Smiling college student standing in college library
Julie McKinney, MS
March 12, 2024

Launch of National Disability Center for Student Success

Learn how the new National Disability Center for Student Success can help improve higher education for students with disabilities.

Students with disabilities often need more support when they transition from high school to college or technical school. They also need support during their time in these higher education settings. They face challenges like getting the right accommodations, feeling a sense of belonging, and finding the right training for the jobs they want to pursue. But what kind of support do they need? What will help them be successful in higher education? To answer these questions, of course, we need to study them.

This is why we’re excited to tell you about the launch of the National Disability Center for Student Success (NDCSS)! This new Center will study the factors that can help support students with disabilities as they make their way through school beyond high school.

What will the Center do?

The Center’s goals are:

  1. To create a body of research on disabled student experiences and success
  2. To improve understanding of people with disabilities on campus
  3. To collaborate on a student-centered model, focused on access and equity
  4. To create practical strategies to increase enrollment, inclusion and graduation rates for students with disabilities.

These goals will ultimately improve life for many students, and we at Exceptional Lives wish this new Center well!

The NDCSS hopes to build on the work of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which guarantees equal rights to people with disabilities. The next step is creating effective systems of support that will improve outcomes like college graduation rates and better jobs.

“When it comes to access and equity for disabled people, ADA is the floor, not the ceiling…”

~ Stephanie Cawthon, Executive Director of the National Disability Center for Student Success

Stephanie Cawthon, the Executive Director and founder, has already done years of research on the experiences of students with disabilities. And now with the Center opened, they have 5 million dollars to fund 10 new research studies. This is huge! 

Why do we need a Center focused on higher education?

Higher education is a whole new landscape for a young adult who has had the support of an IEP (Individualized Education Program) during elementary and high school. In college, there’s no document outlining the student’s supports, and there’s no IEP team to meet with regularly. 

Students must learn for themselves how to connect with the Office of Disability Services and set up the supports that will help them be successful in college. They have to figure out what kinds of accommodations they’ll need for each class, and work closely with professors to make sure these supports happen.

There are also the challenges of finding your people and feeling comfortable in this new environment. College is a big place, and it takes everyone a while to figure out how they fit in. Students with disabilities may need specific solutions to help them build a support network and make sure they are confident in their environment.

Graduate school has its own challenges, and may have fewer resources to help students with disabilities.

How can the NDCSS help me?

The Center will be able to do important research in the coming years that can transform the experiences of students with disabilities who aspire to college and graduate school. And while the focus of the NDCSS is on research, there are many ways you can be involved. 

If you are an educator, parent or caregiver of a young adult with a disability–or if you are that young adult yourself– you should check out what the Center is up to and stay in the loop. 

There will be opportunities to make your voice heard and support their work by being in focus groups, town hall meetings, and sharing your experiences in many other ways. You have lots of experience and ideas that will be useful to this research. And your input will help other students in the future have the best experience possible in their education. 

“Nothing about us without us”, right? This means that people with disabilities should be involved in every aspect of plans to support people with disabilities. This is how the NDCSS operates, which is why they need to work with you all.

Another bonus: if you’ve never been part of a research study before, you may not know that you will learn a ton in the process!

So please check out the National Disability Center for Student Success and sign up for their newsletter. They’ll let you know if there are ways you can be part of this project!

Also, take a look at our short video of Stephanie Cawthon, with her tips for young adults with disabilities to improve their school experience after high school

Stephanie, who has a PhD in Education Psychology and is Deaf, knows this world inside and out, and has created an important tool for making education easier and better for others with disabilities. Join Stephanie and her team and be part of the launch of the National Disability Center for Student Success!

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