Supporting High School Students with Paralysis with the Transition to College

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on March 17, 2021 # Lifestyle

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

This post is part one of a two-part series on transitioning to college with paralysis.

It might not feel like it, but spring is nearly here. For students who are transitioning to college, spring marks a big turning point. Many high school seniors are getting acceptance letters and zeroing in on the college they will attend in the fall, while juniors are starting their college search and beginning to think about which schools they are interested in. Spring is also a time for new beginnings, when many adult students are considering their options for starting or returning to college in the summer or fall. For students with paralysis, there is a lot more planning to do, and many more things to consider.male student walking on the left next to a female student in a wheelchair on the right

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. This project started in September 2020 and is currently funded through June 2021. It’s a great primer for getting students ready to transition to college. There are a wide range of students with varying levels of paralysis currently engaged with this project. In part one of this blog series, I will share some takeaways from the sessions that I am having with high school students and their guardians. Part two will focus on the adult students who are a part of this project, who are working toward starting or returning to college.

Takeaways and How Accessible College Helps Students Prepare:

College is different from high school

For many of the students that I am working with, our conversation is the first time that they are discussing their college search through the lens of their disability and health care needs. They learn that:

  • Colleges provide varying levels of support, accommodations, and service.
  • Students are not guaranteed all of the accommodations they received in high school.
  • Students will have to make their own accommodation requests and self-advocate.

Once students begin to learn about the college accommodations process and how it’s different from high school, they start to understand that they should be taking a more active role. Together, we take a comprehensive, holistic approach to identifying their needs and other considerations for their college search.

Ask questions

Because colleges provide varying levels of accommodations and services, it’s important for prospective students to ask questions. It’s important to know that college accommodations apply not only to academics, but also to housing, dining, transportation and programs. In my work with the students and parents, we create a list of accommodations that apply to all areas, based on the student’s functional limitations, that apply to the college setting. This list can be used to inform their accommodation requests. We also create a specific list of questions to ask the Disability Support Office (DSO) at the institutions that they are interested in. After they have those conversations with the DSO, we then compare the answers and factor those responses into their larger college selection criteria. This process can help determine whether or not a school is going to be a good fit.

Navigating classroom support and personal care needs

Students may receive the support of an aide in their high school classroom. This is not an accommodation that is provided in the college setting. If the student needs assistance in classes, there are a few ways to navigate this: sometimes, students rely on other students to assist them, or the student/family can hire an aide to come with them to class. If your student has the additional need for the services of a Personal Care Attendant (PCA) in assisting with bathing, toileting, dressing, etc. it’s important to start the conversation well before college is starting and care is transferred. The transfer of care to another person outside the family can be a tricky process. We need to make sure that we are talking to students about body autonomy and self-advocacy so that they can feel empowered when navigating their relationship with their PCA. It’s critical to start talking to students about this early on, so that they can start preparing to navigate this issue.

These takeaways can help inform your process and preparation. Through thoughtful planning and conversation, students can begin to understand the importance of considering their needs more holistically, and parents can begin to prepare to take a step back and allow their students to develop self-advocacy skills that will serve them in college and beyond. You can learn more about Accessible College’s project with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation here:

Free Consultations to Students with Paralysis Who are Transitioning to College Provided by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in Partnership with Accessible College.

Check out the transition guide:

Navigating and Transitioning to College with Paralysis

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.