By Gordon Rovins
Students with disabilities can face particular challenges in financing their college education.
They may not be able to work part-time to help offset college costs. The financial aid process can initially seem overwhelming and finding information about scholarships can appear daunting.
The good news is there are a number of resources available to help students with disabilities and their families navigate the financial aid process and access scholarships. The website Best Colleges is one such resource. Government agencies, high schools, colleges and organizations that focus on people with disabilities can also provide valuable guidance. Brielle Cayer from Connecticut began attending Fordham University in the fall of 2018 with the help of a scholarship from Lighthouse Guild.
“I was made aware of the Lighthouse Guild Scholarship program through the Bureau of Education and Services for the Blind,” she said. “Receiving the scholarship made me feel I was able to contribute to financing my college education, and it made me feel a sense of independence.
There are specific sources of financial aid for students with disabilities. Many of these are website clearinghouses that are specific to a particular disability and others that are not disability specific.
Petersons also offers information on college financial aid assistance for students with disabilities at College Financial Aid Assistance for Students with Disabilities. Federal financial aid for students can be found through FedMoney.org.
The Department of Education‘s Federal TRIO Program provides education grants for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including students with disabilities. The publishing company, Reference Service Press, publishes directories on sources of financial aid for specific groups such as people with disabilities.
In addition, there are a variety of free resources for students and families who need help with financial aid paperwork. College Goal Sunday is a national program that helps with completing the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA), the form that must be completed by all students and their families before they can be considered for any federal financial aid.
As an example, funding for students with visual impairments is available in the form of fellowships, loans and grants. The majority of scholarships require that the student must be legally blind in both eyes. The government defines blindness as having a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less after using corrective lenses, or having a visual field with 20 degrees of vision or less, counting both eyes together.
Scholarships specifically for students who are blind are provided by individual nonprofit agencies. Lighthouse Guild offers an annual scholarship program for college-bound high school and graduate students who are legally blind.
The program awards approximately 10 college-bound scholarships of $10,000 each and one to three graduate scholarships of up to $10,000. The application is online at www.lighthouseguild.org/scholarships. For more information call 212 769-7801. The site also offers a comprehensive chart listing the majority of other scholarships for the visually impaired across the nation under help resources.
Education unlocks doors. However, given the high cost of college, most students need some financial assistance. By researching and taking advantage of all resources available, students can help realize their dreams of attending the college of their choice.
Gordon Rovins is director of special programs at the Lighthouse Guild.