Joe Akmakjian’s Top Advice for Making College Accessible and Enjoyable

Joe gradNavigating through college isn’t easy for anyone, but it can be especially tricky for people with disabilities. Here are some quick tips to help those of you heading off to college this fall — as well as anyone considering attending university one day.

1. Pick a school you want to attend, not one you are told you have to attend.

Don’t be held back by fears of venturing away from your hometown for school. In fact, I encourage you to look into any schools you might be interested in. When I began thinking about where I wanted to attend college, a lot of people tried to convince me Colorado State University was the best option for me because going out of state or away from home was “too risky.” I let them get in my head and, as a result, settled on CSU. It was the only school I applied to. I don’t regret attending CSU at all, but I do wish I considered other options before I chose where to go. I hope others understand that choosing the school they want to go to is the first step to becoming independent. After that you can begin working out the details of how to make that happen.

2. Find out what resources your school of choice has for people with physical disabilities.

A lot of schools and colleges have great resources for students with disabilities. At CSU, there was an office specifically for disabled students. I first heard about it through friends and then made an appointment to check it out a few months before I started as a freshman. They were able to provide me transportation to and from campus, extra time for exams, scribes and note takers. They were also great at advocating on my behalf. Whenever I ran into issues with accessibility, the staff was always able to work with the university to get them resolved. Also, don’t forget to look into what services the community surrounding the school has to offer. Think about what you need to succeed. How easy is it to navigate? Are the sidewalks in good condition? Is the public transit system wheelchair-friendly? Is there enough opportunity to find accessible housing?

3. Make an effort to reach out to your professors and instructors.

One thing I found to be instrumental in my success at CSU was making a point to introduce myself to my professors and instructors. I found that they were a lot more inclined to help me out when I needed accommodations or had trouble understanding class material. It’s important to open lines of communication with them because the better they understand your needs, the better they’ll know how to help out.

Also, it’s never a bad idea to make friends. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other classmates and do the same. You’ll be surprised just how many people are willing to help out when you express your needs to them!

4. Join some on campus clubs.

Most colleges have great student organizations. Be sure find the ones that align with your Joe and friendspassion and give you the opportunity to meet people and broaden your horizon. A lot of students live on campus, but for those who don’t, joining these clubs is a great way to make friends and meet people. Most of the great people I met at CSU I know from joining these groups. Trust me, there are all sorts of student clubs you could be a part of. And, if you don’t see one that’s right for you, talk to your school about starting a new one!

5. Advocate.

Like I said, entering university is daunting for anyone. But remember that you are paying tuition like everyone else and you deserve the same access to resources and learning opportunities as your peers. I encourage you to speak up whenever you feel like something isn’t right. Don’t feel bad asking for accommodations or offering suggestions on how to change things to make them more accessible. Whether you work to get an automated button on a classroom door or you need extra time on an assignment because you’re sick, just start by simply asking. Speak up to encourage classmates, staff and faculty to be more inclusive. In the long run, it’s how students with disabilities who come after you will have a better experience.