What Type of Assistance is Available to Students with Disabilities?


In an economic environment characterized by ever increasing tuition costs, financing a college education oftentimes seems an insurmountable obstacle for many young people hoping to achieve a college degree. In addition to tuition, fees, and supplies, the cost of room and board, insurance and transportation can cause the price of earning a degree to swell to levels many consider overwhelming.

However, as difficult as current costs make achieving a college degree, many conditions make doing so even harder for students with physical or mental disabilities. A disability can bar a student from full-time status, a necessary prerequisite for scholarships and other financial aid. Likewise, a disability can require specialized medical care or accommodations not covered by a school’s medical or insurance programs.

But there are a number of financing options open and available to students with disabilities. The trick is finding a guide comprehensive enough to cover all types of disabilities and their personal limitations. One such guide is prepared and provided by bestcolleges.com, a partner with highereducation.com. Their Guide—whose  recommendations appear below—begins with financing options available to students living with any kind of disability and then indicates those options open to students living with particular disabilities.


A student with a disability is likely entitled to one or more of the following scholarships:
AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability
• Who’s eligible: An individual with a documented disability enrolled full-time as a junior or senior in a 4-year undergraduate college or enrolled in graduate school pursuing a degree related to a disability.
• Award: Under $1,000
• Deadline: November 15
Disabled Person: Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students enrolled in a 2-year or 4-year college or university in the U.S. attending school full-time or part-time due to a disability.
Students must be U.S. citizens.
• Award: $2,000
• Deadline: March 31
Additional Support
American Association of People with Disabilities: For individuals interested in higher education, the AAPD offers the Higher Education project, which aims to improve disabled individuals’ access to and inclusion in higher education, creating peer networks and access to resources.
Association on Higher Education and Disability: This professional membership organization trains personnel in higher education settings to work with students with disabilities. The group promotes policies of inclusion and equality in education for those who have disabilities.
Disability.gov: This government-sponsored database provides information about services for individuals with disabilities. It is an “information and referral” web site – services are not actually available through this site.
Disability Resources: This organization maintains a list of organizations that serve those with disabilities as well as programs that might be helpful.
National Council on Disability: The National Council on Disability advises high-ranking government officials, including the President, on matters that relate to individuals with disabilities. In the education sector, the council conducts assessments of programs and publishes research findings that they report to the government.
National Disabled Students Union: The National Disabled Students Union or NDSU, is a national organization meant to support all students with disabilities.
U.S. Department of Education: Office for Civil Rights: ED.gov promotes achievement for all students, including those with disabilities. The organization promotes key educational issues and establishes policies on financial aid.


There are a wide variety of chronic conditions that make attending courses on a regular basis difficult, if not impossible. Individuals with these conditions may find that online courses or nontraditional formats will help them to continue their studies when their conditions make attendance impossible.
National Multiple Sclerosis Society Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: First time college students
• Award: $1,000 to $3,000
• Deadline: January 15
Eric Dostie Memorial College Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students with a bleeding disorder or family member with a bleeding disorder who are U.S. citizens enrolled full time in 2-year or 4-year college programs.
• Award: $1,000
• Deadline: March 1
Matthew Debono Scholarship Fund
• Who’s eligible: High school seniors who plan to attend college and have a bone marrow failure disease diagnosis.
• Award: $1,000 to $2,000
• Deadline: April 1
Cystic Fibrosis Scholarship Foundation
• Who’s eligible: High school seniors or undergraduate students with CF who plan to or are attending college.
• Award: Usually $1,000 per year.
• Deadline: March 23
Elaine Chapin Foundation
• Who’s eligible: Students who have multiple sclerosis or a family member with MS.
• Award: $1,000
• Deadline: April 30
Diabetes Scholars Foundation
• Who’s eligible: Students who have diabetes and plan to study at an undergraduate program in the U.S.
• Award: Award amounts vary
• Deadline: April 15
Beth Carew Memorial Scholarship Program
• Who’s eligible: Students diagnosed with an inherited bleeding disorder are eligible.
• Award: $4,000 for educational expenses (tuition, fees and books).
• Deadline: April 15
Rimington Trophy Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students with cystic fibrosis and demonstrated academic ability are eligible for this scholarship.
• Award: $1,000 to $2,000 for educational expenses
• Deadline: June 24


