By Terri Mauro
Young people with special needs are finding their way to college more and more, as disability law mandates access to classrooms and campuses, and programs are developed to meet the needs of students with intellectual disabilities. Find a disability scholarship for your student with special needs with the help of these resources offered on the Web, on campus, and in your own backyard.
A good place to start your disability-scholarship search is the same place you look for other information about transitioning your child into higher education -- your high school's transition coordinator. As someone who is constantly investigating and implementing post-high-school opportunities for students with special needs, the coordinator should be clued in to disability-related college financing options in your community, county, and state, as well as on a national level. If not, he or she may be able to point you toward the right people to ask.
The high-school counseling department is where mainstream students go to find finanical help for college. Your child is just as entitled to assistance as anybody else at the school. Don't assume that the counselors will only know about mainstream scholarships that your child won't be eligible for. Many organizations, colleges, and communities have scholarships specifically created for kids with disabilities, and the counseling office should have the resources to help find them. Go to the school's scholarship workshops, talk to your child's counselor, and learn what you can.
County and state agencies that serve adults with disabilities may offer grants and other financial aid to help young adults attain degrees that will add to their employability and ability to live independently. Chances are, you've accumulated some paperwork on those agencies as you've gained information about transitioning your child to adulthood. Look over their websites or give their representatives a call to see whether helping your child with a disability go to college is something they could help out with. Your state's Department of Education may also have some resources to share.
Colleges and universities often have scholarships that have been created by individuals with specific interests, and those may well be designed to assist students with specific disabilities. Additionally, colleges that offer financial aid may have ways to help that take into account the added financial burden of raising a child with special needs and ensuring a secure future. If your child has specific schools in mind, call the financial aid offices and ask what help might be available for a student with your child's disability. The availability of a certain scholarship may make choosing the right school much easier.
Both service organizations and disability organizations often distribute college funds to students with disabilities on a local level, or select a local candidate to submit for national scholarship selection. If you've ever seen a disability-related event run by a service organization in your town, contact that organization and find out if they have information on scholarships for students with disabilites. Do the same with the local organization that serves people with your child's disability. Even if you don't come up with a specific scholarship, these organizations should be able to direct you to other resources to investigate.
As with local organizations, national service organizations and disability organizations often have college scholarships to hand out. You should be able to find websites for those national entitites and locate either specific scholarship information or contact information for an individual who can clue you in. The competition for a national scholarship is likely to be tough, so be sure to check out the requirements carefully to make sure that your young person is actually eligible before going to the work required.
The same online databases and listings that let mainstream students search for financial aid opportunities are also a good place to check for disability scholarships. Some sites allow you to specifically select a disability from a menu, others offer a keyword search box in which you can enter the disability you're looking for, and others have pages listing disability-related scholarshps for review. Start with my listing of special-needs scholarships for specific disabilities, then move on to online resources like these:
If all else fails, access your favorite search engine, type in the name of your child's disability, add the word "scholarships," and see what comes up in the search. You may have to tweak terminology or broaden it to get results, but some scholarships should pop up that are worth checking out. You'll have to do a little detective work to make sure the scholarships you've found are still being given out, since out-of-date information isn't always easy to detect on the Web. But you may also find something specific to your child's needs, and pinpoint some resources you can use to look further. Good luck!