Approaching College with a Disability
When I was admitted to UNLV and starting to plan for college life, one of my parents’ concerns was how I would manage my Type 1 Diabetes. I would be living on my own in another state without knowing anyone. I was excited for my first taste of independence, but also a bit apprehensive about maintaining my health without the direct support of my parents.
Three years later, I am physically, emotionally, and socially healthier than I have ever been! I have taken advantage of many campus resources that have helped with my needs, and I’ve gained some experience that I would like to share with new students (and their families) about what one should consider when starting college with a disability.
As a disclaimer, I would like to clarify that I am not giving medical advice in this article. Nothing I say should take the place of genuine advice and recommendations from your doctors, physicians, or other care providers. Also, while I will try to keep the information as general as possible to be helpful for most people, I do not claim to speak for others with disabilities.
1. Discuss college with your doctors
It might seem obvious, but this should almost always be your first step! Discussing any concerns about managing your disability in college with your doctor will give you reliable information about your specific needs. Your doctor may also be able to identify any foreseeable challenges. You should request formal documentation of your disability so that you can send it to the Disability Resource Center (DRC).
2. Get an appointment with the DRC
The Disability Resource Center is UNLV’s outlet for students with disabilities. They offer a variety of accommodations to students, as well as workshops, scholarships, and other related opportunities. I highly recommend getting an appointment with the DRC before classes start.
You’ll meet with a Disability Specialist who will talk with you about your disability. Together, you’ll develop a plan for academic accommodations. There are a ton of accommodations available for students, including extended exam time, snacks, breaks, note-taking assistance, special seat assignment, and just about anything else you can think of. There is no “preset” list of accommodations based on your disability. Instead, they will be tailored to your individual needs.
You will be able to request these accommodations for any class you need them for. While your professors will be notified about these accommodations, they will not be notified about your diagnosis or the details of your disability. If you think providing that context would be helpful, you can meet with your professors during their office hours to discuss it.
You can also request living accommodations if you plan to live in the residence halls. This includes living in a triple room (which may have wheelchair access) or getting approval for an emotional support animal.
It’s a great idea to meet with the DRC, regardless of how “severe” your disability might be, or whether it is visible or hidden. I did not think they could do much for me as a Type 1 Diabetic because I am almost completely able-bodied when my blood sugar is good. In fact, I do not often like to identify myself as “disabled,” but the Disability Resource Center has undeniably been a huge support in advocating for my medical needs. I received accommodations for snacks and drinks (to treat low blood sugar), a medical device that may cause noise (my insulin pump), and extended exam times (in case my blood sugar crashes during an exam), among other things.
You can find the Disability Resource Center’s contact information HERE.
3. Create a plan for medical care
Managing a disability can get very complicated. I have multiple prescriptions for equipment and medications, some of which require refrigeration, can not go through X-ray machines, etc. Below is a brief list of some things to consider:
This applies specifically to students from out-of-state who might be a long way from home. Make sure you have arrangements for properly storing and traveling with any medical equipment. You may have to bring documentation to an airport or request certain accommodations. Remember to bring a cooler and have arrangements for a mini-fridge if you have medication that needs to be refrigerated. Also, consider carrying emergency contact information, checking in with family during layovers, etc.
Check with the UNLV Pharmacy to see if they can provide your medication and if they accept your insurance. Personally, I use City Pharmacy, which is right across the street from campus. The folks there are very helpful and they even deliver to the residence halls! Because of the frequency I order insulin, I will transfer my prescription from City Pharmacy to my pharmacy back home during winter and summer break.
I am not qualified to speak about this topic directly, but I highly recommend talking with your current medical providers to get advice on what providers you should visit and how often. They might have recommendations and help for transferring patient information if necessary. Las Vegas is a big city, so there is a good chance you’ll be able to find someone nearby who you can visit with a rideshare app like Lyft or Uber.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) provides certain privacy protections for patients. When you turn 18, your health care providers might have more restrictions on sharing your information with your family members without your permission, even if you are still their legal dependent or if they are paying for your treatment. Again, contact your providers to ask what specific changes might occur when you turn 18. You might need to provide spoken or written permission for your family to continue receiving information about your treatment.
4. Know your personal contacts
When I first moved in with my roommate, I explained the basics of how Type 1 Diabetes works. I also showed her how to do an emergency Glucagon injection and where I keep that kit. After we became more comfortable living together and we trusted each other more, I even started asking her to help me insert my continuous glucose monitor into my arm.
I also added the RA (Resident Assistant) on duty's phone number to my contacts and installed the RebelSafe app on my phone. This is so I always have someone to call in an emergency. For example, if my blood sugar ever gets dangerously low at night, I can call the RA on duty to come monitor me while I treat my blood sugar. If things get scary, they can call for medical assistance as well. This plan is especially important now that I live alone and I can not wake my roommate up for help.
Try to think of people and resources you can contact in an emergency, but also folks who you trust that you can confide in for emotional support. While disabilities make us unique, they can sometimes feel alienating or lonely. If you start to feel that way often, or it begins to interfere with your quality of life, consider contacting our Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on campus.
As always, be sure to call home, get involved on campus, and make some friends! UNLV is a very diverse and accepting community, and we’re all happy to have you!