We realize that college can be both an extremely fun and stressful time of life for anyone, and for those who have disabilities it can add a bit of additional financial and mental stress to the equation. This is precisely why we carefully crafted this helpful guide to various financial resources, discounts and savings opportunities, and travel tips for students with disabilities.
From the most important federal financial aid information to helpful deals to awesome free stuff, our list of discounts for disabled students will help take the focus off bank accounts and back onto studies. Disability discounts, tips, and information for travel, utilities, books, software, and assistive technologies are out there for disabled college students to use; don't miss out! There are plenty of opportunities for aid as well as lots of ways to save.
With over 10% percent of students heading to school with disabilities (11.1% in fact), we should all strive to ensure we're doing our best to make college life easier for special-needs, learning-disabled, or physically disabled students. This following list can help in the realm of finances to cut both financial costs and the associated unnecessary stress. The journey might be difficult, but it's certainly possible! Read on to discover all of the help that's already out there.
First off, let's cover the basics. There are quite a few federal financial aid programs available to all students who have a financial need. Here's a quick glossary of important financial aid terms.
- Pell Grants: Undergraduate grants that don't need to be repaid
Stafford Loans: Graduate and undergraduate loans that must be repaid with a varied interest rate and can either be subsided or unsubsidized
- Federal Subsidized Stafford Loans: Loans where the government pays the interest during certain grace periods such as deferments
- PLUS Loans: Unsubsidized loans for a student's parents
- Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG): Undergraduate grants of college students with disabilities or without, awarded by individual schools
- Perkins Loans: Low-interest student loans for graduate or undergraduate students
- Federal Work Study: Jobs available to undergraduate and graduate students to help them pay for expenses (more on this later)
These are some potential federal-backed loans and grants for disabled students:
College Scholarships for Students With Disabilities
Outside of federal and state financial resources for college students with disabilities, many large organizations offer scholarships exclusively for this group. Often, they merely require an application. Here are just a few highlights, but note that there are a ton of disability scholarships and grants out there. Check out this database as well.
AAHD Scholarship Program:
Preference for this award is given to those majoring in public health, health promotion, disabilities studies, or a relevant field.
You must be a Washington state resident and diagnosed with autism.
Incite is an organization that awards aid to up to 100 students. You must be a current Oregon or southwest Washington resident.
NBCUniversal Tony Coelho Media Scholarship:
For media studies or communications majors and those looking to pursue a career in the entertainment industry, this scholarship is for those with any type of disability.
Note that you can also search for scholarships and grants for college students with learning disabilities through the College Board.
Best Colleges for Students With Learning Disabilities or Physical Accessibility Needs
First off, no matter where you're searching, make sure that your potential college offers a comprehensive transition and post-secondary (CTP) program. This means that the college has a program approved by the U.S. Department of Education for working with learning-disabled students.
Check this list to make sure your school qualifies with a CTP program!
Federal Work-Study Job Options
Many students will wonder if they, as students with disabilities, can have access to work-study jobs. Luckily, there's some security against discrimination in that arena: Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Free services such as assistive technologies still apply to this situation.
There are plenty of jobs for college students with disabilities at most schools, from working in the library to tutoring other students; check your college's database for more information.
Potential Student Loan Disability Discharge
Students usually can get out of student loan debt just about as easily as trying to escape one of Houdini's traps, but there are a handful of specific situations in which an impairment leads to student loan forgiveness. Disability that's "total and permanent" can lead to a discharge. You'd need to prove your total and permanent disability, and student loans like those from the Perkins, FFEL, Direct Loan, and TEACH programs can be forgiven. This happens either through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) or the Social Security Administration or by obtaining a letter from a physician. Read about the process before you apply. Note that a tax hit often comes later, but it's not as severe as in years past.
Accommodations for Students With Disabilities and Other Considerations
- Audio-recorded texts
- Classroom equipment for those with manual impairments
- Braille exam booklets
- Distraction-free rooms
- Screen readers
- Extended time for testing
- Wheelchair-accessible test space
An important and unavoidable fact of college life is travel. Whether it's studying abroad, broadening your horizons at home, or just commuting back and forth from your parents' house occasionally, travel discounts for disabled passengers should be taken advantage of ahead of time.
Studying is important, and like any other person attending college, those with disabilities will also need a break to avoid burnout too. Luckily there are lots of cheap and free things for disabled persons of all ages to enjoy.
- The America the Beautiful Pass is completely a free disability pass for national parks in the United States. That includes everything from the Grand Canyon to the Statue of Liberty to Yellowstone.
