Paying for college is a complicated process for any aspiring student. It’s a process that raises a ton of questions: What’s a Pell Grant? What’s a Perkins Loan? Do I have to pay anything back? For students with a disability, those questions are even more complicated.
The good news: A disability is not an impediment to a college education. There are plenty of resources for those who need help applying and paying for it.
This guide, designed to work with assistive technology, can help you find these resources. Aspiring students with disabilities can use our table of contents to find the best scholarships for them. At the bottom of the page, we also list some tips on how to get federal and private aid.
Table of contents
- Scholarships for general disabilities
- Scholarships for physical disabilities
- Scholarships for hearing impairments
- Scholarships for visual impairments
- Scholarships for learning disabilities
- Scholarships for autism
- Scholarships for health conditions
- Different types of financial aid
- Getting federal aid – Types of federal aid
- Getting federal aid – Filling out the FAFSA
- Getting federal aid – CTP programs and ABLE accounts
- Getting private aid
- Know your rights
- About this guide
Scholarships for general disabilities
The following scholarships are open to aspiring students with nonspecific disabilities.
The American Association on Health and Disability (AAHD) Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability
The AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability is awarded to a student with a disability who is currently pursuing an undergraduate or graduate school degree related to health and disability. Fields of study may include:
- Public health.
- Health promotion.
- Disability studies.
- Disability research.
- Rehabilitation engineering.
- Disability policy.
- Special education.
- Other majors that affect quality of life of persons with disabilities.
Applicants must provide a personal statement and two letters of recommendation. Applicants must be enrolled full time in an undergraduate program or full- or part time in a graduate program.
Amount: Up to $1,000
Deadline: Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the scholarship program for the 2020-21 school year has been suspended until further notice.
Mays Mission for the Handicapped Scholarship Program
Mays Mission for the Handicapped is a nonprofit organization that offers vocational training in a variety of fields for individuals with disabilities. Mays Mission also offers scholarships to students with physical and/or mental disabilities. Applicants must score 20 or higher on the ACT or 970 or higher on the SAT.
Applicants must be enrolled in a four-year undergraduate study program and provide proof of enrollment. Once they have been accepted, recipients must maintain a 3.0 GPA. Recipients must also submit grades each semester and write a monthly “update letter” to the mission.
Amount: Award amount varies
Deadline: June 30
Chicago Injury Center’s Annual Scholarship Fund for Disabled Veterans
The Chicago Injury Center offers a scholarship for veterans who have suffered a physical or emotional injury. Applicants must plan to or currently be enrolled in trade schools, community colleges or any college or university in the U.S.
Applicants must write a 500-plus word essay on challenges they have had to overcome as a veteran with a disability. Veterans must also detail how these challenges have prepared them to succeed in their course of study.
Applicants must maintain a 2.5 GPA and provide proof of honorable discharge.
Amount: $250, $500, $1,000
Deadline: Previous applications were due on June 1
The Ability Center Scholarship
The Ability Center of Greater Toledo offers a number of scholarships totaling $20,000 to Toledo-area students with disabilities.
Applicants must currently be enrolled in a postsecondary (undergraduate or graduate) degree program. To apply, applicants must provide a one- to two-page personal statement and three references. Applicants must carry a 3.0 GPA.
Amount: Award varies, totaling $20,000
Deadline: March 31, 2021
Michigan Foundation for Exceptional Children (MFEC) Scholarships
The Michigan Council for Exceptional Children provides scholarships for Michigan students with disabilities. Applicants must no longer be eligible for special education and Section 504 programs, whether via graduation or reaching 26 years of age.
Awards up to $1,500 can support the following:
- Special equipment.
- Tutoring (including tuition).
Applicants must reside in a school district in the state of Michigan and submit a written essay on their career goals, leadership skills and other subjects. Applicants must also submit three letters of recommendation.
Amount: Up to $1,500
Deadline: May 22, 2021
Buckfire & Buckfire, P.C. Disability Scholarship Program
Buckfire Law Firm offers a scholarship for college or university students of any age, with any type of disability. That can include, among others, physical disabilities, mental or psychiatric conditions and learning disabilities.
Applicants must have completed at least one semester of classes at an accredited college or university. Applicants must also have a disability diagnosis from “any person qualified to make a diagnosis.”
