How Colleges Can Accommodate Students with Medical Needs

Medical needs vary from physical, mental, and emotional needs. Some students may have disabilities that make performing various physical activities difficult such as walking and grasping objects. Other conditions that require medical attention include anxiety, depression, autism, and dyslexia.

Colleges need to accommodate students with medical needs, regardless of the type of condition that is experienced. It’s only unfair that students without medical needs experience college differently from students who require medical attention.

How Colleges Can Accommodate Students with Medical Needs

This article will discuss different medical conditions that require attention and how colleges can accommodate students who experience such conditions.

Types of Medical Conditions

Auditory Processing Disorders

This is probably the most common learning disability listed in an Individualised Education Program (IEP). It is also the most commonly reported disability by parents when their child goes to an IEP for the first time. This means that college students with auditory processing disorders have difficulty hearing certain words, tone, or audio volume.

Visual Processing Disorders

Visual processing includes hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, object naming, and speech recognition. This type of medical condition can result from brain damage from an accident or developmental delays.

Dyslexia is considered a form of visual processing disorder. When learning disabilities such as this exist in more than one area of the brain, it is sometimes referred to as a mixed learning disability.

Verbal Learning Disability

This consists of delays or problems in learning how to communicate and make sounds. People with a verbal learning disability (VLD) usually have no verbal language, making it more difficult to express themselves and their needs to those unfamiliar with other means of communication like sign language. Teachers often pair verbal instruction with teaching students to read, making it difficult for students with VLD to participate.

 Motor Planning

Motor planning is sometimes called spatial planning. It is the ability to understand where your body is in space relative to everything else around you. As we age, motor planning ceases to be an issue, but students suffering from this type of disorder can still have difficulty learning where their feet should be or where they should go to get something. They may seem to be uncoordinated, or they may have a hard time walking through a classroom.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning is the ability to organize, control, evaluate, solve problems, and initiate actions. This is the ability to perform many different types of cognitive tasks. Teachers will often combine this task with physical activity to teach students how to coordinate their physical environment movements.

Physical Impairment

This is the physical condition of the body which experiences challenges to execute various activities. These may include difficulty walking, bending over, and grasping objects. Physical conditions may be the result of a congenital disability, accident, or illness.

How colleges can accommodate students with medical needs.

Now that we have taken a look at the different possible conditions of students that require medical attention, let’s proceed to how colleges can accommodate students with medical needs.

Flexible Learning Modes

The standard learning environment in colleges is that of a lecture hall with students seated in rows. In front of the lecture hall is the lecturer using a whiteboard or a projector to explain concepts. This setup may be complicated for college students that experience autism or anxiety, for example.

Some symptoms of these conditions include being overwhelmed in a crowd and sensitivity to lights. For example, a projector light in a dimmed space can be problematic for those with light sensitivity.

In such a case, the learning environment should be flexible. Students who feel overwhelmed by the typical lecture hall setup should attend the class in a smaller setting. For example, a class with twenty students compared to one hundred may be more bearable. For the students sensitive to light, a traditional chalkboard or paper board can be writing instruction.

Such setups encourage students to attend lectures as they will be more comfortable. Not only are they comfortable with the physical setup, but they will also appreciate the fact that they won’t feel intimidated by students who don’t face the same challenges as they do in a typical lecture environment.

Tailor-Made Infrastructure

When you don’t experience a medical need that makes physical mobility difficult, you can spend the day pushing a stroller to realize how the vast majority of colleges’ infrastructure doesn’t accommodate those who experience difficulties with mobility.

A small flight of stairs leading up to a building should have an accompanying ramp for those who use wheelchairs or canes, for example. There should also be elevators available in any building with multiple floors.

Seating arrangements should accommodate those who can’t sit in the built-in chairs. There should be space where wheelchairs can fit behind the desk so that the student doesn’t have to sit in between rows as this may make the students feel self-conscious. It’s also challenging to take down notes if you are seated in between rows as there will be no desk.

Moreover, the parking space for students with physical needs should be close to the particular buildings that they wish to access. Parking in a spot that requires long periods of walking means that students may tire by the time they reach their destination.

Living Arrangements

The traditional living arrangements on campus should also accommodate those with medical needs. Students that experience different conditions may find accessing different types of furniture difficult. For instance, the regular bed may be too high, the sink unreachable, or the desk unaccommodating of a wheelchair because of the size.

Colleges can have a block of residential apartments that are designed with accessibility in mind. The rooms can be structured depending on the different needs that the registered students express. Living in accommodation that caters to these different needs will enhance the college experience for students. In most cases, students resort to looking for accommodation off campus because of the living arrangements, which also has its challenges, such as transportation to campus.