Students who are deaf or hard of hearing should contact their school’s student services coordinator to inquire about accommodations like sign language interpreters, speech-to-text services, note takers, assistive listening devices,  testing accommodations or captioned audiovisual materials.
Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
• Who’s eligible: Students whose primary mode of communication is Listening and Spoken Language with diagnosed pre-lingual hearing loss that is moderately severe to profound and bilateral.
• Award: $2,500 – $10,000
• Deadline: January 22
Sertoma Scholarships for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
• Who’s eligible: Students with clinically significant bilateral hearing loss who are pursuing undergraduate education in the U.S.
• Award: $1,000 for books, tuition and supplies
• Deadline: May 1
Help America Hear Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: High school seniors who are attending college in the fall who are hard of hearing.
• Award: $500 and a pair of ReSounding Hearing Aids
• Deadline: March 27
Linda Cowden Memorial Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: A deaf or hard-of-hearing person accepted into an undergraduate program
• Award: $1,000
• Deadline: April 6
Travelers Protective Association Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired
• Who’s eligible: People who suffer deafness or hearing impairment and who need assistance in obtaining mechanical devices, medical or specialized treatment or specialized education.
• Award: Amount varies; money is for assistance in paying for devices, treatment and education.
• Deadline: March 31, June 30, September 30, and December 31
Louise Tumarkin Zazove Foundation
• Who’s eligible: Students with significant bilateral hearing loss who have been accepted to or are attending a college or university in the U.S.
• Award: Amount varies, must be used for educational expenses – tuition, fees and books.
• Deadline: May 26
Additional Support
National Association of the Deaf: The National Association of the Deaf helps students to attend college and universities by pushing for policies of inclusion and equal access.


Visually impaired students should contact their school’s disability services department to see what accommodations are available. Such accommodations may include accessible raised line drawings of diagrams and pictures, 3D models, computer terminals with speech output or notes that can be taken on carbonless paper and transcribed into a computer with speech output or into Braille.
Brother James Kearney Scholarship Program for the Blind
• Who’s eligible: Legally blind student deemed financially needy, studying at one of 11 participating colleges and universities.
• Award: Up to $15,000 a year for up to four years
• Deadline: N/A
Christine H. Eide Memorial Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Full-time graduate or undergraduate students who are legally blind who are entering or attending an accredited college or university.
• Award: $500 for education related expenses or tools.
• Deadline: September 2
National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program
• Who’s eligible: Students in the United States who are legally blind in both eyes who plan to pursue a degree program full-time at a U.S. college or university
• Award: Varies from $3,000 to $12,000 for education-related expenses
• Deadline: March 31
Lighthouse International Scholarship and Career Awards
• Who’s eligible: Students whose visual impairment cannot be corrected with standard glasses or contacts who plan to attend college at a U.S. institution
• Award: $10,000 for educational expenses and materials (there are seven awards)
• Deadline: March 31

American Council of the Blind Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Blind individuals who plan to attend or are attending college, graduate school or vocational training
• Award: Varies from $1,000 to $2,500
• Deadline: March 1
Council of Citizens with Low Vision International Fred Schweigart Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Full-time students with low vision who attend a U.S. institution of higher learning.
• Award: $3,000 for educational expenses
• Deadline: March 1
Christian Record Services for the Blind Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students who are legally blind who plan to attend college as a full-time undergraduate.
• Award: Amount varies, but funds are to be used to pay for tuition, books and other materials.
• Deadline: April 1
Additional Support
American Foundation for the Blind: Preparation for College: The American Federation for the Blind provides a short guide about how individuals who are visually impaired can prepare for college. The guide includes information on possible accommodations and how to choose the right educational setting.


The American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) defines intellectual disability as any condition that poses “significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior, which covers many everyday social and practical skills.”

Students who suffer from intellectual disabilities have trouble with critical reasoning, problem solving and interpreting social behaviors. Conditions include Down’s syndrome, autism, and epilepsy.
Ruby’s Rainbow
• Who’s eligible: Students over age 18 who have Down’s syndrome and who wish to attend a class or program that will enhance their lives through education, employment or independent living skills.
• Award: Up to $3,000 per individual
• Deadline: July 6
OAR Scholarship Program
• Who’s eligible: Individuals with a diagnosis of autism who are pursuing fulltime education in a 2-year or 4-year college or university, trade schools or life skills programs.
• Award: $3,000
• Deadline: May 2
Joe Cleres Memorial Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Mentally or physically challenged students who want to attend a U.S. institution of higher learning.
• Award: Varies from $500-$2000 for tuition expenses
• Deadline: March 14
Additional Support
Autism Speaks: Autism Speaks is an organization dedicated to advocacy for individuals who have autism and autism spectrum diagnoses. The organization maintains a database of post-secondary education resources for individuals seeking college education.
College Academic Support: College Academic Support provides access to resources for families whose students have a disability. From questions to ask to directories of colleges that are well suited for students with disabilities.
Think College: Devoted to individuals with learning disabilities, Think College promotes higher education options along with equity for these students. The organizations works to improve public policies, engage with students and others and to help institutions change.
Community College Consortium on Autism and Intellectual Disabilities: The CCCAID has nine groups at community colleges across the country. These groups provide advocacy for students with a variety of intellectual disabilities.