Applicants must include documentation of their disability and a transcript of their most recent semester in their application. Applicants must also submit a one-page typed essay describing how they overcame adversity caused by their disability and what they learned from their experience.
Deadline: Oct. 1, 2021
California-Hawaii Elks Undergraduate Scholarship Program for Students with Disabilities
The California-Hawaii Elks Major Project, Inc. provides a number of scholarships to students who are residents of California or Hawaii and who have one of the following:
- Physical impairment.
- Neurological impairment.
- Visual impairment.
- Hearing impairment.
- Speech language disorder.
Funds are only used to cover academic expenses, which includes tuition, books, lab fees and on-campus room and board.
Applicants must obtain Elks sponsorship by contacting an elected Elks Lodge officer in the state of California or Hawaii. To qualify, applicants must be a senior in high school or a high school graduate or have passed the GED. Applicants must plan to obtain an undergraduate degree at an accredited community college, vocational school or four-year college.
Amount: $1,000 to $3,000 each
Deadline: March 15, 2021
Auger & Auger Disabled Scholar Award
Auger & Auger Attorneys at Law offer two $1,000 awards per year to students with disabilities pursuing an undergraduate degree. To qualify, applicants must either be a current graduating high school senior accepted to an accredited school or an undergraduate student at an accredited institution. Applicants must also have a minimum 2.8 GPA.
Applicants must write a 500- to 1,000-word essay on one of the following topics:
- Overcoming their disability to do something extraordinary.
- How lessons learned from living with their disability have helped them prepare for college and postgraduate plans.
Applicants must also provide an unofficial copy of their transcript.
Deadline: Fall semester: July 31; spring semester: Nov. 30
Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People With Disabilities
The Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities is designed to help people with disabilities obtain the education or training necessary to succeed in the career path of their choice.
To qualify, applicants must have an identified disability and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must be a high school senior or graduate who plans to enroll, or is already enrolled, at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university. Applicants can pursue full-time or half-time study. Scholarships are also renewable.
Previously, Wells Fargo accepted online applications through Nov. 28 or until 700 applications had been submitted. If the program is currently closed, you can choose to be notified when it reopens.
Amount: $2,500 for full-time study and $1,250 for half-time study
Deadline: Applications are currently closed. If you would like to receive a notification when the application process opens back up, you can select that option on the website.
Scholarships for physical disabilities
The following scholarships are available to students with physical disabilities. That can include past or present mobility, dexterity or stamina issues. This section does not include blindness or deafness — those are covered under visual and hearing impairment, respectively.
This scholarship funds up to two $500 awards each year. Applicants must be in their final year of high school or enrolled at the graduate or undergraduate level. Applicants must submit an essay and a visual poem (combined total of 500 to 1,000 words) on the theme of overcoming personal challenges. Applicants must also maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
Applications are only accepted via postal mail (excluding express mail).
Deadline: Previous applications were due on May 30, 2020
Karman Healthcare Scholarship Fund
Karman Healthcare offers two $500 scholarships for students with a mobility disability who use a wheelchair or other mobility devices on a regular basis. Applicants must currently be enrolled at an accredited college or university in the U.S. and maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
Applicants must submit an essay answering a rotating theme every year. (The 2020 theme: Pick an experience from your own life and explain how it has influenced your development.)
Deadline: Applications for the 2020 scholarship closed on Sept. 1
Mary Free Bed Guild Disability Scholarship
The Mary Free Bed Guild offers a scholarship to students with a diagnosed physical disability related to a:
- Brain injury.
- Spinal cord injury.
- Limb difference.
- Any other serious acquired or congenital neurological condition treatable through rehabilitation.
Applicants must be currently enrolled in or accepted into an accredited college or university with at least a half-time status and with at least a 2.5 GPA. Applicants must also be a permanent resident of Michigan. The ideal applicant may have spent time in volunteer, community service or other extracurricular activities.
Amount: $1,000 to $5,000
Deadline: April 1, 2021
Marianjoy Scholarship Program
The Northwestern Memorial Foundation Marianjoy Scholarship Program awards scholarships to students with permanent physical disabilities or functional impairments. Applicants must be permanent residents of specified Illinois counties. Applicants must also be high school seniors (by diploma or GED) or be enrolled half time or full time at an accredited two-year or four-year university.
