Disclosing Disability in College Applications

When I was applying to colleges, I couldn't decide if I should mention that I have a disability. My low vision had been a major part of my life, especially in school, so it felt weird to hide that part of my identity. At the same time, I didn't want to be known for my poor eyesight and have that hurt me in the application process. Luckily, I was able to strike a balance, and incorporate my disability into my college application. Here is how I did it.

Unless relevant, do not disclose disability on resumè

There's no reason to include a statement about your disability on your resumè, and while it is illegal, there is a chance people will decline to read it if they notice the person has a disability. However, don't shy away from including experiences that involve disability. It's okay to write about your internship with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, or share published articles about life with a disability.

What if I don't have a lot on my resumè?

While I did participate in some extra-curricular activities and take a few advanced classes, I had a then-undiagnosed chronic illness (read more about chronic illness here) that took up a lot of my free time.  I didn't disclose this anywhere on my application, as I rarely talked about my illness with people outside my family and close friends. I chose to let the experiences I had speak for themselves.

Keep your essays positive

Your college essay is not a time to list out everyone who kept you from succeeding, or everything that went wrong in school. Keep things positive and avoid bashing teachers, even if you went to the worst school ever.

Focus on what you learned

In my essay about my low vision, I wrote about how I knew I wanted to study assistive technology, and how I had many teachers encourage me to advocate for myself. I wrote a lot about what I learned being the only student with low vision, and how I felt confident that these experiences would help me in college.

If possible, submit two essays

The three colleges I applied to allowed me to submit two essays. My main essay was about my experiences with my volunteer group and a lot of the lessons I learned from that. My second essay was about my experiences as a low vision student, and how I want to help other low vision students in the future. This helped to show colleges that low vision didn't restrict me from doing things I love and that I have many interests.

Should disability be included in letters of recommendation?

I received letters of recommendation from my band director, my Microsoft teacher (more on Microsoft certifications here), my mentor at my mentorship (more about mentorships here), my principal, and the supervisor of my volunteer group. My low vision was briefly mentioned in these letters, but always in a positive way. I appreciated that they wrote that I wasn't a great student for someone with low vision, but a great student overall.

Do a video essay

Two of the colleges I applied to allowed students to submit video essays. These were very open-ended, and there was lots of room for creativity. In my video essay, I talked about my extracurriculars, why I wanted to study assistive technology, and why I wanted to attend this school, and poked fun at my low vision by mistaking random objects for people. I later found out that admissions found this hilarious and enjoyed watching my video. Read more about video essays here.

While your disability may not need to be mentioned on your college application, it's important to let the college know after you are accepted that you will require disability services.  Read my post on setting up a Disability Services file here!


Read more about: Assistive Technology, Transition