Home > College Accessibility for Students With Disabilities: Scholarships and Financial Aid

College Accessibility for Students With Disabilities: Scholarships and Financial Aid

People with disabilities are rapidly becoming more and more prevalent as college students. According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES), students with disabilities made up 11.1 percent of all college students in the 2011-2012 school year. That number is nearly doubled among students who are also veterans. Students with mobility disabilities, sensory disabilities, mental health disabilities, and other disabilities continue to pursue higher education in expanding numbers, thanks in part to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects them from discrimination related to their disabilities. Titles II and III of the ADA require both public and private institutions, such as colleges, to be accessible to people who use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, and that they make accommodations to communicate with people who have vision, hearing, or speech disabilities.

While laws like the ADA do help, they are not the end of the unique challenges that people with disabilities face when they seek a college education. People who use wheelchairs may find that buttons for the automated opening of doors do not work, or that accommodations may not have been prepared for them in the event of a fire. A lack of awareness can lead to students with disabilities being forced to go without needed help, and up to two-thirds of college students with disabilities don’t receive resources because their school doesn’t know about their disability. Lack of disability access can also affect a student’s ability to form relationships with peer and study groups.

Students with disabilities often have a larger financial burden than those without. Specialized equipment and medical care can be prohibitively expensive, particularly when also paying for a college education. This is why scholarships for students with disabilities are so important. The extra boost in financial security can be the difference between attending college or not attending college. To that end, we have compiled a handy data set meant to help people with disabilities find the help that can take them through graduation.

Scholarships for Students with Learning Disabilities

Learning disabilities are neurologically based difficulties that may affect a student’s ability to read, do math, write, communicate, or perform other actions. Some of the disabilities under this definition are auditory processing disorder (APD), dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, language processing disorder, nonverbal learning disabilities, and visual perceptual/visual motor deficit. Note: scholarships specifically directed at students with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are included in their own separate categories, though people with either may also qualify for the scholarships listed here.

Anne Ford Scholarship

Provided by the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Anne Ford Scholarship awards $10,000 ($2,500 per year over four years) to a graduating high school student with a documented learning disability who will be enrolled full-time to pursue a bachelor’s degree. The scholarship requires a 3.0 grade average, United States citizenship, and documentation of financial need and learning disability diagnosis. Ideal candidates will be passionate self-advocates, participants in community activities, and dedicated to being role models for others with learning disabilities. Applications for the 2018 school year will open in the fall of 2017.

Armando J. de Moya Scholarship

The de Moya Group, one of the largest bridge-building firms in Florida, creates and supports many programs designed to aid people with special needs. One of those programs is a $5,000 scholarship for students with disabilities. Applicants must be Florida residents attending the University of Florida who maintain a 3.0 grade average, major in civil engineering, and have earned 59 university credits. Tax documents, proof of financial need, two letters of recommendation, and proof of volunteer work are required. The deadline is March 2018.

John Lepping Memorial Scholarship

This $5,000 scholarship is open to any person with a disability, including learning disabilities. Applicants must reside in New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, submit proof of disabled status, demonstrate academic achievement, and write an essay detailing how their disability affects their ability to attend school. Included in the application must be a transcript of grades, three letters of recommendation from non-family members, and a completed Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018.

Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards

This $6,000 award is open to Learning Ally members with learning disabilities. Members must be active subscribers to Learning Ally who have added one book to their Learning Ally bookshelf within the last 12 months. The three top winners will be presented with their awards at the National Achievement Awards Gala, Learning Ally’s annual Student Success and Achievement Summit in the spring of each year. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2018

Ralph D. Norman Scholarship

Three Arkansas graduating seniors are awarded these $2,500 scholarships for students with learning disabilities annually. Documentation of a learning disability is required, as is enrollment at a university, two-year community college, or a vocational/technical training program, Applicants are expected to demonstrate community service, commitment to higher education, and perseverance to succeed despite having a learning disability. The deadline to apply is April 3, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Physical Disabilities

Physical disabilities are limitations on a person’s movement, dexterity, or stamina. They may also include conditions that do not directly impair ability, but inhibit other areas of living such as sleep disorders or epilepsy. Some disabilities in this area are paraplegia, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, effects from head injuries or strokes, loss or malformation of limbs, and muscular dystrophy.

