What is Disability Support Services?

As a result of civil rights legislation, Disability Support Services (DSS) were established to provide equal access to college for individuals with disabilities. Although DSS has a mandate to ensure equal opportunities for students with disabilities to learn, it is not responsible for the academic success of students.

What kind of support services do colleges offer?

There are usually two types of disability support services on college campuses – centralized and decentralized. Both types provide a number of services, including:

  • meeting with a student to determine a student’s eligibility for accommodations
  • assessing a student’s service needs by looking at their documentation as well as meeting with them
  • writing up a summary of the decisions about a student’s eligibility for services
  • providing students with an orientation to the accommodations and services, and
  • directly providing supports and services to students

What is the difference between centralized and decentralized disability services?

Centralized services is the one-stop center for any and all disability related services. Here, the DSS office offers comprehensive services for students, employees, and visitors.

Decentralized services may not be offered in any one place, or, disability support services may be included under the office of the Dean of Students or in a Student Counseling department. Sometimes, individual college departments are expected to develop expertise to meet the needs of students.

What does disability disclosure at college mean?

Before making an appointment to meet with a disability services counselor, students need to decide whether or not they want to share that they have a disability. Some students see this transition as a way to break away from special education and get a fresh start at college (by not disclosing their disability). However, if they have benefitted from accommodations in high school, they may want to consider disclosing their disability.

Do I have to disclose my disability?

No, this is a personal decision. Two things for students and their team to consider are (1) college admission staff cannot ask students if they have a disability and (2) it is up to students to decide if they want to disclose disability.

What is the first step that students with disabilities can take to request help at college?

  • One of the most important steps students with disabilities can take if they want to request accommodations in college is to make an appointment with the disability services office on the campus. They may find it most convenient to do so on the day they are taking a tour of the campus.
  • At that meeting, a disability services counselor will tell the student what type of paperwork they need to bring to request accommodations.

What documentation do students usually need to have when requesting disability services?

Paperwork requirements differ from one DSS office to another, but in general, students should expect to share recent information that includes:

  • A good quality report about their disability that is written by a qualified professional
  • Clear information about their disability diagnosis and how it impacts learning
  • Formal and informal assessments, including the results
  • Information about successful accommodations that have been used in the past.
  • Additional information that is useful to disability services staff is the student’s Summary of Performance, which is now required of schools to provide to students with disabilities before they exit school. This summary should include the student’s academic achievement, functional performance, and recommendations about how to help the student meet his or her postsecondary goals.

Is the student’s IEP part of the documentation to request disability services?

Actually, the student’s IEP is not one of the required documents for requesting services. Although it is one of the most important documents in special education, it does not hold the same importance in college. However, some disability services offices like to see the documentation in order to better understand the student’s accommodation needs.

Where can students learn more about this?

  • The Association for Higher Education and Disability, National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities Paper.
  • Duffy, J, & Gugerty, J. (2005). The role of disability support services. In E.E. Getzel & P. Wehman, Going to College: Expanding opportunities for people with disabilities. Brookes Publishing, pp. 89-118.
  • National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. (2005). The 411 on Disability Disclosure Workbook. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership.

Date posted: May 30, 2012. Content created by The Institute for Community Inclusion at University of Massachusetts Boston. Last updated: March 21, 2018.

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