Financial Assistance Sources
Most students attending college require financial assistance in some form. There are some specific funding alternatives that may be helpful for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. While accessing the internet, one can find some helpful financial scholarships for deaf and hard of hearing students. Some of the better avenues to search are in Deafscape or in generic headings such as ‘disabilities’, financial aid for college students with disabilities’, etc. Some residential schools for the deaf offer scholarship assistance to their graduates who pursue postsecondary education. By checking with the state school(s) for the deaf in your area, where the student has graduated, some financial help may be available. Of course, students who attended a mainstreamed high school program should consult with their guidance counselor prior to graduation for scholarship applications. Many scholarships are based on specific populations or areas of intended study.
Finding a means to pay for a college education is a challenge for anyone. Making sure that every resource possible is explored is essential. Students who are financially needy and have a disability may qualify for various levels of assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation. This is a statewide resource that provides assistance to eligible applicants with employment and training based on financial need. Many of their services are not based on financial need. For further information, contact the state office of Vocational Rehabilitation for the nearest office serving the deaf and hard of hearing. (See appendix for Resource Information).
Postsecondary institutions have a variety of scholarships that are set up for eligible applicants to their colleges. Some are specifically connected to a program or area of training. Others are based on educational excellence and merit. The financial aid office on campus is the first stop in pursuit of financial scholarship, it is here that federal student aid can be applied for. Based on financial need, if eligible, a student will receive financial assistance to attend college. This does not have to be repaid, as any scholarship. However, maintaining satisfactory academic progress is required for continued benefits of any kind, including any sponsorship.
It may sometimes be necessary for a student to seek employment to supplement financial aid benefits while attending college. Work-study programs on campus allow a student to work a designated number of hours per week in exchange for financial aid benefits. Still others, may choose employment off campus, either part-time or full-time, depending on their needs. The student employment office on campus can assist students with finding off campus work.
Lastly, is the option of obtaining a student loan. This will, of course, need to be paid back when the student graduates. The interest rate is lower for taking out a student loan through the financial aid office on campus, rather than taking out a loan from an outside financial institution. While this is an option, it may be the last option that is desired. However, it is imperative to stress that the value of an education far exceeds any financial cost that must be absorbed if necessary.
This section discusses the legal mandates of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applicable to colleges and universities. By briefly outlining the specifics of each ruling we can see the similarities and differences as well as the limitations and strengths of each mandate.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provides this very specific ruling: No otherwise qualified individual with disabilities in the United States...shall, solely by reason of his/her disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance, ( 29 USC 794).
Whereas, the Americans with Disabilities Act under Title III of the public accommodations ruling, provides that:
A public accommodation may not discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the provision or receipt of goods and services provided by the public accommodations, unless to do so is an undue burden or would significantly alter the nature of the service.
Both Section 504 and the ADA require that colleges and universities ensure effective communication for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Appropriate auxiliary aids and services may include services and devices such as qualified interpreters, assistive listening devices, notetakers and written materials.
The major difference between the section 504 ruling and the ADA is that section 504 only applies to organizations receiving federal funds, while the ADA mandate applies to all establishments, public or private, regardless if they receive any federal substitute. In addition, the ADA provides a more in depth and broader range of liability for any public establishment in ensuring that the same services and goods are made accessible to all people.
While some schools may receive assistance toward the cost of interpreter services from their state Vocational Rehabilitation agency, ultimately the institution itself is financially responsible to provide the cost of the services if needed. Vocational Rehabilitation is a resource, but not the only resource. Services cannot be denied or a student needs ignored because of funding. Each institution is liable in terms of making their services accessible to all students. While students can be referred to an outside agency, such as Vocational Rehabilitation for assistance with the cost of services, this cannot be used as a basis to avoid liability, nor to deny the student admission or provision of services.
It is important that colleges and universities, as places of public accommodation, develop a working relationship with other agencies to promote effective and accessible services to students. Vocational Rehabilitation has long been involved in the provision of funding for students’s needs while attending a postsecondary institution. However, the ADA ruling has made colleges and universities responsible for this component. What this means is that Vocational Rehabilitation is not responsible for the cost services, but the institution is.
Colleges and universities need to develop funding sources or to identify appropriate funds for these needed services. Although having funds is only part of the responsibility, being able to provide effective services for deaf and hard of hearing students often is underestimated. When a qualified interpreter cannot be found, temporary substitutions are an option until the appropriate and requested service is possible. Flexibility is important and open communication with the student in need and is imperative in allowing the student to understand that their needs have been heard and the institution is actively working to remedy the problem.