AbbVie Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship

Exceptional students living with cystic fibrosis are eligible for this scholarship. Forty awards of $3,000 each are given out every year, in addition to two Thriving Student Scholarships that total $25,000, and a $25,000 Blogger’s Choice Award. The awards are open to United States residents who have a cystic fibrosis diagnosis from a doctor and who are enrolled in or awaiting acceptance to an accredited higher learning institution. Employees of AbbVie and their immediate families, as well as healthcare providers and immediate families, are not eligible to apply. The application deadline is May 27, 2018.

CHASA Scholarship for Childhood Stroke Survivors

These scholarships are targeted at students with a diagnosis of hemiplegia or hemiparesis due to any cause before the age of 18, or a diagnosis of pediatric stroke. Recipients may reapply for the scholarship every year for up to four years, and applicants must be enrolled at an accredited university. An essay and a doctor’s diagnosis are required. The number of scholarships and their amounts vary from year to year. The deadline to apply is August 31, 2017.

Google Lime Scholarship for Students with Disabilities

Students with visible or invisible disabilities are eligible for this $10,000 scholarship to be used while pursuing an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degree in computer engineering or science. Selected students will also be invited to attend the annual Google Scholars’ Retreat at the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. This scholarship is not open to high school students, only students currently enrolled in a college or university. Canadian students are also eligible. Two letters of recommendation and three essays are required. The deadline to apply is December 6, 2017.

Soozie Courter Hemophilia Scholarship Program

Five $4,000 graduate scholarships and ten $2,500 college scholarships for students with disabilities living with hemophilia A or hemophilia B are available. Applicants must submit a persuasive essay, letters of recommendation, and proof of good academic standing. A diagnosis of hemophilia A or hemophilia B is also required. The deadline to apply is May 6, 2018.

Rheumatoid Patient Foundation Scholarship Program

Four awards of $1,000 each are given out annually by the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation in order to help those affected by rheumatoid diseases further their educations. Applicants must be United States residents, submit an essay, and confirm a diagnosis of rheumatoid disease. The scholarship can be used for colleges or vocational schools. Previous awardees are not eligible. The deadline to apply is May 31, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Psychiatric Disabilities

A broad range of mental health and psychiatric impairments are covered under this term. Everything from chronic depression to schizophrenia may constitute a psychiatric disability. As those with mental illness often face stereotyping and negative misconceptions, helping them through college financially can ease their stress significantly.

Baer Reintegration Scholarship

This scholarship covers all or part of tuitions across all degree levels. Applicants must have a diagnosis of schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder, and they currently must be receiving treatment. They must also be actively involved in rehabilitation or reintegration volunteer work. Students must submit transcripts, an essay, recommendation letters, and a summary of school financial needs. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2018.

Karen Aberson Memorial Scholarship

Students with any type of disability are eligible for this $500 scholarship, but preference is given to those with documented psychological/emotional disabilities. Students must be currently enrolled at Florida Atlantic University, must complete at least six credit hours per semester, and must maintain a 2.0 grade average. Applications are available annually from March 15 to May 15.

DRK Attorneys Mental Health Scholarship

Students who have struggled with mental illness are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. They will be expected to submit a one- to three-page essay explaining how mental illness has affected their lives and the ways they have managed to overcome those obstacles. Recipients must be willing to have their story publicly shared, though they may do so anonymously if preferred. Other requirements include being a United States citizen currently enrolled at a college and a 3.0 GPA. The deadline for application is August 1, 2017.

Hannah Heltsley Memorial Scholarship

This $500 scholarship can be applied to both tuition and books at Shoreline Community College. It is open to students who have struggled with mental illness or addiction, who are required to write an essay detailing how their disability has affected their education. Students must also have completed two quarters at Shoreline and have a 3.0 GPA. The annual deadline to apply is in April.

