Your child is heading off to college – congratulations! It’s a really exciting time for all of you… but it’s also one that requires a little extra planning. That’s particularly true if you’re helping your child find accessible housing or you have to work with a landlord or dormitory manager to make accommodations.
How Parents Can Help Children With Different Physical Abilities Move Into Student Housing at College
You know your child’s abilities, and limitations best, which means you’re in a unique position to help him or her find the best possible housing on- or off-campus. First things first, though: make contact with someone in the school’s office who can act as your child’s advocate and ally when it comes to providing services and accommodations. Even the school doesn’t have an office specifically for assisting disabled students, which is most common at very small colleges and universities, the law still requires educational institutions to have personnel who are well-versed in disabilities and the law.
Your child must register as a student with disabilities in order to receive accommodations, and applying for accommodations is a separate process from applying for admission. Usually, this process takes place through the disability services office. It may require you and your child to fill out a specific registration or application form.
Your goals during this time are to help your child with his or her transition from home to school, so here’s what you can do:
- Help plan the whole move
- Reassure your child that home is always going to be home
- Give your child space
- Set up scheduled phone calls
- Make plans for regular visits
Helping Plan the Whole Move
In many cases, it’s easier to move a child with disabilities into a dormitory. That way, he or she will be right on campus and close to all the services available through the school. Campus buildings in schools that receive state funding are required to be accessible, which means it’ll most likely be easier to find the right room in the right location. In many cases, freshmen and sophomores who aren’t living with parents are required to live on-campus anyway.
Searching for Accessible Housing
If your child will be living in off-campus housing, the federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act prohibit landlords from discriminating against people with impairments, and they aren’t allowed to ask discriminatory questions. Discriminatory questions can include things like “I see you’re wearing a hearing aid; how much can you actually hear?” and “Can you get out of your chair and walk upstairs?”
Landlords have a duty to accommodate disabled tenants, within reason, at their own expense. You have the right to expect a landlord to reasonably adjust rules and procedures, so your child has an equal opportunity to enjoy and use his or her rental home, such as parking. Landlords must also allow disabled tenants to make reasonable modifications at the tenant’s own expense if they’re necessary for the tenant to live safely and comfortably. Some of these adjustments can include things like installing special faucets or door handles for people with limited hand use, or installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access between rooms, as long as the tenant gets prior approval before making the modifications. However, landlords don’t have to make accommodations or permit modifications that are “unreasonable,” like ripping apart a building to install an elevator.
Ideally, you’ll be able to find housing that meets your child’s needs as-is. In some cases, you can talk to a real estate agent to help you find properties with certain specifications, such as close parking spots, accessible ramps and other necessities.
Challenges for Moms and Dads
As the parent of a college-aged child, you probably already know that it’s going to be rough seeing an empty bedroom or waiting on phone calls rather than seeing your child every day. You’re also dealing with the difficulty of being needed in different ways; your child is moving more toward independence, which can be emotionally difficult for moms and dads. You know that your child is capable, but you still worry – but this is all perfectly normal.
What you can do to make things easier on yourself:
- Make sure you have good, solid lines of communication with people at your child’s school who understand Section 504, Subpart E of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (While your child was in elementary, middle and high school, he or she was likely covered under Subpart D of the Act; in college, it shifts to Subpart E.)
- Learn as much as you can about the accommodations the school will provide for your child. You can work with individual professors, as well as front-office staff.
- Know that not all colleges provide the same levels of support for differently-abled students. Section 504 only requires colleges and universities to ensure access and prohibit discrimination, but some schools really go above and beyond in helping students with disabilities.
Challenges for College Students
Moving away from home is just as stressful for college students as it is for parents, which means you need to provide support in any way you can. Your child will need you as much as ever, but in different ways than he or she relied on you before. You can make things easier on your child by:
- Letting him or her know that there’s always room at home… but don’t make it seem like you want your child to stick close to the nest, even though that’s what you’re feeling. College-aged kids don’t want you to hover, but they do (usually secretly) want you to reassure them that you’ll always be there.
- Set aside times for phone calls and visits. Having a regular schedule will help everyone involved; you’ll know that on Wednesdays and Sundays at 6 p.m., for example, is when you can call without being too intrusive, or that Saturday mornings are your pre-planned visits.
- Give your child the space he or she needs to learn about being an adult. This is, arguably, the hardest part for any parent – but it’s absolutely necessary to helping your child learn the skills he or she needs to be self-sufficient.
What Did You Do to Help Your Disabled Child Move to College?
Your story can help other parents find the best ways to help their own children with this big transition, so please let us know how you helped your disabled child find the right place to live and be successful at college in the comments below.