Supporting Special Needs Learners: Annie from Accessible College

Supporting special needs learners from K-12 grades can sometimes be a challenge. As special needs students incorporate valuable lifelong skills, they become more self-aware.

After that, many special needs students might seek higher education. However, the transition to college may not be an easy one.

I sat down with Annie Tulkin from Accessible College to talk about supporting special needs learners going to college. Surprisingly, the transition from the K-12 sector to higher education can be simple when you have practical information to make wise decisions. 

Listen to the full interview with Annie and her inspirational story to help students with disabilities. 

Supporting Special Needs Students with College Transition

Tell us about your mission with Accessible College? How did your educational experience at Georgetown help inspire Accessible College in helping students with special needs?

Our mission is to provide students with physical disabilities and health conditions and their families with support to ensure a successful transition to and through higher education. Colleges and universities offer varying levels of support for students with disabilities and health conditions.

The services Accessible College provides is to help bridge the gaps, empowering students and families to work together to create positive educational experiences effectively. At Accessible College, my focus is supporting students with physical disabilities, chronic health conditions, and mental health conditions.

At Georgetown, I worked with undergraduate, graduate, and medical students with physical disabilities and health conditions seeking accommodations. I engaged with the student in the interactive process and reviewed the students’ documentation to determine reasonable accommodations.

Many of the students I worked with at Georgetown had not been made aware that they would now be responsible for following the university process to request accommodations. Additionally, no one had guided them in determining how their disability may impact their daily life on campus or supporting them in making plans for how they would continue their care.

These students were left unprepared, and that’s when I knew there was a need for support and guidance with transition before these students reached college. That’s where Accessible College can be effective. I use my experience as a former university administrator to now inform my process when working with students who are then better informed and better positioned to advocate for their needs.

supporting special needs learners

Accommodations Awareness when Supporting Special Needs Learners

Why do you think senior high school students need to start thinking about IEP accommodations before starting college? What can parents do to encourage students to start making plans about their accommodations? How soon can parents start thinking about accommodations in college?

It’s important to understand that IEP’s and 504 Plans are only valid in high school. Once a student transitions to college, the accommodations process is governed by the ADA, which provides ‘reasonable accommodations.’ Students may not receive exactly the same accommodations they may have had in high school.

Additionally, the student has to drive the accommodations process in college and request accommodations from the college’s disability support office. Because colleges offer varying levels of support and accommodations, students and families should be factoring in the students’ needs and looking at the disability support offices and academic supports when researching and touring colleges. 

Tips for First Year Special Needs Learners

What specific tips would you recommend to college students already first- or second-year students but not aware of these services? What specific services do you offer in supporting special needs learners? 

Sometimes, students have a condition that they don’t consider a ‘disability,’ or are diagnosed with something later in life, or they had accommodations in high school. Still, they didn’t think they would need them in college.

Usually, in these circumstances, the students find themselves in a tricky situation in a course-they aren’t able to finish a test or have missed a deadline. I’d recommend that students connect with the college’s disability support office.

I work with students to assist them in determining what types of accommodations they may request. Furthermore, I help them develop self-advocacy skills, which are essential in the college setting and beyond. 

SEL in Supporting Special Needs Learners

Education has not been easy in many aspects during 2020 and 2021, especially for students who need extra social-emotional learning support. Supporting special needs learners in these situations is vital. Can you suggest ways to embrace the new academic year in 2022? 

Students should consider their needs and well-being. They may be able to take a reduced course load.

Additionally, many colleges are offering more mental health services and support; students should seek support on campus. Also, there are many groups like DREAM or Disability, Education, Action and Mentoring. DREAM is a part of the National Center on College Students with Disabilities. They are also part of the Health Advocacy Summit, a group for young adults with chronic health conditions that have virtual meet-ups and support.

Seek these organizations out! 

Supporting Students with Paralysis with Reeve Foundation

Tell us about the partnership with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation? Is this an educational outreach program? How can students with paralysis learn more? 

In 2020 I wrote a guide for the Reeve Foundation called “Navigating and Transitioning to College with Paralysis.” After completing the guide, the Reeve Foundation invited me to offer college preparation and transition support services to students with paralysis through the foundation for up to 3 hours for free! The project is currently in its 2nd year.

I have supported students across the country with many disabilities. These include disabilities such as spinal cord injuries, SMA, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, stroke, neurological conditions, and more. The project is open to everyone with paralysis who wants to explore going to college! There are still spaces available for 2021-2022. You can read more about the program at Daily Dose – Free Consultations to Students with Paralysis Who Are Transitioning to College Provided by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation in Partnership with Accessible College. It’s a great primer for students and families. Many of the students have gone on to work with me in my practice, Accessible College. 

Learn More:

About Annie Tulkin and the Accessible College program: 

Annie Tulkin is the founder of Accessible College, where she supports students and families with diverse disabilities seeking higher education. Furthermore, her program guides students with physical and mental disabilities entering college with preparation, awareness, and planning. Annie also offers her expertise at the Reeve Foundation to help students with paralysis and other physical disabilities with college needs. You can reach Annie on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. 

Barbara Mascareno

Barbara is an educational writer, teacher, and instructional designer. She loves to write K-12 education content, teaching strategies, bilingual education approaches, and foreign language.

Blog Categories

Get Your Free Spanish Sight Words Workbook

Subscribe to our Spanish Sight Words newsletter and receive a free workbook. The booklet consists of writing practiceclassroom labels, and activities.

Spanish Nursery Rhymes for Preschoolers

Subscribe and receive your Free Spanish Nursery Rhymes for Preschoolers Workbook.