Lillian Cooper Droke Memorial Scholarship

A $2,000 scholarship is available to residents of Tarrant County (Texas) who have been diagnosed with mental illness. The scholarship is also open to those who would like to work in the mental health field, provided no applicant with mental illness qualifies for the scholarship. Applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA and have a declared major in psychology, social work, psychiatry/mental/behavioral health, social and behavioral sciences, behavioral/cognitive neuroscience, mental health or rehabilitative counseling or nursing, or cognitive development. A short essay about mental health is required. The deadline to apply is August 14, 2017.

Scholarships for Students with Visual or Hearing Impairments

These are disabilities that affect the senses, primarily seeing or hearing. People with these disabilities have may have partial to total blindness or deafness, and as a result may have difficulty with navigation and communications. Some disabilities can be aided through devices or service animals.

Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Scholarship Program

This association offers several different scholarships for students with disabilities for both undergraduates and graduates. Amounts of the awards range from $2,500 to $10,000. The requirements are quite strict. Hearing loss must be bilateral and in the moderately-severe to profound range. If the applicant uses hearing aids, they must have an unaided pure-tone average (PTA) of 60dB or greater in the better-hearing ear in the speech frequencies of 500, 1000 and 2000 Hz. Applicants also must have received a diagnosis of hearing impairment before their fourth birthday. A GPA of 3.25, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an essay are required. The deadline to apply is May 15, 2018.

Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) William and Dorothy Ferrell Scholarship

Legally blind students looking to pursue a career in the field of services to persons who are blind or visually impaired are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. It is open to people of all countries. Applicants are required to submit letters of recommendation and a brief autobiographical sketch. The deadline to apply is in May of 2018.

Dean Ritter Foundation Scholarship

Illinois residents with severe to profound hearing loss in either one or both ears are eligible for these scholarships for hearing impaired students. Awards range from $500 to $5,000. The Foundation will give special consideration for financial need, but it is not a requirement for acceptance. The date for accepting applications begins annually in March.

National Federation of the Blind 2017 Scholarship Program

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) gives out more than $120,000 in various scholarships for students with disabilities every year, and they partner with other entities such as Google and The Kurzweil Foundation to provide additional cash awards and prizes such as plaques. Applicants must be legally blind in both eyes and attend the annual summer NFB convention, participating in all the scholarship activities. A few of the scholarships require specific majors or fields. Awards range from $3,000 to $12,000. See the link above for full details on the different scholarship opportunities available. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2018.

American Foundation for the Blind Scholarships

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) offers four annual scholarships for the visually impaired, with awards ranging from $1,000 to $3,500. Students must be studying engineering, music, or rehabilitation of the blind to qualify for the various awards. A three-part essay and two letters of recommendation are required to apply. Proof of blindness via a professional diagnosis is also necessary. The deadline to apply is April 1, 2018.

Scholarships for Students with ADD/ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 6.8 million children according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). There are three types: inattentive ADHD, where a person has trouble focusing, or is easily distracted, has difficulty organizing, or a combination of these symptoms (ADD is the now-outdated term for this type); hyperactive/impulsive ADHD, which is characterized by excited behavior, an inability to stay still, and blurting; and combined ADHD, which is a mixture of the other two. Adults with ADHD may range from mild to severe. ADHD is often covered in many of the scholarships regarding learning disabilities previously listed.

Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship

Students who qualify for this ADHD scholarship receive $2,000 and a year of ADHD coaching. There are 50 such awards given out annually. Applicants must be enrolled or accepted in an undergraduate or graduate course, have a diagnosis of ADHD, and be under medical care for it. Interested parties can sign up for updates on when the 2018 applications will be open at the link above. Canadian students can apply here.

RiSE Scholarship Foundation Award

Five RiSE scholarships of $2,500 are given out annually, as well as $500 scholarships in each of the categories. Applicants must be United States citizens either accepted or enrolled in a two- or four-year university. Note that a diagnosis of ADHD alone (emphasis ours) does not qualify a student. They must also be diagnosed with an additional learning disability or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Requirements include a 2.5 GPA, letters of recommendation, and a photograph of the applicant. The application process will be open in October of 2017.

Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award

This award is open to students with both learning disabilities and ADHD who have achieved great success in the fields of art, music, science, math, athletics, or community service. One scholarship of $1,000 is given out annually. Applicants must submit a written description of the nominee’s learning disability or ADHD and achievement (including the impact the achievement has had on the nominee and others), a personal statement from the nominee describing how they have dealt with the challenges associated with the learning disability or ADHD, supporting materials that confirm or demonstrate the nominee’s achievement, documented proof of the candidate’s learning disability or ADHD, and a recent photo of the nominee. The deadline to apply is December 31, 2017.

Novotni College Scholarship Fund

Awards of $1,000, $3,000, and $5,000 are given out every year for tuition with these scholarships. Undergraduates seeking to apply must have a diagnosis of ADHD and submit letters of recommendation. Previous award winners are allowed to reapply every year. The application deadline is May 31, 2018. Anyone related to or employed by a past or present Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) Board of Directors, Professional Advisory Board member, or ADDA employee is ineligible.

Dottie R. Walker Scholarship

Colorado residents are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. The ideal candidate for this scholarship is a student who has faced the challenges of having ADHD and/or a learning disability, understands that self-advocacy and self-knowledge are powerful tools in overcoming those challenges, and is willing to serve as a role model for other students with learning disabilities. Applicants must maintain a 2.8 GPA and submit two letters of recommendation (one from a teacher or counselor who is aware of the student’s disability; a third letter is optional), official high school transcript, and proof of specific learning disability. The deadline to apply is March 2018.

Scholarships for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) encompasses a wide variety of developmental disorders, hence the term “spectrum.” Various disorders on the spectrum often result in difficulty communicating or interacting with others. Restrictive or repetitive behaviors, such as having overly focused interests or repeating certain, perhaps unusual, behaviors, may lead to problems in work and school. Many of the learning disability scholarships previously listed also include ASD in their eligibility criteria.

Autism Society of Iowa College Scholarship Program Application

Iowans with ASD qualify for $500 autism scholarships, which can be used for both college and vocational schools. Applicants must submit a cover page, documentation of status as an individual with ASD, two letters of reference, and a personal statement of no more than 500 words. Individuals not on the spectrum, but who are interested in working in fields related to people with ASD, can also apply for two other scholarships offered by the Autism Society of Iowa. The deadline to apply is March 1, 2018.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network Autistic Scholars Fellowship Program

This one-time, $5,000 tuition scholarship is designed to help autistic students enact change on their college campuses by participating in leadership roles. A dedication to improving the state of disability rights as well as publicly serving as a face for autistic culture are a must. Applications are due in late October, and students are notified by the following January if they have won.

P. Buckley Moss Endowed Scholarship

Students with an interest in the visual arts are eligible for $1,500 or more annually from this scholarship. Applicants must have a certified diagnosis of a language-related disability and be able to prove talent in the visual arts. Documentation of financial needs is also required. The deadline for application is March 31, 2018.

Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin Scholarships

The fund offers two autism scholarships of $500 each to students residing in Columbia, Crawford, Dane, Grant, Green, Iowa, Lafayette, Richland, Rock, or Sauk Counties in Wisconsin. The Jacob Trotter Memorial Scholarship is geared toward students on the spectrum attending college or vocational schools, and the Kadane Foundation Scholarship is for those who wish to enter occupations meant to serve people on the spectrum. Applicants must be members of the Autism Society of South Central Wisconsin. The deadline to apply is June 2018.

NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship

Eight scholarships of $5,625 each are available through this fund. Applicants must have a certified diagnosis and publicly identify as a person with a disability, including but not limited to being on the autism spectrum. Students must be interested in pursuing a career in the communications, media, or entertainment industry. Non-United States citizens are welcome to apply, but they must be enrolled in an American college or university. The fund honors former U. S. Rep. Tony Coelho (California), the primary author of the ADA. Contact scholarship@aapd.com for the 2018 application deadline.

Scholarships for Disabled Veterans

A special selection of disability scholarships are open to the men and women with disabilities who have served in the United States military. These may include mental, physical, or a combination of disabilities that may or may not directly relate to the individual’s service.

Feldman Law Firm Disabled Veterans Scholarship

Two veterans a year are eligible for this $1,000 scholarship. The funds can be used for universities, community colleges, and trade schools. Upon submission of an invoice, Feldman Law Firm will provide payment to the institution of the student’s choice. The applicant must have a United States military disability ranking of 30% or higher, and may be asked to provide proof. The application deadline is in November 2017.

