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What No One Told You About Residential Accommodations in College

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

If your high school student is currently on an IEP or 504 and you are wondering how this applies to residential accommodations in college - Fast Forward College Coaching is here to help!

Colleges and universities are legally mandated to provide 'reasonable' academic and residential accommodations to students with documented disabilities Yes, the law actually states 'reasonable.' This means that each college or university can decide the definition of the word 'reasonable.'

Where Do I Request Residential Accommodations?

Requests for any type of accommodation in college (whether academic or residential) will be handled through the same office - the Disability Support or Accessibility Office (each institution has a different name for this office). While each college or university accommodation request is unique, usually academic and residential accommodations have the same application process, same forms to fill out but different checkboxes to complete. This blog post describes in detail how to register with an Accessibility Office on campus.

Good news - Many colleges now have the accommodation request process clearly spelled out on their website!

To find your college's Disability Office website:

  1. Go to your student's college website

  2. Find the search bar in the upper left corner

  3. Type in the word 'accessibility', 'disability', or 'accommodation'

  4. The first search result is usually the link that you want

To learn more details about how to navigate the language on a college Accessibility Office website, read this blog article.

After completing initial paperwork to request residential accommodations, your student will need to schedule a meeting to talk with a representative from the Disability Office. Your student will need to clearly articulate how their disability or medical condition affects them and which residential accommodations are helpful. This is a great skill to start practicing now - whether your student is in 10th grade or 12th grade!

Sharing the Transition to College Workbook, has worksheets designed to help your student practice and build self-advocacy skills needed to explain their need for accommodations in college!

Are you wondering when is the best time to visit the Disability Office and start this process? Once your student has been accepted and they have accepted the offer of admission, I suggest making contact with the Accessibility Office.

Will Residential Staff Know About Your Student's Disability?

If your accommodation is related to a dorm room, cafeteria or another building, families are often surprised to learn that the majority of residential and campus staff on campus will not necessarily be made aware of your student's disability. Only specific staff that are in the Disability Office may be aware of your student's disability diagnosis. It is a personal choice whether your student decides to self-disclose to others on campus.

Residential staff at your student's campus do not necessarily need to know all of the details of your student's disability.

They are not required to know the details but only are required to provide accommodations.

This guide from the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan explains "As the student housing provider you do not need to know the details of the student’s disability, diagnosis, or health history; only that a disability is present and that the request is needed because of the disability. "

Again, this is another opportunity for your student to practice self-advocacy and, if they are comfortable, disclose to staff outside the Disability Office of their medical condition or disability.
Examples of Typical Residential Accommodations

Based on my experience coaching students at colleges and universities across the United States, typical residential accommodations that have been deemed eligible for students in college include:

  • A single room (for students with anxiety or requiring space for various independent living/medical reasons)

  • Access to a private bathroom (medical reasons)

  • First floor room (students with mobility challenges or visual impairment)

  • Dietary requests in the dining hall (food allergies and dietary restrictions)

  • Keypad entry to dorm room door and mailbox (students with physical limitations)

  • Flashing fire alarms (students with auditory challenges)

  • Requests for emotional support animals (ESA). Emotional support animal requests have increased in the last 10 years and many colleges have detailed policies regarding this accommodation.

Documentation is Important

Lastly, it is important to remember that all accommodation requests, whether academic or residential, must be accompanied by documentation verifying the student's disability and explaining the need for an accommodation. Typically documentation within the last 2-3 years and from a medical professional (not a high school teacher, counselor, etc.) is accepted but documentation policies can vary from college to college also.

It is always a good idea to check your student's website and speak directly with a Disability Office staff member (a college/university Admissions representative typically doesn't know these details).

Click the image above (or this link) for a free pdf worksheet of common college accommodations.

An Example of a Disability Office Website

If you have finished this blog post and are wondering what residential accommodation requests look like in 'real time', Wesleyan University has a comprehensive college Accessibility Office website that addresses different facets of housing accommodations. Their website provides details of housing / dietary accommodations, food allergies and dietary restrictions and housing accommodations.


If you have any questions at all regarding your student's current residential/medical accommodations and how they will transfer to a college environment, please contact us. We offer free 30 minute conversations with Jennifer Sullivan, M.S. (founder of Fast Forward College Coaching) if you have a specific question or are looking for guidance about the accommodation process in college.

If your student's profile is more complex, we provide parent consultations for us to talk, share your student's journey, and create a plan together for their college transition. Remember, we're in this together!

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