Forming a Relationship with Your School’s Office of Disability Services

Diabetes can present new challenges during your college years, so it’s important to form a relationship with your school’s Office of Disability Services (it may be called Office of Student Services or something similar). Situations like high or low blood sugars, ketones, or doctor’s appointments may affect your academic schedule. Knowing what your needs are and communicating how professors, staff, and resident advisors can assist you will help ensure that you have a successful academic career. Contact the Office of Disability Services prior to the start of the academic year to start the process of making necessary arrangements.

Is my college legally responsible for accommodating my needs?

Yes. Universities are legally required to make reasonable accommodations because of Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. However, you will need to contact the school to make them aware that you have type 1 diabetes.

How do I contact my school’s Office of Disability Services?

Each school is different so you need to contact the office before school begins to find out what they require.

Here is a list of possible items they may need from you:

  • Application: The Office of Disability Services may have an application on their Web site that you can fill out to explain your situation. In the application, clearly state how type 1 diabetes affects your life and academic career. Answer their questions fully.
  • Interview: When you meet with the school representative, explain thoroughly what you need and why. You may have to educate them on life with type 1 diabetes. Make sure that you address all of your concerns.
  • Medical Verification: At the interview, give the university an official document from your physician or diabetes professional that verifies that you have type 1 diabetes.
  • Past Accommodations: Lastly, you should give your new school a list of the accommodations that your high school provided for you, or, if you’re transferring, what services were offered to you at the last college you attended.

What adjustments need to be made?

There are a variety of adjustments or accommodations that you can make to ensure a great college experience. Make sure that your professors understand how your diabetes affects your academics. Accommodations for high or low blood sugars, which can impair concentration or prohibit you from even making it to class, may include rescheduling tests or exams. You can also ask for excused absences for sick days or medical appointments. You may also need allowances to bring food into class.

Who needs to be notified?

It’s very important that you tell people around you that you have diabetes. It’s not necessary to tell everyone you come in contact with, but those who you spend the most time with, like your roommate, or those who may be in the position of taking care of you, like your resident advisor, should know about your diabetes. Others who you should tell are close friends, on-campus medical professionals, your professors, and other staff you deal with. Universities have no obligations to notify people, so it’s your responsibility to inform people. It’s important to tell people about your diabetes in case of an emergency or when you have low blood sugar, but also so you don’t feel like you’re hiding your disease.

What’s the big picture?

Life in college is exciting, but it also means taking the initiative in your own care. Make sure that you pay attention to your care and reach out to your parents, campus medical staff, and your hometown doctor and diabetes educator to work through any issues that you come across. If you have problems or questions, there are people who can help you work through them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a friend, roommate, professor, or university official. Make sure that you are taking control of your life with diabetes so that your college years are as successful and empowering as possible.

For more information about preparing for college with type 1 diabetes, request a copy of our School Advisory Toolkit, which includes a section on college life.

Relevant Links:

Americans with Disabilities Act
http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/

Section 504
http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/sec504.index.htm

Students with Disabilities Preparing for Post-secondary Education
http://www.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/transition.html