Advising Students with Disabilities

Advising students with disabilities presents many challenges to the college advisor. However, skilled advising can go a long way towards insuring the success of a student with a disability. To effectively advise a student with a disability, it requires a thorough understanding of the student’s goals as well as the student’s disability, the barriers the institution may have inadvertently created and the resources the college provides that can be used to assist the student in pursuing his or her educational aspirations.

Advisors who become familiar with the difficulties imposed by a particular disability can logically deduce the importance of some advising practices. For example, if the student is taking medication, are there certain times of the day when the student is less alert? This could have important implications when developing a class schedule. In a similar fashion, students experiencing clinical depression often have more difficulty in the morning. Depending upon the amount of time allowed to pass from one class to another, any student with a mobility issue might have difficulty with classes scheduled back to back in different buildings.

Educational barriers are less visible but no less demanding for students with disabilities. Students with learning disabilities often have difficulty with structure and organization. Instructors who break material down into small sequences and then present it in a logical step-by-step fashion serve them well. Advisors should attempt to learn something about the teaching style of various instructors and enroll students with disabilities accordingly.

It is also important for advisors to know the rules and regulations of their institution. Only if you know the rules are you in a position to take advantage of them for the benefit of the students with whom you are working. Financial aid and course substitutions are two obvious examples of areas that can be used to a student’s advantage. A student with a disability can receive a full Pell Grant even though the student is enrolled in less than twelve hours, if their disability warrants it. Other students may qualify for a course substitution. Advisors need to know the procedures on their campus for such things as obtaining a course substitution if they hope to assist students who qualify.

Finally, when working with a student who has a disability, an advisor would be wise to develop collaborative relationships with faculty, financial aid, counseling and other organizations within the college. This can be one of the most important tasks an advisor can undertake. If about advisors have questions or concerns while speaking with an advisee, they can contact Lynne Branham, Interim Director, Center for Learning Assistance.  Lynne is responsible for establishing eligibility for accommodations, determining the nature of the accommodations needed by a particular student and helping to insure that the student receives the accommodations for which they are eligible. She can be reached at (309) 677-4356 or

Adapted from: Hemphill, L. L. (2002). Advising students with disabilities. The Academic Advising News, 25(3). Retrieved from NACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site