In terms of roommates, a block that accommodates disabled and neurodiverse students means that students are comfortable sharing with others who understand their condition. It’s unfortunate that pairing a disabled or neurodiverse student with one that isn’t may lead to misunderstanding and discomfort because of different perceptions of reality.

One-on-One Assistance

Some medical needs may include conditions such as dyslexia. These may be experienced in the form of processing information differently from other students. Although a student may be able to take part in a typical lecture setting, they may require a more in-depth explanation of the topics.

If there is an after-school session where students can receive one-on-one attention, it eliminates students from quietly retreating to their rooms without grasping the concepts after lectures. One-on-one attention is a safe space where students can ask questions they may have otherwise feared in a traditional class setup.


Accommodating students with medical needs go beyond catering to their academic needs. It can also mean providing services that will enhance their quality of life. Depending on the condition that requires medical attention, a college can provide training to help in that regard.

For example, if a student has a speech impediment due to a medical condition, a college can facilitate speech training sessions with a professional. Not only does this make a student feel as if they are essential and valued, but this service also encourages self-confidence, which can carry over into their academic and social lives.

Group Sessions

Group sessions with fellow students with medical needs on campus can help to facilitate companionship. These group sessions can be headed by a staff member who can take up their concerns and experiences. Students can discuss campus matters that positively and negatively affect them, suggestions they may have for leadership, and experiences as a student in terms of the conditions they live with. This will help students feel heard and that colleges can become aware of how accommodating they can become.

Social Events

Campus life is full of social events. However, some students may not experience these events in the same way as non-disabled and neurotypical ones. Organizing social events specifically designed to accommodate disabled and neurodiverse students is one way for an institution to become more accommodating and accessible.

These can be in the form of picnics, outings, or any social event suggested by the students during a group session. The social aspect of campus life is vital to ensure all-round wellness and balance. It’s therefore crucial to mindfully accommodate students with medical needs in such events.

Additional Time

Students who experience visual, processing, or auditory impairment should be allocated additional time during tests and examinations. The setting of these is naturally stressful for students who don’t have these conditions. This means it’s only more challenging for students who can’t write the examinations at the pace required to complete them in time.

Students should be able to request additional time permission so that teachers become aware of this dynamic. A suitable environment should be facilitated for these students for them to concentrate during that period. For instance, additional time, while other students remain behind and start conversations, is distracting.

Resource Provision

Some conditions require resources to aid them during the process of learning. Aides may be in the form of note-takers, hearing equipment, vision aids, and brail-based computers. Colleges can have a resource center where students who require technical help can access these.

Specialized Reports

Many colleges generate a standardized report at the end of a semester or term. When it comes to disabled and neurodiverse students, it will help to provide reports that are specialized in the students’ condition. Not only will these specialized reports help the student, but these will also guide the students’ guardians, parents, and helpers. They can gain insight into the kind of support that the student requires, both academically and non-academically. The development of students with medical needs goes beyond the classroom, so such reports are helpful.

Educate Students

Colleges need to educate non-disabled and neurotypical students to be mindful and aware of their disabled and neurodiverse peers. College is a space where students from all types of backgrounds come together for prolonged periods. Some students may not have been exposed, educated, or made aware of various medical conditions.

This may lead to the asking of inappropriate questions, unacceptable gestures, and blatant bullying. Such actions and gestures will lead to a poor college experience for their disabled and neurodiverse peers. Therefore, it’s essential to find ways of including education regarding various medical conditions so that acceptance and empathy become ingrained in the college culture.


Conditions that require medical attention by students in college may include but aren’t limited to: auditory, visual, verbal, motor, executive, and physical conditions. Colleges must adopt different strategies to accommodate students that experience these conditions and require medical attention.

Colleges can implement various modes of learning to accommodate different types of conditions. This means that no student is left behind because of medical needs. Infrastructure and living arrangements should be tailor-made to accommodate medical conditions.

One-on-one assistance, training, group sessions, and social events can be organized for inclusivity. Additional time, resources, and specialized reports should be provided for students with medical needs as they may require exceptions to standardized systems. Colleges should also make an effort to educate students to be mindful and empathetic to their disabled and neurodiverse classmates.

When enrolling in college as a disabled or neurodivergent student, it’s important to research whether the college has accessibility policies and adequate accommodations. Some colleges are explicitly designed to meet disabled and neurodiverse students’ needs, so it may be worth exploring these types of colleges as options.

Alicia Trautwein is an Autism advocate, writer, motivational speaker, and dedicated mom of four. Alicia’s desire to advocate for Autism comes from her own autism diagnosis and that of her three children, niece, and brother. Her life’s mission is to educate on autism acceptance and change the world for future generations of autistic individuals.

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