Financial Resources and Discounts for Students With Disabilities

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.

Financial Aid for Students With Disabilities

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.

AAPD Paul G. Hearne Emerging Leader Award:

This is an award that requires three essay questions, a résumé, and two letters of support.

AG Bell College Scholarship Program:

You must have bilateral hearing loss diagnosed before the age of 4 to apply.

Anne Ford and Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarships:

These larger scholarships are for those who set career goals and participate in school activities.

Ben's Fund:

You must be a Washington state resident and diagnosed with autism.

Brother James Kearney Scholarship for the Blind:

You must study at one of 12 participating schools in the New York City area.

disABLEDperson Inc. Scholarship:

A student must prove disability through their student services department.

Hard of Hearing Scholarship:

For those pursuing a bachelor's degree; this grant requires a 3.2 GPA or higher.

Incite Scholarship:

Incite is an organization that awards aid to up to 100 students. You must be a current Oregon or southwest Washington resident.

Independence Foundation Scholarship:

For individuals with a physical disability; this grant requires an essay.

KFM Making a Difference Scholarship:

It's a $500 scholarship for those with autism.

Lighthouse Guild Scholarship:

This scholarship offers options for graduate students as well as undergraduate students.

Little People of America Scholarship:

This is for students with a form of dwarfism.

Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards:

Explore your personal narrative for a chance to win one of the oldest disability grants for college.

Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship:

You must be under the care of a licensed health professional for ADHD.

National Federation of the Blind Scholarship:

Students with disabilities must be legally blind to apply.

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.

Rehabmart.com $25,000 Scholarship Fund:

Write a "short, thoughtful essay" to apply for this scholarship.

RiSE Scholarship Foundation:

This foundation has awarded more than 100 scholarships for those with learning disabilities.

Ruby's Rainbow Scholarship:

The grant is for individuals with Down syndrome.

Springboard Foundation Scholarships:

This is a series of scholarships provided by major corporations.

1800wheelchair.com Scholarship:

Explore accessibility issues in a "visual poem" to receive a scholarship.

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!

For the most accessible, wheelchair-friendly campus 101mobility.com ranked the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as number one for its comprehensive resources and care. They even have basketball and track teams for wheelchair users. Edinboro University and Hofstra University came in second and third. No worries, though, West-Coasters; UC Berkeley also provides individually designed services based on each student's needs.

There are several schools for students with learning disabilities, like Beacon College and Landmark College, which have been created for those with different learning styles. Other colleges with good learning disability programs include Northeastern, RIT, the University of Arizona, and others. There are also colleges for students with ADHD such as Mount St. Joseph University, which offers its Project EXCEL 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

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers numerous types of accommodations for college students with disabilities. It's a dense law that covers a lot of different topics in detail, and it encompasses everything from sign language to assistive listening devices to written notes to Braille materials. It is the student's responsibility to disclose their disability with a disability resource center on the campus.

Learn about your rights and responsibilities under the ADA.

Many disabled students will have specific needs during testing; make sure your professor and institution know ahead of time.

Here are some examples of fair expectations for accomodations:

  • 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

When faced with a difficult professor, it's best to talk to the school's disability office. Instances in which that doesn't lead to results may lead to more trouble. Consult the EEOC enforcement guidelines to see if undue hardship applies to your situation. Feel free to read ADA cases and settlements to see if there's been a case like yours in the past.

When looking around at a school, feel free to ask their disabilities office about what kinds of accommodations they normally provide. You can also ask alumni and other students about how difficult it's been for them to get these accommodations.

Travel Disability Discounts

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.

Important Considerations for Disabled Students While Studying Abroad

Some college students may question if perks like a study-abroad program are available to them. They are. It often just takes the extra step of more research.

Public Transit Discounts

There are a few ways to save while constantly traveling from home to school and back, with many companies offering discounts for disabled persons on train tickets, public transportation, and more.

  • Amtrak disability benefits include at least a 10% discount on travel for both the disabled traveler and their companion, with more of a percentage off for certain routes, such as the route from Boston, MA, to Portland, ME (50% off).
  • Local public transportation systems in America often offer their own disability travel discounts. Of note are a few in big cities:
    • The MTA (in New York City) offers a reduced-fare MetroCard once you fill out their application.
    • The Washington, DC, Metro offers reduced fares as well.
    • The RTD in Denver offers a special discount card (SDC) with a 50% reduction.
  • Plan to research ahead of time when traveling abroad. While abroad, you may be able to find deals, like on certain European railways as well as railways in Japan.
  • Greyhound offers priority seating and assistance during stops for their disabled bus passengers.