To apply, candidates must submit a one- to two-page personal profile stressing:
- Financial need.
- Educational goals.
- Career plans.
- Extracurricular activities.
- Any awards or honors.
Applicants must also include a transcript and two letters of recommendation.
Amount: Not specified
Deadline: April 30, 2021
Scholarships for hearing impairments
The following scholarships are available to students with hearing impairments or to students who have family members with hearing impairments. Hearing impairments include deafness, bilateral hearing loss or mixed forms of hearing loss.
Travelers Protective Association Scholarship Trust for the Hearing Impaired
The Travelers Protective Association (TPA) provides financial aid to people with deafness or hearing impairment. Recipients will benefit from specialized treatment or education and should be unable to provide the funds for themselves.
Candidates must submit an online application detailing the nature of their hearing deficiency, as well as any prior medical treatment and how they intend to use their funds. Applicants must also attach a copy of their most recent federal income tax return. Applications must be submitted by adults or by the guardian of a minor.
Amount: $100 to $1,000
Deadline: March 31, June 30, Sept. 30 and Dec. 31
Millie Brother Scholarship for Hearing Children of Deaf Adults
The Millie Brother Scholarship is a twice-yearly scholarship awarded to the hearing children of deaf adults pursuing undergraduate or graduate study. Students must submit a two-page essay describing how their experience with deaf parents has shaped their life, goals and career aspirations.
Applications must include an official high school or college transcript (if the applicant is currently enrolled), as well as two sealed letters of recommendation from teachers.
Applicants can apply for both scholarships, but a separate essay is required for each submission.
Amount: Award varies; average of two $3,000 scholarships given annually
Deadline: Applications are currently closed but will open up in March 2021
Alexander Graham Bell College Scholarship Program
The Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing offers a number of scholarships for certain students with bilateral hearing loss who are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree full time.
There are a variety of merit-based scholarships available in different categories, but on average applicants must:
- Have bilateral hearing loss diagnosed before the age of 4.
- Use Listening and Spoken Language as their primary communication mode.
- Be enrolled in or planning to attend a mainstream university and working toward a four-year undergraduate or graduate degree.
Applicants must maintain an unweighted 3.25 GPA and include their transcripts in their application. Applicants with hearing aids must include a recent unaided audiogram. Applicants with cochlear implants (CI) must include a recent CI report. Check the scholarship guidelines for more detailed information.
Amount: Award varies
Deadline: Varies per year; check the official website for opening and closing dates
Graeme Clark Scholarship
The Cochlear Graeme Clark Scholarship is awarded to Cochlear Nucleus Implant recipients who are undertaking university studies. Applicants must have a Cochlear Nucleus Implant and maintain a 3.0 GPA. Applicants must be enrolled in (or planning to attend) an accredited college, university or technical school.
Winners are selected on the basis of:
- Academic achievement.
- Extracurricular activities and community involvement.
- Commitment to Cochlear ideals of leadership and humanity.
Amount: $2,000 annually for up to four years
Deadline: Sept. 30, 2021
Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf
Sertoma’s Scholarship for the Hard of Hearing or Deaf is available to students with clinically significant bilateral hearing loss who are pursuing a four-year bachelor’s degree. The scholarship is open to high school seniors as well as college students. Applicants must maintain a minimum 3.2 GPA.
Students must include two recommendation letters with their application. The application also requires descriptions of any volunteer, interscholastic or extracurricular activities, as well as a personal statement. Applicants must attach a recent audiogram (no older than two years) from a hearing health professional to qualify.
Deadline: March 30, 2021
Scholarships for visual impairments
The following scholarships are available to students with visual impairments. Some scholarships on our list require that applicants be legally blind — defined as a medically diagnosed vision score of 20/200 or less in their better eye.
National Federation of the Blind Scholarships
The National Federation of the Blind annually offers blind college students the opportunity to win one of 30 merit-based, national-level scholarships.
Applicants must be legally blind in both eyes, a U.S. resident and planning to pursue a full-time postsecondary course of study in the U.S. One scholarship may be given to an applicant employed full time while attending school part time. Winners are selected based on the merits of their academic excellence, community service and leadership.
