Disability Advocacy for Students Online

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Adjusting to college can be challenging for students with disabilities. The need for accessibility and accommodation is serious, and while most colleges have disability resource centers, it’s also important to be aware of the national advocacy organizations that provide supplemental resources, support, and assistance.

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability in section 12102 as “(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.”

Under the ADA, individuals with disabilities are protected from discrimination. Moreover, public and private institutions, including universities, must provide “reasonable accommodation” to ensure access for students with disability.

Click here for more on the history of legislation, and the current legal developments, impacting students with disabilities.

Whether you are a high school student shopping for a college, a current college student, a grad student with disability — or the parent, guardian or advocate of a student with disability — you can find support and resources through a wide range of advocacy groups and organizations. We’ve catalogued a few of the most important groups and organizations here below, categorized by types of disability.

General Support

The following groups offer support and resources for people with all types of disability.

  • AHEAD
    Since 1977, AHEAD has served as an advocacy group for disabled people across the country. It provides numerous resources and services for professional development, as well as for current or future college students to ensure they have a complete and productive college experience.
  • American Civil Liberties Union
    With a century of experience to its name, the ACLU is the perhaps the most prominent civil liberties protection group of the United States. Through lobbying and litigation, the ACLU fights for the rights of diverse groups of people, focusing on discrimination, constitutional violations, and practices and policies resulting in the unequal treatment of any group of people in the United States, which includes upholding the promises of key disability legislation in legal battles.
  • Career Opportunities for Students with Disabilities
    Growing from a perceived disconnect between college disability resource centers and career development services, the COSD aids students with disabilities in securing a job during or after completing their degree.
  • Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
    The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund has engaged in civil rights law and policy concerning disabled individuals since 1979. They provide legal advocacy, education, training, and policy development with the goal of developing fair disability legislation and protecting the rights of the disabled.
  • Disability Rights, Education, Activism, and Mentoring
    Founded in 2011, DREAM dedicates itself to supporting and advocating for college students with disabilities through the process of earning their degrees. It includes numerous local chapters and campus organizations, provides resources for students, offers numerous publications, holds conferences, and details information on disability rights.
  • Disabled Sports USA
    For over 50 years, Disabled Sports USA has provided therapeutic, rehabilitative, leadership, and recreational opportunities for disabled individuals through organized sports. Over 120 local DSUSA chapters serve over 60,000 individuals in more than 50 sports.
  • Going to College
    Going to College dedicates itself specifically to meeting the needs of disabled teenagers making the transition from high school to college. It offers resources and planning services designed to make the transition as smooth as possible.
  • Office for Civil Rights
    The Office for Civil Rights, part of the U.S. Department of Education, offers a publication that details the fundamentals of disability legislation (especially in regards to education) and explains what rights disabled students have.
  • PhDisabled
    Doctoral programs are notoriously difficult; disability shouldn’t be a prohibitive factor in earning a doctoral degree. PhDisabled provides a community for Ph.D. students with disabilities to connect, discuss, and collaborate on navigating the difficulties of doctoral studies while living with disabilities.
  • National Center for College Students with Disabilities
    Funded by the U.S. Department of Education and connected to AHEAD, the NCCSD focuses specifically on the needs of college students with disabilities. It publishes research and provides numerous resources, including an online resource library, an online community, links to national organizations, and other products.
  • National Organization on Disability
    The National Organization on Disability dedicates itself to the mission of ensuring quality of life for disabled people, and full integration in all aspects of society. It provides such resources as employment and career development services, a leadership council, professional services, and resources for best practices.
  • The American Association of People with Disabilities
    The AAPD advocates for the rights of disabled people in all aspects of society, including education, employment, transportation, health care, technology, policy and legislation. It offers a variety of programs as well, including internships, mentoring, conferences, events, and awareness campaigns.
  • Understood
    Understood serves children with learning disabilities and their parents, whether in grade school or preparing for the transition to college. It offers resources for understanding learning disabilities, resources for finding the necessary aid, and a community for discussion and support.
  • We Connect Now
    Designed specifically for college students with disabilities, We Connect Now aims to unite students through virtual and physical communities. It provides a blog, newsletter, numerous resource links, information on laws and rights, and campus events.

Autism Spectrum

The autism spectrum encompasses a wide range of experiences, and while some individuals on the autism spectrum may require lifelong care, others may go on to live fruitful and totally independent lives. In particular, high-functioning individuals may succeed at college with the proper assistance. Sometimes grouped under “cognitive disabilities,” we feel that the autism spectrum requires its own category here, due to the wealth of specialized support groups available.

