Even though my Disability Services file only exists in the classroom, my disability impacts all aspects of my life and college experience, including how I participate in extracurricular activities. While there are plenty of activities in college that I can participate in fully without accommodations or modifications, it’s important to know how to request extracurricular accommodations in college and how to make clubs inclusive for students with disabilities- something I thought about frequently when serving on the executive board of a student organization for several years. Here are my tips for requesting extracurricular accommodations and modifications for students with disabilities, based on my own experiences as a student with low vision and a neurological condition.
Look at the disability accommodations and determine what you would need
My Disability Services file contains a lot of information about how I take exams, get assignments in class, and other information that is very helpful for the classroom, but not so helpful for other situations. One of the things that helped me to figure out extracurricular accommodations is to highlight what accommodations I would need so that I could participate. Some examples of accommodations I highlighted include:
- Copies of presentations or items that are presented on the board, i.e a PowerPoint
- Captioning for videos/movies
- Large print music for band
- Assistance with navigating crowded spaces
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- Classroom Accommodations For POTS
- Should I Request a Human Guide At a Conference?
Reach out to the executive board
At my college, all student organizations are required to have an executive board that consists of students and faculty advisors. These organizations all have at least one way for members to contact them, and I strongly recommend sending a message before a meeting to request disability accommodations or modifications. Some examples of emails I have written and received as a student and executive board member include:
- “I have trouble seeing the PowerPoint presentations used for meetings, can you send me a copy?”
- “Can you turn on captions for the movie?”
- “Is there any way to rearrange the chairs so that there are wide spaces that can be accessed by someone using a wheelchair?”
- “Do you publish club materials digitally so I can read them on my device?”
- “Can you label foods that are being served that contain tree nuts?”
- Creating Inclusive and Accessible Video Lectures For Visually Impaired Audiences
- My Favorite Tips For Attending Live Video Lectures
Requesting accommodations/modifications in real time
Sometimes, accessibility issues may pop up during club meetings unexpectedly, or the person may not have had time to think about an accessibility accommodation or modification. I understand that students may fear disclosing their disability or talking constantly about an access need, but there are ways to make sure that meetings are as inclusive as possible. Some examples of things I have said and have had said to me while being a part of club meetings include:
- “Can you speak into the microphone?”
- “What is the website link for what’s on the screen?”
- “Can we open the door while watching this video so the room isn’t pitch black?”
- “Where is this small group located?”
- “Can you let me know when someone calls on me? I can’t see pointing very well.”
Can extracurricular activities discriminate against students with disabilities?
From a legal perspective, no- student organizations are under the same nondiscrimination policies as the college/university that hosts the organization.
From an “is this a thing that happens?” perspective- sometimes yes.
I was a member of an extracurricular organization that made it impossible for me to receive large print materials, which was a problem since meetings consisted of reading these materials. I talked to leaders within the organization about giving me access to large print, and they responded by only giving me large print for half of the materials, saying that they had never worked with a student with vision loss before and they weren’t sure what to do. I ended up contacting my college’s assistive technology department to help me figure out how to solve this issue, and the assistive technology specialist worked with the faculty advisor within the organization to ensure that I would have access to large print consistently.
If students face discrimination within a student organization, helpful campus resources to contact include:
- Office of Student Involvement or governing organization for extracurriculars
- Faculty or staff advisor for the organization
- Disability Services
- Diversity/Compliance office
- Blindness Canes and Accessibility Issues: Navigating College Campuses
- What To Know About College Assistive Technology Specialists
Other tips for requesting extracurricular accommodations and modifications
- Once it is initially mentioned, students will not likely have to bring up their disability frequently, unless they want to
- Connect students and faculty advisors with on-campus resources such as Disability Services if they have any questions
- Bring a tablet or laptop to meetings to access materials
- If a particular extracurricular really isn’t working out, try something new- people come and go from college extracurriculars all the time
Posts on Veronica With Four Eyes about college extracurriculars
- Playing in GMU Green Machine Pep Band With Vision Impairment
- Seeing The Future: My Feature in 10 Ideas
- Swing Dancing And Low Vision
- Joining Anime Club With Visual Impairment
- Blindness Canes And Sporting Events: Navigating College Campuses