Amount: $3,000 to $12,000
Deadline: March 31, 2021
Alamo Council of the Blind Scholarship
The Alamo Council of the Blind Scholarship Program aims to provide college assistance grants for academically qualified legally blind students residing in Bexar County, Texas, or adjacent counties. The ideal candidate is seeking to pursue academic, professional and/or technical-vocational careers.
The application includes a 200- to 500-word autobiographical essay. This essay should include a sketch of the applicant’s goals, what they have done to achieve them and how the scholarship can help them obtain those goals.
Applicants must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and include a copy of their current transcript and two letters of recommendation in their application.
Deadline: Previous applications were due on July 15, 2020
The Arthur E. and Helen Copeland Scholarships
The United States Association of Blind Athletes offers the Arthur E. Copeland Scholarship annually to one male student and the Helen Copeland Scholarship annually to one female student.
Applicants must be active USABA members, legally blind and enrolled in a two-year or four-year college, university or technical school as a full-time student.
Applications should include a brief cover letter and personal biography detailing the applicant’s involvement with the USABA, as well as a 300-word essay about the importance of sports in their life.
Amount: $500 each
Deadline: Previous applications were due on July 31, 2020
The I C You Foundation Valor Achievement Award
The I C You Foundation Valor Achievement Award is awarded to one male and one female athlete annually. Applicants must be legally blind, a current USABA member and enrolled in a two- or four-year college, university or technical school. Applicants must have a minimum 2.5 GPA.
Applications should include current college or university information, a brief cover letter and a personal biography detailing the applicant’s involvement with the USABA, as well as an essay of no more than 300 words about the importance of sports in their life.
Amount: $500 each
Deadline: Previous applications were due on July 31
Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Program
The Lighthouse Guild Scholarship Program aims to help outstanding and deserving legally blind students attend college and/or graduate school.
The Lighthouse Guild offers two scholarships. The College Bound Scholarship is a one-time only scholarship designed for high school seniors who will be college freshmen in the upcoming school year. The Graduate School Scholarship offers one or more scholarships for students pursuing any postgraduate degree.
For both scholarships, applicants must submit proof of legal blindness and U.S. citizenship, documentation of academic achievement and three letters of recommendation. Applications also require two personal statements of 500 words or less on a candidate’s educational and personal goals and the influence of an outstanding teacher.
Amount: Up to $10,000 each
Deadline: March 31, 2021
The McGregor Scholarship Program
The McGregor Scholarship Program provides financial assistance for blind and visually impaired students in Iowa seeking postsecondary education.
To be eligible, applicants must be blind or visually impaired prior to reaching the age of 21 and must be an Iowa resident for at least 12 months prior to the application date. Applicants must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and have graduated high school or be a GED recipient.
As part of their application, applicants must submit a 300- to 500-word autobiography that explains their goals and how the scholarship award can help achieve them.
Amount: Up to $2,500 per year
Deadline: Previous applications were due on April 30, 2020
Scholarships for learning disabilities
The following scholarships are available to students with learning disabilities, including dyslexia and processing disorders.
Gemm Learning Dyslexia Scholarship
This biannual scholarship is available to students with dyslexia and/or auditory processing disorder (APD) who will be attending an undergraduate program in the coming semester. Applicants must present proof of enrollment to qualify.
Applicants must also submit their story in the form of a 500- to 650-word essay on the topic “Living with Dyslexia” or “Living with Auditory Processing Disorder.” Essays should be educational and/or inspirational, while giving a unique insight into what life is like with a learning struggle.
Deadline: Previous applications were due on Oct. 31, 2020. Applications will open back up in April 2021.
Scholarships for autism
The following scholarships are available to applicants across the autism spectrum. Other available candidates include those with a family member diagnosed with autism or those pursuing an autism-related degree.
Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship for Autism
The Avonte Oquendo Memorial Scholarship is open to high-achieving students who have been diagnosed with autism or have a family member who has been diagnosed with autism. To qualify, applicants must currently be enrolled or accepted into an accredited university or college for the coming semester.
Applicants must include their most recent official or unofficial transcript with their application. Applicants must also write a 500- to 1,000-word essay about one of a number of topics relating to autism.