  • Autism Now
    Autism Now provides information and resources for children and adults on the autism spectrum, as well resources for caregivers and family, including pamphlets, webinars, newsletters, conferences, and a blog.
  • Autistic Self Advocacy Network
    Founded in 2006 to counteract the lack of autistic voices in autism advocacy, ASAN champions autonomy and empowerment. It provides numerous resources designed to enable autistic individuals to advocate for themselves, including books, videos, reports, and advocacy projects.
  • Autism Society of America
    Founded in 1965, the Autism Society of America has provided advocacy and resources for individuals with autism spectrum disorders for over 50 years. The ASA has been involved in pushing for autism-specific legislation, including the 2006 Combating Autism Act, and offers research, publications, legal advocacy and resources, and links to assessment services.
  • College Autism Spectrum
    College Autism Spectrum provides numerous services designed to aid individuals on the autism spectrum in the pursuit of an education. In particular, the group provides college counseling for autistic individuals to help with picking a college and making the transition from high school, as well as supportive services like teaching time management, developing social skills, and teaching self-advocacy.
  • National Autism Association
    The National Autism Association seeks to advance the quality of living of those on the autism spectrum through advocacy, research, education, and tools. It offers numerous educational programs and publications, as well as a blog, store, and other resources.
  • US Autism Association
    The US Autism Association provides resources and advocacy services for individuals on the autism spectrum in all walks of life. Of particular interest is the US College Autism Project, designed to provide support for those in college, or making the transition from high school.

Cognitive, Developmental & Learning Disabilities

Cognitive, developmental, and learning disabilities encompasses a wide range of conditions, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, dyscalculia, language processing disorder, or complications due to brain injury and neurological trauma. The following groups provide general and niche support for a wide array of conditions.

  • ADDitude
    ADDitude is an online magazine for individuals with ADD and ADHD, offering information from medical professionals for adults, children, parents, and professionals. It includes articles, blog posts, webinars, downloadable content, and testing information.
  • American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
    The oldest professional organization of its kind, the AAIDD has dedicated itself to advancing the rights and interest of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities since 1876. It promotes knowledge and education by publishing journals, offering webinars and conferences, and pushing for, or endorsing, key legislation.
  • Attention Deficit Disorder Association
    The Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) advocates for individuals living with ADD and ADHD through a variety of services, including support groups, webinars, a monthly news letter, research, and the International Conference on ADHD.
  • Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
    A membership organization, CHADD engages in advocacy for individuals with ADD and ADHD in employment and education, through research and publication, professional partnerships with other advocacy groups, and activity in the federal government and forming public policy. Membership benefits include magazine subscriptions and conferences. It also provides the National Resource Center on ADHD.
  • Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities
    Stationed at the University of Colorado, the Coleman Institute for Cognitive Disabilities works for the advancement of people with cognitive disabilities through new technology. Its activities include research and publication, involvement in public policy, and major conferences.
  • Council for Learning Disabilities
    The Council for Learning Disabilities engages in research and advocacy for people with disabilities, playing an active role in pushing for key legislation. CLD members benefit from access to publications and conferences.

  • Learning Disabilities Association of America
    Established in 1964, the LDA has served the interests of individuals with learning disabilities for over half a century. It provides numerous services, including advocacy, resources for advocates, publications, and webinars, as well as pushing for the passage of key legislation. Membership with the group include access to conferences and publications.
  • Learning Disabilities Worldwide
    Since 1965, Learning Disabilities Worldwide has dedicated itself to improving the educational, professional, and personal opportunities and outcomes for individuals with learning disabilities. The group provides published research and educational resources for those with learning disabilities, as well as for educators, parents, caretakers, and clinicians.
  • National Center for Learning Disabilities
    For over four decades, the National Center for Learning Disabilities has fostered public awareness of learning disabilities and their prevalence in society. Through research, funding, and educational programs, NCLD has advocated for the advancement and rights of individuals with learning disabilities.
  • The Arc
    Dating back to 1950, The Arc stems from the collective efforts of concerned parents seeking more for their children. Over the last six and a half decades, The Arc has engaged in advocacy for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities through activism and research, with an emphasis on fundamental rights and quality of life.
  • The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity
    Connected to Yale University, The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity focuses on the needs of dyslexic children and adults, operating on the core principle that the difficulties of dyslexia do not hinder intellect or creativity. The center provides numerous resources, including research, a digital library, newsletters, advocacy and outreach services, and information on assistive technology.
  • Totally ADD
    Totally ADD is devoted to addressing ADD and issues facing people with ADD by using a lighthearted and humorous approach. Its website includes blog posts, a forum, a shop, tools and resources.

Hearing Impairment & Speech Disorders

Hearing impairment encompasses a spectrum of conditions relating to auditory perception, including tinnitus, partial hearing loss, progressive hearing loss, and total hearing loss. This category also includes speech disorders, such as aphasia, as many of the groups listed in this section also offer a range of speech services and resources.