Passes are also available for state parks across the country:
- If you're a disabled student studying abroad in the UK, DisabledGo rates locations based on their accessibility. The UK Cinema Association also offers complementary movie tickets for participating cinemas.
- Always check with your local museum for either student discounts or disability discounts; most will have at least some discount for you! The Met in New York City has specific tours designed for those with disabilities, like "touching tours" for those who are blind. The Jewish Museum, also in NYC, caters to many different kinds of visitors as well.
- Theme parks like Disney's and SeaWorld offer special services to guests with special needs; this might not include a discounted ticket, but it's nice to know!
There aren't exactly a lot of freebies for disabled college students out there, but there are a lot of tools that aren't as expensive and can make life a lot easier, whether it's a free speech-to-text app or a discounted wheelchair. Here are some resources for students with disabilities you should know about.
Helpful Software for Students With Disabilities
If you have Windows, you have free Ease of Access settings, which include easier navigation, narrators, and a better eye control experience.
If you have macOS, you have the free Accessibility suite, which includes controlling the device with Siri, using text to speech, and numerous other settings.
Beyond the built-in tools of the operating systems, there's a wide array of mobile apps and software for the disabled out there. Here are some of the most helpful options:
This is a free text-to-speech reader. Just drag and drop your text file into it!
Another free screen reader, this can even be downloaded onto a USB drive to be used on other computers, which is handy when setting up a presentation!
Dragon Speech Recognition:
Then, there's the opposite: Turn your voice into text. This is especially useful for those with dysgraphia or physical disabilities.
This app shows in text what people are saying around you in real time, including who's saying it.
This is a simple app that amplifies the world around you, allowing you to control the sounds for each ear. Also, it's useful to record and play back lectures.
Enlarge your cursor so you can see it better. It's a free, simple-but-stress-avoiding solution.
Developed by Boston College, this free software for disabled users allows you to control your mouse/cursor by using your head.
This symbol-based communication system is for more effectively conveying needs.
A free app, this is a tool for using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC).
Augsburg University has a great list of more software and tools by disability, and there are plenty more beyond that as well.
Free Audiobooks and Braille Books
Textbooks can be a pain to get in an alternate form, but here are some important resources to try. Don't forget that a PDF of your textbook can usually be used with a screen-reader!
This is an e-book library that's also for those with reading and learning disabilities as well as physical or visual impairments. It's free for those who qualify.
Discount Disability Equipment and Free Computers
The Accessible Technology Coalition has a massive list of assistive technology for cognitive impairments, physical disabilities, and those with vision or hearing loss. There are so many different appliances that an individual might use or need, and often, they're very expensive. Luckily, there are resources where one can find free appliances for disabled people, discount wheelchairs, free tablets, or accessibility tools. Sometimes, these discounts come in the form of grants, and sometimes, the benefit can be a cheaper version of what's already available.
This organization offers tablets for disabled users with autism.
Computers With Causes:
This is a nonprofit that sources tablets, laptops, and even servers; the process can take a few weeks.
PCs for People:
If you're below 200% of the federal poverty level, you can apply for a PC.
Notebooks for Students:
This nonprofit offers discounted laptops to all students. You must have a student ID to qualify.
Computer Technology Assistance Corps:
Open to all low-income individuals, this recycling company sources free laptops for disabled people and others. Note that virus and malware removal is not included.
Note that if a student can't get a grant, many companies still offer student discounts on products and software, like Apple and Adobe.
Other Cool Tech to Know About
These tools aren't discounted, but they're awesome resources for equipment that you might not know about that may make your life a lot easier!
The Dot Watch is a Braille smartwatch. How cool is that?
Shop around on AssistiveTech.Net and RJ Cooper & Associates to see new products and reviews for them.
Discount Phone and Internet Service
Lifeline: This is a federal benefit that lowers the cost of phone and Internet services, including $9.25/month toward each bill. It's for low-income families, including those who use SNAP, Medicaid, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or earn under 135% of the poverty line. Here's more information about it. There are many participating companies, such as these:
- The Telecommunications Equipment Distribution Program Association (TEDPA): This program offers free landline phone service for disabled people who are hard of hearing.
Tips for Finding More Deals for Disabled College Students
Beyond these programs and discounts for disabled adults, look up coupons and deals for more ways to save. There are plenty of coupons and deals for college students that can be taken advantage of, from getting The New York Times at a discounted academic rate, to a student-priced Amazon Prime subscription, to Upromise's cash-back program for paying off student loans, lots of discount opportunities exist. Just seek them out, and never be afraid to ask in-person, over the phone or email, or even on social media!