Deadline: July 31, 2021
Autism Delaware Scholarship Network
Autism Delaware offers three different scholarships for Delaware residents:
- The Daniel and Lois Gray Memorial Scholarship offers financial aid for students at the University of Delaware pursuing a degree related to autism.
- The Autism Teacher Certification Scholarship offers financial aid for Delaware educators working to get an autism certification.
- The Adult with Autism Scholarship offers financial aid for Delaware residents with autism who want to pursue secondary education.
Requirements for each scholarship vary. However, all three require a cover letter detailing an applicant’s direct or indirect experiences with autism, a letter of recommendation or support and a current resume or college transcript.
Amount: Typically $1,000 each
Deadline: April 30, 2021
The Organization for Autism Research Scholarship Program
The Organization for Autism Research (OAR) offers two scholarships to students across the autism spectrum.
The Schwallie Family Scholarship supports students attending two- or four-year universities. The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship supports students attending two- or four-year universities, life skills programs, postsecondary programs or vocational, technical or trade schools.
To qualify, applicants need to be enrolled on a full-time basis or working toward certification or accreditation in a particular field. Applicants must have an established autism diagnosis.
Scholarship applications include basic information, date of diagnosis, proof of enrollment and three short essay questions. The Lisa Higgins Hussman Scholarship application requires two letters of recommendation, one from a nonrelative and the other from a parent or guardian.
Deadline: May 3, 2021
Scholarships for health conditions
The following scholarships are available to applicants either recovering from or currently fighting a life-threatening accident or illness.
Patient Advocate Foundation’s Scholarship for Survivors
The Patient Advocate Foundation provides scholarships to individuals under the age of 25 who have been diagnosed or treated for cancer or a chronic illness within the past five years.
To qualify, applicants must be pursuing a bachelor’s degree or higher and complete an essay of no more than 1,500 words on how their diagnosis has impacted their lives and future goals.
Applications must also include two letters of recommendation from nonrelated persons, written documentation from a treating physician and a copy of the first two pages of the tax return for the individual claiming the student as a dependent.
Amount: $3,000 annually for up to four consecutive years
Deadline: March 1, 2021
Baer Reintegration Scholarship Program
The Baer Foundation and the Center for Reintegration partner to offer a scholarship covering all or part of an education, ranging from GED to Ph.D., for persons currently receiving medical treatment for schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder or bipolar disorder.
Applicants must complete an application package that include a form, essay and recommendations.
Deadline: Applications are currently closed. Applications will open back up on the week of Oct. 5, 2021.
The Hydrocephalus Association’s Scholarship Program
The Hydrocephalus Association’s Scholarship Program provides financial assistance to capable and promising young adults living with the ongoing challenges and complexities of hydrocephalus.
The Hydrocephalus Association offers eight scholarships to young adults. Though each scholarship varies in requirements, they all share the same basic criteria and funding amount.
Applicants must have hydrocephalus and be 17 years of age or older, and scholarship funds must be used for educational purposes. Applicants must submit a complete scholarship application and one letter of recommendation from a nonrelative.
Scholarships are nonrenewable, but applicants can reapply if they were not selected in a previous year.
Deadline: May 1, 2021
Different types of financial aid
There are four different types of federal student aid: grants, scholarships, loans and work-study programs.
- Grants are funds for education that do not have to be repaid. They are often offered by the state or federal government.
- Scholarships are like grants in that they do not have to be repaid. But scholarships are usually offered by private institutions. As a result, requirements are based on a wider variety of factors.
- Loans are money students borrow to attend college. Students can find loans from both the government and private lenders. Loans must be repaid, and students must repay loans with interest.
- Work-study programs allow students to earn money that helps pay for school. Jobs can vary, but they are often located on campus and can be federally funded.
Getting federal aid – Types of federal aid
Federal aid often includes grants, loans and work-study programs. Specific types of federal student aid include the following.
Pell Grants: The maximum amount for these grants varies from year to year. Like other grants, Pell Grants do not have to be repaid. Students can receive Pell Grants for up to 12 semesters — roughly six years of college.
Pell Grants are usually awarded to undergraduates who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. The maximum Pell Grant for the 2021-22 award year (July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022) will be $6,495.
Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG): While the federal government is responsible for distributing Pell Grants, participating schools administer FSEOG. These grants are awarded to students who have an exceptional financial need. Those who are already eligible for the Pell Grant have higher priority.
Like Pell Grants, FSEOG are usually awarded to undergraduates who have not yet earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant: Students interested in teaching can earn up to $4,000 per year with a TEACH grant. Recipients must sign a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, promising to become teachers and to serve in a low-income school following graduation. In addition, recipients must pursue specific kinds of courses to maintain the grant.
Recipients must teach at least four academic years within eight years of completing their course of study. If they fail to meet this requirement, the TEACH Grant must be repaid as a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: Students who had a parent or guardian die in Iraq or Afghanistan as a result of military service after the 9/11 attacks are eligible. Recipients must have been 24 or younger or enrolled in college at least part time at the time of the parent’s or guardian’s death.
In addition, recipients must not be eligible for Pell Grants on the basis of their expected family contribution but must meet all other Pell Grant requirements. The amount of the awards is slightly lower than that for Pell Grants.
Direct Subsidized Loans: Students with financial need qualify for these loans. For Direct Subsidized Loans, the U.S. Department of Education will pay the interest on your loan while you are:
- Enrolled in school at least half time.
- In your grace period (the first six months after you leave school).
- In deferment (postponing loan payments).
Loan amounts vary depending on grade level. Interest rates also vary; for the 2020-21 school year, they are set at 2.75 percent.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans: Students designated as having no financial need qualify for these loans. Students will owe all interest, which can be capitalized and added to the principal of the loan while recipients are still in school or during periods of deferment. Dependent students can qualify for up to $7,500 per year, independent students can qualify for up to $12,500 per year and graduate students can qualify for up to $20,500 per year.
Direct PLUS Loans: There are two recipients of Direct PLUS Loans: graduate/professional students and parents borrowing on behalf of a dependent undergraduate student. Grad PLUS and parent PLUS loans can cover the total cost of attendance, excluding any other forms of financial aid.
Federal work-study: Students can earn money in part-time jobs on or off campus. The program often encourages community service work or employment related to the student’s course of study. This aid is often on a first-come, first-served basis. Workers are paid at least minimum wage.
Getting federal aid — Filling out the FAFSA
The first step in anyone’s financial aid search is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The government uses the form to determine whether applicants qualify for grants, loans and work-study programs, and many colleges also require it for their need-based or merit-based financial aid.
Since some aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s important to complete the application as soon as you’re able. Click here to learn more about the FAFSA at the U.S. Department of Education Office of Federal Student Aid website.
Qualifying for assistance hinges on many factors, including need. To reach the basic level of eligibility, you must:
- Have graduated high school or have your GED.
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen and have a Social Security number.
- Be registered with the Selective Service if you are a male applicant.
Most students qualify for some sort of aid, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which encourages everyone to submit a FAFSA.
Based on the results of the FAFSA and other factors (such as grades and extracurricular activities), the colleges a student applies for will send information detailing awards for the applicant, including grants, scholarships, work-study and more.
How is that decision made? The FAFSA asks for your name, Social Security number, date of birth, address and other information, and it asks about your financial situation, as well as that of your parents (if you are a dependent student).
The notification from the school is called an awards letter. The awards letter outlines what types of aid you’re eligible to receive. The timing of when you’ll get the awards letter varies by school.
How much aid you are offered depends on a number of factors, including:
- The cost of attendance for each school.
- The amount your family is expected to contribute to your education.
- Your year in school.
- Your enrollment status – whether you’re a full-, half- or part-time student.
Getting federal aid — CTP programs and ABLE accounts
Comprehensive Transition and Postsecondary (CTP) programs are higher-education programs designed for students with intellectual disabilities who “want to continue academic, career, and independent living instruction to prepare for gainful employment.” Students with intellectual disabilities who enroll in CTP programs may be eligible for certain types of student aid.
Included are Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants and federal work-study programs. However, not every school offers a CTP program, nor is there a CTP program in every state. For a complete list of CTP schools approved by the U.S. Department of Education, click here.
ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) Accounts are tax-advantaged accounts designed to help the families of students with disabilities save for education. Individuals with an onset of blindness or disability before the age of 26 can qualify for an ABLE account, and contributions can max out at $15,000 a year.
