FIRST SEMESTER ORIENTATION GUIDE

Welcome to College! It can be a little intimidating going to college with a disability, so here are some tips for having the BEST first semester of your college career!

USC President No Limits Student because Ms. Wheelchair SC
Presidential No Limits Student 2012, University of South Carolina

 

1. High school students who transition to college find themselves facing a whole new set of challenges. Unfamiliar with the college system, they are prone to making poor judgments. Because college proceeds so rapidly (a typical semester is fifteen weeks), a few poor decisions can produce dire consequences. The list below should help students make decisions that bode for success.

2. Students who received learning support in high school usually require tutoring three times per week… until they get their “sea legs”. For each college credit, students have 2-3 hours of work outside of class. Unlike high school, college assignments require interpretation and inference. Tutoring improves these skills and gradually readies students for independence. After several semesters, students may need tutoring less frequently.

3. Practice for college placement tests: English, math and reading (Google “Accuplacer” practice). Placement tests determine the level at which you may begin your courses. Find out in advance if a calculator is permitted for the math exam – many colleges do not allow it. In that case, you need to review long division, multiplication, fractions, decimals, etc. the old-fashioned way – don’t be caught off-guard. If you are not satisfied with the results of your exams and feel they are not representative of your abilities, ask if you may take the tests again.

4. Update your documentation, if it is older than three years, and submit it to the Disability Services office at the college of your choice shortly after you receive your acceptance letter. High schools often assist students in updating their documentation for students transitioning to college, but you will probably have to request it. Check with the university/college you are considering for their documentation guidelines.

5. Unlike in high school, you can rest assured that your disability will remain confidential. You will attend regular classes; none of your peers will know of your disability unless you decide to tell them. What are the benefits of disclosure? It allows you to receive accommodations (i.e., extra time, a distraction-free test environment, assistive technology, etc) and services, such as specialized tutoring, that level the playing field, boost your confidence, and, hopefully, start you off with a strong GPA (grade point average). In addition, students who disclose receive protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act, unlike those who do not. Those who try things on their own first, without disclosing, often do poorly because they lack knowledge of college protocol and sensible navigational strategies. By the time they ask for help, it is often too late. The result can be that it takes many semesters before they are able to raise their low GPAs.

6. Attend freshman orientation.

7. Register as early as possible each semester . Some schools give priority registration to students with disabilities. Early registration provides the most choices.

8. Never register yourself (self-advise)! Always check with your academic advisor.

9. Schedule school according to your biological clock . In other words, take classes when you are most alert and know you can get there on time.

10. Take more difficult classes on Monday/Wednesday/Friday and easier classes on Tuesday/Thursday. Even though your time spent in class is the same, it is easier to maintain attention for the shorter three-class-per-week schedule. Be sure to keep your schedule balanced, so challenging classes are offset by easier ones.

11. Schedule classes five days a week. Being in school every day serves as a constant reminder that education is your full-time job. It also allows you to partake in extra-curricular activities that increase your connection with school.

12. Listen to students’ recommendations of professors and courses. If they match your learning style, ask your advisor about them.

13. Beware of summer and online (E-learning) courses. While it is natural to want to pick up additional credits in the summer, know that summer semesters are short, and the work load is much more intense. It is advisable to take summer courses only in easier electives or areas in which you excel.Mostimportantly, if you failed a course in a 15-week semester, DO NOT retake it in the summer! How likely are you to understand it when it goes 2 ½ times as fast? Online courses carry their own risks. Generally, they are for the extremely disciplined student who doesn’t need the structure and interaction of traditional classes. Also, for students accustomed to using tone and facial expression to augment comprehension, online classes will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

14. When you choose a major, base it on something you love to do and do well. Believe it or not, hobbies can easily translate into careers – even video games and shopping. If you need guidance, go to Career Services and ask them to administer an interest and/or personality inventory, such as Strong or Meyers-Briggs. This can be helpful in finding your direction.