These disabilities include conditions such as ADD, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. They can be qualified as “intellectual disabilities” but are usually less cognitively inhibiting. Common accommodations for students with learning disabilities include longer exam periods, allowing students to take oral exams instead of written, or having a designated reader to assist that student.
Allegra Ford Thomas Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Graduating high school seniors with a documented learning disability who will attend a 2-year college or vocational school
• Award: $2,500 (one-time, non-renewable) for tuition, books and supplies
• Deadline: December 15
Anne Ford Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Graduating high school seniors with a documented learning disability who will attend a 4-year college full-time in the fall
• Award: $2,500 per year for four years for tuition, books and supplies
• Deadline: December 15
RiSE Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: High school seniors who will attend college in the fall with a documented learning disability (ADD/ADHD diagnosis alone will not be considered)
• Award: $2,500 for tuition, books, room and board.
• Deadline: February 10
Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award
• Who’s eligible: Students under age 19 with a learning disability or ADHD.
• Award: $1,000 for education-related expenses
• Deadline: January 31
Michael Yasick ADHD Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Individuals diagnosed with ADHD who are accepted to, or will enroll into college or university, trade, technical or vocational school in the U.S. and who are under the care of an ADHD professional.
• Award: $2,000 and a year of ADHD coaching from the Edge Foundation; the money should be used for tuition and related expenses.
• Deadline: Varies
Additional Support
Learning Disabilities Association of America: The Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA) was founded in 1964. The organization offers a variety of services for individuals with learning disabilities and supports research and advocacy to better the lives of those with learning disabilities.
National Center for Learning Disabilities: The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) advocates for individuals with learning disabilities and provides resources for the same group. Educators can find research-backed tools and professional development to better serve individuals with learning disabilities at the organization as well.


In 2011, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conducted a survey of multiple colleges to produce College Students Speak: A Survey Report on Mental Health. Twenty-seven percent of students reported that they were diagnosed with depression; 24% with bipolar disorder, 11% with anxiety and 6% with either PTSD or Schizophrenia.

Depending on the specific condition, students may find that they can’t muster the motivation to go to class, or that the symptoms of their condition prevent them from fully understanding the information. Students can find help through their campus health or counseling centers. Professionals provide services and resources to teach those living with a mental illness how to cope with academic life.
The H.O.P.E. Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or major depressive disorder are eligible.
• Award: Varies based on financial need; must be used for tuition, books, laboratory supplies and fees.
• Deadline: January 25
The Charles A. Olayinka Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students with diagnosed mental illness under the care of a mental health professional who are attending a community, undergraduate or graduate school.
• Award: $1,000 for educational expenses (tuition, books, supplies and fees)
• Deadline: Applications accepted on June 1 (rolling acceptance until filled)
J.C. Runyon Moving Forward Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students with diagnosed behavioral disorders are eligible for this scholarship
• Award: $3,000 for educational expenses
• Deadline: May 6
Additional Support
National Alliance of Mental Illness: On Campus: This NAMI resource offers information on a variety of mental illnesses that college students commonly suffer from. NAMI also provides links to agencies and support groups that can help those who are afflicted with mental illness.
ULifeline: ULifeline is an organization that focuses on helping college students with emotional health concerns. It is an anonymous confidential resource offered by The Jed Foundation.


For students who have physical disabilities, navigating the halls and classrooms, even transportation to classes, can be difficult. Online courses can work well for these students, but if they’d rather attend college in a traditional setting, they may want to find out whether specially-designed keyboards and other equipment can be made available in the computer labs.

Wheelchair height workstations, notetakers, taped lectures and discussions and allowance for oral instead of written exams are common accommodations.
Little People of America Scholarships
• Who’s eligible: Students in undergraduate programs who have a form of dwarfism.
• Award: $250-$1000 for academic expenses including tuition and fees.
• Deadline: April 22
The Independence Foundation Scholarship
• Who’s eligible: Students in undergraduate programs who are confined to wheelchairs
• Award: $500 for academic expenses including tuition and fees.
• Deadline: April 17
180 Medical Scholarship Program
• Who’s eligible: For students who have spinal cord injuries, spina bifida, transverse myelitis and/or a neurogenic bladder who are attending a 2-year or 4-year program full-time.
• Award: $1,000, for educational expenses
• Deadline: June 1
The Claude S. Weiler Scholarship for Amputee College Students
• Who’s eligible: Students with major limb amputations (loss of limb beginning at or above the wrist or ankle)
• Award: $500 for educational expenses
• Deadline: August 31
Additional Support
• Mobility International USA: An advocate for disability rights on a global scale, MIUSA makes the world accessible through exchange programs for individuals with disability. •

BestColleges.com, a partner with HigherEducation.com

This column has a simple purpose, but a difficult goal: discuss issues that affect the lives, well being and state of mind of those who must live and cope with a disability and do so in a humorous way whenever possible. This isn’t an easy thing to do, since there’s certainly nothing funny or humorous about being disabled, or in the difficulties and obstacles that those with chronic disabilities encounter daily. However, I’ve personally found that humor has to a great extent helped me cope with my disability (I’ve had Multiple Sclerosis for 45 years and use a wheelchair), and I hope this column helps others in the disability community do so as well.

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