Flight, Hotel, and Vacation Tips

Flying for those with a disability can sometimes seem a daunting task. Often, a lot of prep and research is needed before flying. Security, boarding, and getting off the flight can be painless after letting the right people know. Research what you need to know before flying, and know that each airline has their own quirks.

  • When asking airlines directly about their accessibility accommodations you can feel free to also ask if the airline has any disability discount policy in place. While its a rare find, its definitely worth a shot. For example, Turkish Airlines offers a disability discount policy on domestic and international flights, if the flyer is considered to have a disability rating of 40% or more. 
  • When booking a hotel, run through the hotel accommodations checklist and be sure to interview the concierge or hotel staff about these items if necessary.  You can also ask if they have any disability discount policy in place.
  • If you're booking a cruise, know that some cruise lines have been rated fairly well for disabled passengers, and you should do your research on the particular cruise line.
  • When planning your trip, check out the availability of wheelchair ramps and other important accessibility checkpoints with AXSMap.

There are vacation discount opportunities out there if you dig, ask around on forums like FlyerTalk and TripAdvisor about specific airlines accessibility and other policies.

Entertainment Discounts and Free Things for Disabled People To Do

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!

Software, Assistive Technology, Equipment, and Tools

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:

NaturalReader:

This is a free text-to-speech reader. Just drag and drop your text file into it!

NVDA Access:

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.

Google Docs:

Offers voice-to-text typing for free!

Ava:

This app shows in text what people are saying around you in real time, including who's saying it.

soundAMP R:

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.

rabe's Big-Cursors:

Enlarge your cursor so you can see it better. It's a free, simple-but-stress-avoiding solution.

Camera Mouse:

Developed by Boston College, this free software for disabled users allows you to control your mouse/cursor by using your head.

Proloquo2Go:

This symbol-based communication system is for more effectively conveying needs.

Verbally:

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!

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:

This is one of the most important resources for the visually impaired, with free audiobooks, free playback equipment, and free enrollment. The government offers a huge library of free Braille books, talking books, and music to the blind and deaf-blind. Unfortunately, as of now, those with reading disabilities have to prove their disability medically for access.

Learning Ally's College Program:

With a wide swath of free audiobooks and textbooks, you can also connect with an experienced mentor with this program.

Bookshare:

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.

While Audible is a great resource, they don't have a disabled student Audible discount. You can take advantage of many of their regular deals, though.

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.

The Center for Accessible Technology:

This organization finds assistive technologies like iPads, screen-readers, and computers for seniors and disabled groups.

REquipment Refurished Equipment Inventory:

This organization is based out of Massachusetts through its MassMATCH program and offers refurbished scooters, wheelchairs, shower chairs, and other equipment.

Danny's Wish:

This organization offers tablets for disabled users with autism.

iTaalk Autism Foundation iPad Grant:

They also offer a free tablet for those with autism.

Miracle-Ear Foundation:

Eligible people can get hearing aids for free.

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.

Online Schools That Offer Free Laptops:

Here's a helpful list for disabled students who are considering a state-run online college.

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.

Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP):

Specifically for federal employees (including active-duty military), this program provides a great deal of assistive technology.

National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped:

The government can provide free assistive devices like a free currency reader to blind and visually impaired people.

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!

Sip-and-puff switches can be vital to many people. You can get a Jouse3 or one from Origin Instruments.

A BigKeysLX keyboard can be helpful for those who struggle with typing.

Microsoft has recently created an Xbox Adaptive Controller for those who want to game. So far, people love it!

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.

Internet, Electricity, and Other Bills

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) can do a lot to battle bills, but outside of those, most federal programs, such as Section 8 housing, are income-based. When you're a student living on campus, many of these needs are met already. Moving off campus or striking out on your own can lead to a lot of expenses, though. Is there a disability discount on utility bills? It depends.

Here's a quick overview of federal assistance programs.

Discount Phone and Internet Service

While a college campus will often provide Internet service, going off campus can get expensive. Unfortunately, the notion of free Internet service for disabled students is still fairly far away. Spectrum Internet discounts only apply to those older than 65 on Supplemental Security Income. There is also no Comcast Internet discount for disabled people. Most programs that do exist are for low-income individuals and families. Here are a few of them:

Heat/Energy Assistance

Other Bills

Important Links and Web Resources for Students With Disabilities

Lastly, note that there is a huge number of miscellaneous federal programs for the disabled available for specific areas and illnesses; veterans especially have a lot of access to programs.

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!