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How to Make Your College User-Friendly for Students with (and without) Disabilities
In today’s show-me age of Instagram and Snapchat, prospective students tend to choose a college based on their individual experiences. They rely on what they see on social media, on your school’s website and, perhaps most importantly, during their personal visit to campus to decide if it’s the right choice for them.
This direct approach may be especially true for students coping with a learning disability (LD) or on the autism spectrum (AD) who require more than an education provider. They need a visually simple, organized and structured environment with folks who understand their challenges and how to solve them. And they need all of this available at their fingertips.
To stand out to these students, a college or university’s focus on user experience in these four areas is essential:
Website: Make your website über user-friendly and provide easy-to-use templates for online registration and other forms. Navigating a website and filling out confusing forms can be an overwhelming experience for any prospective student. There are so many questions to answer. So, it’s especially helpful if your website has the info neatly packaged and easily found. Also consider the three-click rule: If it takes more than three clicks from your home page to find your disability services, many students in need of them will leave your website before they can learn what your campus offers—and they may not come back.
Disabilities Resources Office: A college’s disability services office is there to help ensure that the school is providing reasonable accommodations in alignment with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. Their mission is to provide leadership and facilitate equal access to all institutional opportunities for disabled students. To accomplish its mission, a disability services office must:
Provide institution-wide advisement, consultation and training on disability-related topics, including legal and regulatory compliance, universal design and disability scholarship.
Collaborate with partners to identify and remove barriers to foster an all-inclusive campus.
Provide individual services and facilitate accommodations to students with disabilities.
Multipronged Programs: Don’t confine your services to a single program. Take a multipronged approach that ensures students with diverse cognitive challenges get exactly the help they need. One New York college has initiated a Higher Education Learning Program (HELP), which is open to any student with a documented disability. HELP provides three hours of individualized tutoring each week, and sessions may cover skill development (e.g., organizational, reading/writing or general study skills) or subject/content lessons.
Other schools provide testing to struggling students to determine whether a disability exists. If a student is found to have a reading comprehension issue, for instance, they are provided with a staff member to read aloud the instructions and even questions on an exam and then leave it to the student to provide the correct answer.
Life Skills Counseling: Your learning support program should offer individual counseling on issues like time management, note-taking and organizational strategies; facilitate accommodations for undergrads who need assistive technology or modified testing conditions; promote independence and encourage students to advocate for their own needs on a continual basis.
From that first website visit to commencement, a superior user experience on all fronts is a must to turn prospects into alumni. And for students with disabilities, this individualized approach could make the difference to bring them through the entire process with great success for themselves and your college.