Colorado Technical University Wounded Warrior Scholarship

Colorado Technical University annually awards these scholarships for disabled veterans covering full tuition to fifty eligible wounded service members, their spouses, non-medical attendants or caregivers and their dependants. To be eligible the applicant must be a currently-serving member of the armed forces or veteran with a 30% or higher disability rating, or fall into the related categories above. Scholarship recipients have the option to pursue their degree either as an online student or at any of the CTU campuses. The deadline to apply is July 31, 2017.

AMVET National Scholarship Program

Though not specifically benefitting disabled veterans, the AMVET scholarship is designed for veterans who might have exhausted their government aid or have other financial difficulties pursuing their secondary education. Considering the cost that living with a disability can have, disabled veterans are particularly likely to fulfill the criteria for this $1,000 annual award. Applicants must be an honorably discharged veteran who can prove financial need, provide transcripts and tax records, and write a short essay on the meaning of higher education. The annual deadline to apply is April 15.

Military Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship

The Purple Heart is a military honor awarded to soldiers who have been killed or wounded in battle. As many wartime injuries lead to disability status, disabled veterans are often eligible for this scholarship. Applicants can be Purple Heart recipients or the spouse, child, or grandchild of a recipient. There are 80 scholarships of various amounts given out annually. Students must be a graduating senior or enrolled full-time at an accredited institution while maintaining a 2.75 GPA. The deadline to apply is January 2018.

Michigan State Univeristy Disabled Veteran's Assistance Program

Students at Michigan State University who are disabled veterans may be eligible for a full-ride scholarship when obtaining an undergraduate degree. Documentation of disabled veteran status is required, and funds from the program can be used for both tuition and materials. The work requirement may be waived if the disability prevents the student from working. Room and board are also included. For more information on the program, including application deadlines and necessary documents required, visit the link above.

Scholarships for Students with Disabled Parents

Living with disabilities is not just a challenge for the disabled. Often, family members also struggle financially. These disability scholarships are aimed at helping the children of people with disabilities to pursue their education.

University of Texas Dallas Children of Disabled or Deceased Firemen, Peace Officers, Game Wardens, and Employees of Correctional Institutions Scholarship Program

All tuitions and fees for the first 120 semester hours at UT Dallas may be waived for children of a parent who suffered an injury, resulting in disability or death, sustained in the line of duty as a paid or volunteer firefighter, paid municipal, county, or state peace officer, a custodial employee of the Texas Department of Corrections, or a game warden. Students must also maintain a 2.0 GPA. A doctor’s statement regarding the parent’s disability is also required.

American Traffic Safety Services Association Roadway Worker Memorial Scholarship Program

These scholarships for students with disabled parents can be a high as $5,000, and benefit the children of roadway workers who were killed or permanently disabled on the job. Applicants that can demonstrate a dedication to public service may be eligible for an additional $1,000. The application deadline is February 15, 2018.

National Law Enforcement and Firefighters Children’s Foundation Scholarship

A maximum award of $5,000 per year is available to the children of a parent permanently disabled while serving in law enforcement or as a firefighter. Applicants must demonstrate leadership, excellence in sports or academics, and maintain a 2.7 GPA. The disability of the parent must prevent them from working. Full-time students pursuing their first degree are the only ones eligible to apply. The deadline for submission of all applications and documents is July 1, 2018.

Kid’s Chance of Virginia Scholarship

This variable scholarship is dedicated to helping fund the post-secondary educations of children whose parents have been severely injured or disabled in workplace accidents. Virginia residents between the ages of 16 and 25 are eligible. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2018.

SFM Foundation Scholarship

Children of parents injured or killed in a workplace accident involving a Minnesota-, Wisconsin-, or Iowa-based employer are eligible for awards up to $10,000. Students are required to demonstrate proof of financial hardship as well as maintain a cumulative “C” average. Academic achievement, aptitude, extracurricular activities, and community service of the applicant are considered in choosing awardees. The deadline to apply is March 31, 2018.

