Foundation’s Navigating and Transitioning to College with Paralysis booklet that outlines questions that students can ask the DSOs and looks at potential accommodation considerations.
  3. Hone your executive function skills: the addition of college courses into your life is going to require time! The general rule of thumb is that students should spend two hours for every one hour they are in class studying. Think about your typical daily routine and start mapping out your plan to allow for class and study time. Once you are admitted to a college, you may be able to work with an academic coach or advisor through the college to help you create a schedule and develop your study skills. This is sometimes offered through the department that provides academic support.

It’s important to remember that you are not alone in this! Many people with paralysis have gone back to college post-injury, and many people have decided to start college later in life. While this may seem daunting, with thoughtful planning and support, you can be successful in college.

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.