  • American Hearing Research Foundation
    Founded in 1956, the American Hearing Research Foundation has over 60 years of experience advancing the discourse on hearing impairment. The AHRF helped to bring hearing impairment advocacy into the mainstream by funding research and educating the public about hearing impairment.
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
    The ASHA’s mission is to advance the fundamental rights and quality of living for those with hearing impairment or speech disorders. The ASHA engages in research, public policy, and education at a variety of levels, providing numerous resources and services, including job search tools, employment contacts, career development services, continuing education, state and federal advocacy, certifications, publications, and events.
  • Aphasia Hope Foundation
    The Aphasia Hope Foundation dedicates itself specifically to advancing the discussion and awareness around aphasia. It publishes research and provides resources for those suffering from aphasia, as well as their families and caretakers.
  • Better Hearing Institute
    The Better Hearing Institute helps individuals test for hearing impairment and access assistive devices, such as hearing aids. It provides direct help to individuals with varying levels of hearing impairment, as well as education and resources for family and caretakers.
  • Center for Hearing and Communication
    The Center for Hearing and Communication has served those with hearing impairments and speech disorders since 1910. The CHC provides a wide range of services and resources for children and adults, including testing, hearing aid evaluation, pediatrics, tinnitus treatment, speech and communication therapy, and psychotherapy.
  • Center for Speech and Language Disorders
    Based in Illinois, the Center for Speech and Language Disorders offers a variety of services that cover many different disorders. Its services include testing and evaluation, speech and communication therapy, and education.
  • Hearing Health Foundation
    Dedicated to preventing and curing hearing loss, the Hearing Health Foundation provides resources for the hearing impaired including a blog, a magazine, statistics, and information on hearing testing.
  • Hearing Loss Association of America
    With numerous chapters and state organizations around the country, the HLAA serves individuals with hearing impairment at both the local and national levels. The group engages in advocacy through programs and events, information about hearing loss, resources for obtaining assistive devices, and webinars.
  • iCanConnect
    Devoted specifically to the task of providing free assistive technology to individuals with significant hearing or visual impairment, iCanConnect helps people with a range of disabilities get the tools they need for connection and independence.
  • National Association of the Deaf
    With a history dating back to 1880, the National Association of the Deaf is among the oldest organizations of its kind in the world. Dedicated to advocacy and advancement for the hearing impaired, the NAD provides resources for children and parents, adults and students, and educators and caretakers. It offers publications, events and conferences, and a Law and Advocacy Center.
  • National Black Deaf Advocates
    Since 1982, the NDBA has supported and advocated for black Americans with hearing impairment, addressing the complexities and challenges of a doubly-marginalized community. It provides numerous programs, services, and resources.
  • National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes
    Founded in 1996, the NDC pursues the goal of closing the education and employment gaps for the hearing impaired. It provides assessment services, conferences, events, and other resources.

Mental Illness

Mental illness is often overlooked as a category of disability. However, the stigma around mental illness is increasingly being lifted as we gain greater mainstream understanding of its incarnations and impact. Part of this shift relates to the growing number of people being diagnosed every year with some form of mental illness. With so many different varieties of mental illness, the following list cannot be considered exhaustive, but does identify major groups and resources that can be of assistance.

  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America
    Since 1979, the ADAA has dedicated itself to the prevention and treatment of anxiety, depression, and numerous other disorders. It publishes research and provides educational materials for individuals with mental illness, as well as parents and caretakers. Of particular value here is its page on mental health resources for teens and college students.
  • BeyondOCD.org
    BeyondOCD.org is a site dedicated to awareness and advocacy surrounding obsessive compulsive disorder. Its guide for college students with OCD is especially useful, with educational resources and support group links.
  • Mental Health America
    Since 1909, Mental Health America has served individuals living with mental illness. It engages in public policy, publishes research, and offers numerous services, including online mental health screening and support services, educational materials for people with mental illness and their families. The “Life on Campus” section of its website caters to the needs of college students with mental illness.
  • MentalHealth.gov
    Run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, MentalHealth.gov offers numerous resources describing various mental illnesses, as well as resources for treatment and seeking help.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
    The National Alliance on Mental Illness is an advocacy group dedicated to guaranteeing the rights and quality of life of individuals with any form of mental illness. It provides resources and educational materials on mental illness, helps individuals find treatment, offers discussion groups, coordinates a community, undertakes research, and engages public policy.
  • National Center for PTSD
    Run by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Center for PTSD focuses on awareness and treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. Its website includes educational resources for individuals with PTSD, as well as for their family and friends. It also offers links to treatment options and services.
  • Treatment Advocacy Center
    Since 1998, the Treatment Advocacy Center has worked to advance the quality and availability of treatment for people with mental illness while combating social stigma. The group publishes research, engages in public policy, and provides numerous resources designed to aid individuals in seeking out treatment.

