An Open Letter to Parents of Students with Disabilities
I want to start out this letter letting you know I have been working with college students with disabilities for more than 15 years. Over the years I have witnessed both good, and not so good, transitions to higher education for students with disabilities and their parents. Remember, in the midst of any anxiety and concern you may have, this is what you and your son/daughter have been working towards for a long time. Take a moment to congratulate yourself on a job well done!
I am writing to discuss the anxieties you may be experiencing as your child with a disability enters The University of Akron. I am sure many of you have been very involved in the educational process of your child through their elementary, junior high, and high school years. You wanted and “needed” to be involved since, by law, schools could do nothing without your approval. You sat through countless IEP meetings and agonized over things like teacher selection and social integration with classmates. And now, as you prepare your child for entering The University of Akron, you recognize that your role has changed. Not only have the laws that protect your son/daughter changed, but your role in the process is different. What will this change look like, and how can you still be involved in your child’s academic career at The University of Akron?
If you are worried that your child with a disability will have a difficult time making a successful transition to The University of Akron, I have some thoughts to share with you. First and foremost, it’s important to know that students with disabilities thrive on college campuses all across this country, and that is certainly true for students with disabilities at The University of Akron. I am challenging you to think of your son or daughter as not your “child,” but as a young adult with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with that life role. College is a time for parents to step back and allow, encourage, and gently nudge their young adult children to assume significant responsibilities, both academically and personally.
Allow your son/daughter to do the talking at their initial meeting with the disability specialist. Give the Disability Specialist a chance to draw your student with disabilities out further. Allow your son/daughter the opportunity to clarify what they need in their own words. This can be the first step for your son/daughter to practice self-advocacy and establish their relationship with the Office of Accessibility.
Provide your son/daughter the chance to be in control of the appointment. Prep your son/daughter in advance on the issues you feel need discussed, even writing them out if necessary on paper, if that helps. Don’t panic wondering if your student will share the important points regarding their disability. After the discussion is over, and there is additional information the Disability Specialist needs to know, it can now be your time to talk. Go ahead and ask your questions, but remember you do not want to undermine your son/daughter’s credibility.
The Disability Specialist in the Office of Accessibility will work with your son/daughter to determine the appropriate academic accommodations for his/her classes. The OA wants to be your son/daughter’s connection to all things involved in being a student at The University of Akron. We are happy to answer students’ questions; we will get them to the correct office and people. We will be available to act as their advocates if needed. The OA will be there from day one for your son/daughter. We want to help them formulate their plan from their first semester to graduation. We will keep their educational plan front and center as your son/daughter work toward his/her educational goals. At the end of his/her program of study, we will be in the audience as he/she walks across the stage as a proud graduate of The University of Akron.
As parents, you have the opportunity to be involved at The University of Akron. If you are Alumni of The University of Akron, getting involved in Alumni activities is a great way to be part of the University community. Attending sporting events, enjoying programs at EJ Thomas Hall as well as our many community events also allows you to be part of your son/daughter’s experience at The University of Akron.
The Office of Accessibility is looking forward to assisting your son/daughter in the upcoming semester. Whether he/she is just beginning their journey as a student at The University of Akron, or is continuing on course to graduation, the Office of Accessibility is excited and ready to help.
I wish both students and parents the best the Fall 2013 semester holds at The University of Akron!
Kathleen (Kelly) Kulick, M.Ed., CRC