Barriers Abound for Disabled College Students

Disabled students who attend Trinity College in Connecticut have a higher level of anxiety before exams because they frequently are unsure of their ability to take their exams the following day with accommodations. The three founders of the new Disability Cultural Club on campus spoke about ableism and the obstacles they have encountered as disabled students in an interview with the Tripod, the college’s newspaper.

Students and staff at Trinity College have found the services provided by the Student Accessibility Resource Center to be inadequate. Some professors have begun proctoring their exams online to ensure that disabled students have access to the accommodations they need. Sometimes, exams are not delivered to the SARC or are missing content.

At times, students who are approved for accommodations struggle to access them. “I had professors take points off of my final grade for being in the hospital. I had professors not willing to move exams because I had to be in the hospital… I also had a professor report me to the dean for requesting accommodations.  And when I brought these issues to the deans, they were like, ‘No, they can do this.  It’s the professor’s choice whether or not to grant you accommodations,’” reflected another student organization leader.

For other students, college can present logistical or physical barriers. In 2019, Edinboro University in Pennsylvania discontinued its service, which offered PCAs to students. The PCAs helped students with activities of daily living such as toileting, dressing, and eating. Many students, like Veronica Siaba, opted to finish their degrees elsewhere.

Noah Spaulding was forced to take classes online during the spring 2022 semester. Spaulding has Cerebral Palsy and requires help with activities of daily living. His plans to attend classes on campus at Messiah College were derailed after he couldn’t find PCAs to help him live on campus.

I have Cerebral Palsy like Spaulding and have experienced similar challenges. I went through three different PCAs in three semesters of college. Often, my mother and a friend filled in. It forced them to adjust their schedules in order to accommodate me.

I graduated from high school in 2018, and was looking forward to attending college. Following my freshman year, I wanted to look for experience to add to my résumé during the summer. I contacted a publishing company and was told that the office isn’t accessible.

Following that, I began researching workforce data regarding disabled people. The more research I did, the more I questioned if I’d ever find a job. In 2022, the unemployment rate for disabled people was triple that of non-disabled people.

In the U.S., just 15.2 percent of disabled adults between the ages of 21 and 64 have a bachelor’s degree. But don’t think for a second that it’s because they aren’t intelligent, talented, or willing. Ableism is so deeply ingrained in our society that disabled individuals must fight for the education to which they should be entitled. Growing up, I felt compelled to prove that I belonged socially and academically with my non-disabled peers.

Disabled people deserve a college degree, and it saddens me that many of them, like myself, believe they don’t. Disabled people need to have institutional barriers to higher education removed. We can accomplish so much if we are given the support we need.


Carroll, Jamie M., et al. ‘Barriers to Bachelor’s Degree Completion among College Students with a Disability’. Sociological Perspectives, vol. 63, no. 5, SAGE Publications Inc, Oct. 2020, pp. 809–832, https://doi.org10.1177/0731121420908896.

Ceron, Ella. “Remote Work Helps Push Disabled Employment to a Record High of 21%. but the Gain Is Imperiled by Return to the Office Mandates.” Fortune, Fortune Media Group Holdings, 25 Feb. 2023,

Schackner, Bill. “As a Storied Program Ends, Students with Physical Disabilities at Edinboro U. Face a Painful Choice; What Happens to Them Now?” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Block Communications Inc, 3 May 2019,

Simpkins, Skyler. “Ableism at Trinity: Disabled Students Share Their Harrowing on-Campus Experiences.” The Trinity Tripod, Trinity College, 18 Apr. 2023,

Smith, Molly. “Disabled US Workers See Highest-Ever Employment Figures from Remote Work.”, Bloomberg, 3 Oct. 2022,

Wenner, David. “Caregiver Shortage Threatens College Dream of Messiah Student with Cerebral Palsy.” The Patriot-News, The Patriot-News, 27 July 2022,

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