Although contributions are not tax deductible, investment earnings are untaxed as long as funds taken from the account are used for qualified disability expenses. Qualified expenses include education costs, room and board and transportation, as well as assistive technology and medical treatment.
Getting private aid
Federal aid isn’t all that’s out there to help you fund your education. You can win private scholarships — money you don’t have to repay — by putting forth a bit of effort.
Your high school is a good place to begin your search. Ask your college counselor for guidance on finding and applying for scholarships. Another good resource is teachers; ask whether they will help review your application, provide reference letters or critique your essay.
Your college also may have more information about scholarships. Some colleges automatically consider you for scholarships, while others may require you to fill out more forms to be eligible for smaller scholarships.
Scholarship search engines allow you to take matters into your own hands, since you can search for awards based on your qualifications. You can search based on interests, extracurricular activities and more.
Know your rights
Be sure to keep up to date about your rights as a student with a disability. The following represent key government legislation related to the education of students with disabilities, specifically relating to colleges:
- Click here to visit the website for the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).
- Click here to visit the official website for Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Note: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Individual Education Program do not apply beyond secondary education.
FAQ for students with disabilities
To help you from feeling overloaded by the details of the above laws, we’ve put together a Q&A to break them down more simply.
What do the laws mentioned earlier mean for college students with disabilities?
Put generally, the ADA and Section 504 protect students by ensuring that institutions cannot discriminate on the basis of disability. The specifics cover admissions, programming (including extracurricular activities), housing and other services. Overall, institutions must provide necessary adjustments or accommodations for students with disabilities who need them.
Which institutions do these laws apply to?
The ADA applies to all public and private institutions, with the exception of those affiliated with religious organizations. Specifically, Title II of the ADA relates to state-funded schools (universities, community colleges, vocational schools, etc.), while Title III covers private colleges and vocational schools.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act applies to any institution that receives federal dollars for any program or service — whether that institution is private or public.
Which students qualify for accommodations under these laws?
In order to receive academic or other accommodations from an institution, students must identify themselves to the institution as having a disability and may need to provide documentation.
The laws protect those with physical, sensory and health-related disabilities, psychological disorders or attention disorders and some learning disabilities — anything that might prevent the student from participating fully in the life of the campus community.
Students are not required to inform colleges of their disability if they would prefer not to do so, but this means that they will not be eligible for accommodations.
How do these laws affect college admission?
Postsecondary institutions covered under these laws may not deny admission to any qualified candidates on the basis of disability.
What are some of the accommodations postsecondary institutions must make?
These accommodations fall into a number of categories. A few of these categories include:
- Architectural: Construction of new buildings must be accessibility compliant; classes or programs must be relocated to an accessible building if necessary.
- Academic: Substitution of certain courses in programs, extended time for testing and early enrollment options.
- Communication-related: Interpreters, assistive listening systems, captioning, audio recordings, Braille and large-print materials.
- Housing: Comparable accessibility housing for students with disabilities must be provided at the same cost, quality and variety as to other students.
What if I acquire a disability after graduation? Do I still have to repay my loans?
If you become disabled or impaired after graduation and you’re repaying federal tuition assistance, you might be eligible for a total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge. A TPD discharge applies to the following federal loans:
- Direct Loans.
- Includes Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans.
- Perkins Loans.
- TEACH Grant Program.
- Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL).
To apply for a TPD discharge, you must provide the U.S. Department of Education with information that documents your total and permanent disability. For specific information, check out StudentAid.gov’s page on TPD discharges.
Forgiveness of private student loans may be more difficult to resolve. Private loan forgiveness varies by lender and by loan. The first step is to speak with your lender — many organizations are willing to work with you if you come to them in good faith. Even if you can’t get your loans completely forgiven, lenders may be willing to forgive part of the loan, or at least offer a lower rate.
If all else fails, look for other lenders that may be more flexible. It’s possible that you could consolidate or refinance your existing loan with a new lender.
About this guide
The Fully Accessible Guide to Paying for College for Students with Disabilities was created by the college and career experts at Bankrate.com. The purpose of this guide is to provide students with disabilities with comprehensive information about how to pay for college, as well as scholarships and other information that is specifically helpful for students with disabilities.
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