Physical Disability & Chronic Conditions

Physical disabilities come in many forms, and while some individuals may be very mobile with only minor obstacles, others require a great deal of assistance and accommodation. None of this should prevent you from earning an education, and the groups listed below can help make sure you get what you need. This category includes chronic conditions as well, such as diabetes and epilepsy.

  • American Association on Health and Disability
    The AAHD provides health promotion and wellness initiatives for individuals with physical disabilities. The organization hosts the AAHD Health Promotion Resource Center, spreads awareness, distributes research and publications, works with federal and state agencies, works with health care organizations, and provides advocacy and support programs.
  • American Diabetes Association [PDF]
    The American Diabetes Association provides a wide range of services and resources for individuals with diabetes. Especially useful is its guide for potential college students with diabetes.
  • Beyond Celiac
    Beyond Celiac is an advocacy group that provides resources and information for people living with celiac disease. In particular, it offers numerous resources and tools for college students with celiac disease, designed to help them navigate the complexities of managing their condition while in college.
  • Epilepsy Foundation
    Helping children and adults alike, the Epilepsy foundation is committed to providing a full array of resources for those living with epilepsy. The Foundation provides educational materials, offers therapy programs, and connects people with doctors and treatment facilities. Also of particular use is its guide for teens considering college.
  • EpilepsyU
    EpilepsyU serves college students and potential college students living with epilepsy by creating a digital community around a forum, blog, and numerous other resources.
  • Mobility International USA
    Since 1981, MIUSA has pursued a mission of expanding the global possibilities of those with physical disabilities. It provides international exchange programs tailored to those with mobility issues, as well as numerous advocacy and empowerment programs, publications, and internship options.
  • New Mobility
    New Mobility is a magazine devoted to promoting active lifestyles for those in wheelchairs. It covers current legislation and political issues, pop-culture, and activities, and also provides links to products, services, advocacy groups, and other organizations.
  • National Resource Center on Lupus
    Provided by the Lupus Foundation of America, the National Resource Center on Lupus offers loads of information for those living with or affected by lupus, including articles for college students.

Visual Impairment

Visual impairment is certainly not uncommon; many people, however, only need minor correction in the form of a simple glasses or contact lens prescription. For those experiencing major impairments, including low vision or total blindness, there are plenty of options for support.

  • American Council of the Blind
    With approximately 70 state chapters, the ACB serves visually impaired communities across the country. For over 60 years, ACB has provided advocacy by promoting legislation, partnering with other organizations, publishing research, availing resources for the visually impaired and their families, and offering educational programs, services, and scholarships.
  • American Foundation for the Blind
    Founded in 1921, the AFB has served the visually impaired for nearly a century. The organization provides publications, consulting services, resources for the visually impaired and their families, the Center for Vision Loss, and the Public Policy Center. AFB recently launched the fully-digital Helen Keller Archive.
  • Family Connect
    Family Connect focuses specifically on the needs of children and families affected by visual impairments. It provides information and educational materials about what to do after diagnosis. It also offers guidance on living with visual impairments including disability rights, assistive technology, and managing multiple disabilities. It is especially useful for parents of visually impaired teenagers preparing to take the ACT and SAT exams and searching for a college.
  • iCanConnect
    Devoted specifically to the task of providing free assistive technology to individuals with significant hearing or visual impairment, iCanConnect helps people with a range of disabilities get the tools they need for connection and independence.
  • Lighthouse Guild
    Formerly known as Lighthouse International, Lighthouse Guild is a major non-profit healthcare organization for the visually impaired. Its services include career development, independent living education, adaptive technology training, low vision rehabilitation, education for visually impaired children, healthcare plans, testing, scholarships, and advocacy.
  • National Federation of the Blind
    The National Federation of the Blind is an advocacy group with numerous local chapters that can assist with career development services, educational materials, and special events. Its annual national convention is the largest gathering of blind people in the world. A division of the NFB, the National Association of Blind Students, caters specifically to the needs of K-12 and college students with visual impairments.

One of the best ways to navigate the challenges of education is to seek an online college that provides the right learning accommodations for your unique needs and goals. Many of the best online schools offer the full range of accommodations to ensure your access and success. Get started on your search by checking out the 50 Best Online Colleges for 2019.

For more on learning accommodations and how you can navigate the college experience while managing your disability, return to our Learning Accommodations Guide To Online College.

If you’re interested in a career in public outreach or advocacy, consider a degree in social work:

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