15. Head to the library between and after classes. You can read over notes you just took. Reviewing notes within 24 hours helps material start its journey towards your long-term memory. Even if you have your own room at home, there are has more temptations than at the library, where you can get a carrel with sides or a private study room to stay focused. Ideally, you should study for as long as your attention span allows, even if it is just 20 minutes. Follow that with a 5-minute break and return to work. Research has shown that effective studying is done in short, frequent sessions when our attention is at its peak.

16. Study using flash cards and the coordinating website that appears on the back of your textbook. Flashcards worked in third grade, and theystillwork. They are effective because they show you what needs further review. If your handwriting is poor, find a free online site where you can make flashcards. For a one-time nominal fee, you can print out your cards. In addition, make use of the coordinating website that most textbook publishers now offer. These sites contain interactive activities and practice tests that provide feedback on how well you know the material. Also, some books come with CD-ROMs containing interactive exercises. The last step in the study process should always do a practice test – it is a “dress rehearsal” for the real thing!

17. Get help at the first sign of confusion. Problems don’t resolve themselves. With fewer tests in college, each one carries more weight. You can either make an appointment to see your instructor for clarification during his/her office hours. Evidence shows that students who have even just one close faculty contact have greater odds of success. Also, in class, sit near the most successful students who can help clarify things. Take their phone numbers. “Why would a successful student want to take time to help me?” you might ask. First of all, he/she will be flattered by your request. Secondly, helping you reinforces the information for your classmate, so it’s a win/win situation.

18. If you do poorly on a test or quiz, determine why. If you do not find the source of your errors, you are destined to repeat them. Did you study the wrong material? Did you not study long enough to really learnthe material? Did you misunderstand the directions? Did you cram? Were your notes incomplete?

19. At any time during a semester, you should know where you stand grade-wise. If you are unsure, ask your professors privately. You can also ask for suggestions on improving your grades.

20. Keep employment to a minimum. Students with learning differences need to allot more time to studying. Sometimes organizational issues accompany a disability as well. Work is a distraction to students who have trouble “switching gears”. College presents enough challenges without the added responsibilities of employment. Work should be restricted to no more than fifteen hours per week. Students can make up the money during lengthy winter and summer breaks.

21. Ring out the old, ring in the new! Forget your habits of the past. No one knows you — wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Above all, get serious – this is the official start of your adult life!

In short, because of the vast number of differences between high school and college, all new freshmen are prone to unintentional navigational errors. For freshmen with disabilities, however, the consequences of these mistakes can be severe.

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Intro: Why I Value College

With the growing emphasis on continued education in our society, getting a college degree is one of the best choices an adult can make. It may seem to be a part of the natural cycle of graduate from high school-go to college- get a job- grow old lifespan now, but for a lot of us it means a lot more. Especially if you, like me, are a student with a physical disability.942040_10151930310189018_235487418_n

I was in the middle of college when my motorcycle accident occurred, but thanks to the rehabilitation I got, I was able to continue school without having to take any time off. But now, all of a sudden, I’m going to a new school (I was a transfer student), with this new body and this new chair that I didn’t think that well together. It was an interesting first week trying to not only find my way around, but get where I needed to go over bumps and curbs and trying as fast as possible to find the nearest handicapped bathroom.

I’m the former Miss Wheelchair South Carolina 2011-2012 and I toured the first year after my accident all around the state, talking to different peer support groups, colleges, medical schools and hospitals. The one question I was always asked was “Is University of South Carolina (my alma mater)  an accessible campus?”The short answer? No, not really. But what part of the world really is 100% ADA proof? It’s the people, the students, the Office of Student Disability Services, the miles your professors are willing to go for you, the helping hand that’s always there on campus that make it accessible. And so, when I’m asked, I tell them that I have yet to open a door for myself. If I’m late to any class or can’t go because of something to do with my disability, my professors don’t even need an explanation. I ask and receive rides everywhere by asking the person next to me if I can hold onto their backpack. And when I don’t need or want help, I smile and say thanks because I know they’ll be there next time when I do want it.

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Talk to a Gamecock: Student Disability Services

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.” – Confucios 

Shawn Boucher, Office of Student Disability Services Department of Assistive Technology of University of South Carolina

His advice to new students

When utilizing the services of your department, are there any guidelines you would find helpful for a student to follow?