Other Types of Financial Aid and Support for Students with Disabilities

Disability scholarships are a wonderful way for communities to give a leg up to people with disabilities while they pursue higher education, but there are only so many available. Not to worry: there are many different programs outside of the scholarship system designed to help people with disabilities pay for college. Here are a few of them.

Grants and Fellowships

Typically, but not exclusively, the difference between grants and scholarships is that scholarships are usually merit-based while grants are usually need-based. Both have the advantage of not having to be repaid (except under a few special circumstances) as student loans are. This can secure a student’s education without weighing them down with debt following graduation.

When people think of grants, the first one to come to mind is the federal Pell Grant. These government-based subsidies are the largest source of need-based financial aid. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree who are not currently incarcerated can apply yearly for a variable subsidy based on their financial need for up to 12 semesters. The children of some parents who died in military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 may be eligible for additional grants.

Another resource for people with disabilities is the Federal TRIO Programs. This collection of government educational outreach initiatives is designed to guide students from difficult circumstances throughout their education, including into the college years. Grants from TRIO can be used separately or in conjunction with Pell Grants. Many colleges maintain their own grant programs to help students, and you should check with your school’s financial aid office to see if you qualify.

Fellowships are quite similar to grants, but they often include a work requirement, internship, or other expected area of service. Students may receive a stipend for living expenses in addition to aid with tuition and materials. There are a wide variety of fellowships available for the disabled, usually aimed at guiding people with disabilities into fields that benefit the disabled population, or seeking to increase representation in fields with small, marginalized populations. As people with disabilities, even those with degrees, can have trouble with workplace accessibility or job discrimination, these opportunities can facilitate the transition from education into the job market.

Work Study

The Federal Work Study program is designed to help students defray costs or seek reimbursement for their education expenses through employment with their school or through community service opportunities. The occupations must be at the federal minimum wage level, and opportunities are awarded according to need for financial aid.

Many of the community service positions that qualify with the FWS program directly involve the disabled community. These range from improving facilities for accessibility to tutoring or caregiving services. In addition to helping students with disabilities with financial need to fund their schooling, these positions can help connect students with disabilities to organizations dedicated to or sympathetic to their needs. As FWS, when possible, is supposed to be germane to a student’s field of study, the overall benefits for the working student can be many.

Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge

Some people with disabilities may find themselves relieved of the burden of paying back federal student loans. Displaying total and permanent disability allows students to apply for a TPD discharge. This releases a student from obligations to loans made under the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program, loans made under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program, and loans made under the Federal Perkins Loan (Perkins Loan) Program. It can also be used to waive the service requirement that is part of a TEACH Grant.

Demonstration of disability can be done in a variety of ways. Veterans can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which prove 100% disability. Civilians receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits also qualify. Those who are not can provide statements from doctors showing 60 months of continuous disability, or an expectation that the disability in question will continue for another 60 months or result in death.

Social Security Disability Benefits

There are two social security benefit programs that are open to the disabled, and which may make qualifying for other disability programs or funding an education easier. These are the Social Security Disability (SSD, or SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). The qualifications for being considered disabled by either program are largely identical, but they serve different populations. SSD is paid for by payroll taxes, and the benefits are tied to an applicant’s work history. SSI is entirely income-based, with no period of work required to be eligible. Those enrolled in SSI are usually also eligible for Medicaid and supplemental nutrition programs, but these vary from state to state.

Students receiving social security disability benefits have several advantages. As mentioned before, it may make you eligible for forgiveness on federal student loans. In addition, money spent on education or that comes in the form of grants and scholarships is not counted when benefits are calculated. That means that the bequests a student may be receiving to pay for school will not penalize them with a reduction in benefits.

Vocational Rehabilitation Services

Every state in the country operates vocational rehabilitation services (VRS) designed to help people with disabilities achieve everything they want to as far as education and employment are concerned. These services are state-funded, and there generally is no cost to apply. Some states may require proof of financial need before paying for services on the applicant’s behalf, and those with more resources may find themselves ineligible for free services, but the assessment of whether someone qualifies is usually free. Students applying for VRS will most likely be expected to also apply for financial aid.