Shawn: Respond to e-mails! We communicate primarily through e-mail. Check your USC e-mail daily – have it forwarded to your main e-mail account if that will make it easier. Everything will be slowed down if we don’t hear back from you.

In the general attitude of acceptance on campus, do you have any advice/insight/possibly a story about how a student with disabilities can not only be accepted on campus, but can also be successful?

Shawn: Don’t just be “that student with a disability”. Be a real person to your professors. Actively engage with your professors in class. Also, be involved on campus. The more people with disabilities (I’m mainly talking about physical disabilities) are playing active roles on campus, the more normalized it will become and hopefully will lead to people thinking about the accessibility of their organizations/clubs/activities/etc.

Visit University of South Carolina Student Disability Services for more information

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What To Bring on Campus

One of the biggest challenges for students in a chair or who use canes is the inability to carry the things around that students always seem to need; room keys, student ID, wallet, phone, etc. So here are my tips and tricks for making sure you have everything you need!

 

  • I always keep my wallet and phone in the pouch underneath my chair. I also have another bag of more feminine necessities, like chapstick, feminine needs, extra pens for class and my prescription pain pills* for when I’m on the go. This pouch can hold anything that I need during the day and it’s incredibly useful for carrying the things that anyone needs when they’re moving around on campus. Behind the pouch (that’s not clearly visible) is another little bag that holds all my catheters*.

 

  • Attached to my wheelchair is a climbing belay hook that I clip my keys onto. This way I don’t have to rummage through my pouch for keys, but instead they’re always readily available. You can also clip your student ID and keys onto a lanyard around your neck for easy access.

 

  • I took a regular watch and strapped it around one of the arms of my wheelchair so that whenever I look down, I can always find out what time it is. It could be easier to simply wear a watch, but I found that I was always forgetting it. So instead, it’s attached to my chair (or this could be used on a cane as well), so that I’m always seeing how late to class I really am.

 

  • My school backpack that I attach to the back of my chair. In every backpack that I carry on my chair I always include the following; extra catheters*, a few extra pain pills*, pens or pencils and my class schedule. I do this for several reasons- I never want to be without catheters or pain pills and with my injury comes a little memory loss, so trying to remember the room number of each class can sometimes be a little daunting. My backpacks are small because I’m fortunate enough to be able to just use an iPad for all my classes. I can take notes on my iPad while recording my lectures, have access to emailing throughout the day and look at all my textbooks (which were converted to PDF for me by Student Disability Services Assistive Technology Department!). Instead of an iPad, however, this is the backpack to be used to carry textbooks, notebooks and anything else you need for class. Be careful about the weight of the backpack– it can’t be heavier than the chair or else it makes getting over the cobblestones of USC a little harder!

Except for the backpack, this is what I carry in my chair at all times, whether I’m going to a meeting, going to class, going out to eat with friends, or any of the numerous things you’ll find yourself doing at college. I want to be prepared for any situation at all times, so I found this format for my chair lets me keep everything I need at close hand while also not being cumbersome. Instead of a chair, though, that has pouches and hooks, all of these items can be placed in a pouch in any backpack to be worn while walking with crutches as well. This is where you can modify your needs to your equipment- when you put your chair or canes or backpack together, try to think of different situations you find yourself in at home and what things you need for those situations that you already have. Then take those items that you use at home and turn them into a travel item- try to equip yourself with anything you might need so that when you close your door in the morning, you feel ready to face the day.

The Thomas Cooper Library also rents out temporary lockers (majority of campuses will rent out lockers at the library or gym to keep emergency supplies or ask the Student Health Clinic) if you would like to put together a bag to keep on campus in case of emergencies. I keep a small backpack with a change of clothes, extra catheters*, medicine* and an emergency contact information card. When renting the lockers, tell them that you need to keep an emergency kit there for your disability so they know to let you keep your belongings there for the semester instead of their usual renting time period of 24 hours.

* catheters and pain medicine are both prescription items specific to my spinal cord injury and may not be applicable to every person’s situation

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