VRS offer a variety of resources to students. Those with mobility issues can seek rides, there are referrals to doctors and counselors necessary for the various qualifying diagnoses many programs require, and coaches are available for guidance, as are teachers for specialized information like reading Braille, access to assistive technologies, and more.

Students can also expect guidance on formulating an individual plan for employment (IPE). This is a rough roadmap of where a student wants to go in life as an employee, but tailored to the unique circumstances of the student’s disability. Because VRS work so closely with public institutions, they can offer connections for students with disabilities that the students might otherwise not be aware of.

A list of VRS by state can be found here. The blue government section of the phone directory at your local library will also have information.

Applying for Scholarships

Applying for disability scholarships can be as hard as preparing for a big job interview, and sometimes it’s even harder. You should go into the process well-prepared if you want to keep from getting overwhelmed.

The most important thing is to file your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as soon as possible. Your FASFA will help initially determine what financial aid you qualify for, and in for people with disabilities utilizing many of the specific programs aimed at them, a promptly filed FASFA is a requirement to participate in those programs. The application opens on October 1 each year, and should be completed promptly. Students can apply by mail, phone, or online.

For scholarships, it is a good idea to keep some basic information organized and up-to-date. Most scholarships require a few staple pieces of information including school transcripts, proof of enrollment, letters of recommendation, list of awards or community service, most current GPA, most current taxes, and basic financial information proving need for assistance. People with disabilities will also generally need proof of disabled status from a medical practitioner if not already assigned that status by the Social Security Administration or the Veteran’s Administration.

People with disabilities need to keep a few more specific tips in mind. You should not necessarily put your disability first. There are plenty of programs and awards that are not related to specific disabilities that you may be qualified to receive based on all kinds of other criteria. Exhaust every possible scholarship, grant, fellowship, loan, and fee waiver you can find, even if it has nothing to do with your disability.

On the other hand, make as solid and comprehensive a plan as you can for how you will attend school with your disability. Many disability scholarships have requirements involving hours per semester, GPAs, or outside work requirements. These may or may not be feasible with your disability, and it is better to plan ahead than to become reliant on funds you cannot maintain the requirements to receive.

An essay is a typical part of scholarship applications, but may be a hindrance for certain disabilities. Consider contacting the scholarship providers and asking if there is an alternative method for you to express yourself available. It can’t hurt, and they may admire your attempt to problem solve outside the box.

National Associations and Organizations for Students with Disabilities

One of the greatest assets open to students of all types are organizations. These groups offers specialization in their support, and often know the best way to deliver what individuals need. Below are some of the organizations helping students with disabilities.

American Council for the Blind
This group provides a comprehensive list of disability scholarships for the visually impaired, as well as leads on housing, assistive technology, and guide dogs.

Broad Futures
Broad Futures is dedicated to helping young people with learning disabilities gain real-world experience through employment and internships. They are great for the transition between high school and college life, especially if the student wants to create or maintain a work history while in school.

Cerebral Palsy Group
The student resource section of the Cerebral Palsy Group can offer guidance on everything from dorm life to wheelchair accessibility to extracurricular activity participation.

Incight
Dedicated to removing the social stigma of being a person with a disability, Incight offers scholarships and hosts student events on campuses.

Little People of America
This group is for people of short stature or who are affected by dwarfism. They offer various grants and scholarships, in addition to a thriving support community.

National Alliance on Mental Health
Their guide for attending college with mental illness is a must-read. NAMI may offer an in-person campus group as well, depending on your school.

National Down Syndrome Society
This website has a fantastic series of webinars aimed at helping people with Down syndrome explore post-secondary education, with an even more comprehensive resource list.

National Association of Law Students With Disabilities
This group is focused on mentorships and guidance of people with disabilities through a legal degree. They also publish a regular newsletter.

Student Veterans of America
Though not a group specifically for people with disabilities, they often partner with organizations and projects that can be of benefit to disabled veterans who are students.

College Diabetes Network
This is the most comprehensive guide to managing diabetes while a student you will find.

Delta Alpha Pi International Honor Society
This group hosts chapters in schools all across the United States, and combines the fraternity system with celebrating self-advocacy for the disabled in college.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network
Students on the spectrum will find a support group to help them control their lives and self advocate in these chapter organizations.