Your teen is heading off to college—congratulations! It’s a really exciting time for all of you, but it’s also one that requires extra planning. That’s particularly true if your student needs accessible housing.

You know your child’s abilities and limitations best, which means you’re in a unique position to help him find the best possible housing on or off campus. First things first: Make contact with someone in the college office who can act as your student’s advocate and ally when it comes to providing services and accommodations. The school may not have an office designated for assisting students with disabilities. It’s more common at small colleges and universities, but the law requires educational institutions to have personnel who are well-versed in disabilities and the law.

Your child must register as a student with disabilities in order to receive accommodations, and applying for accommodations is a separate process from applying for admission. Usually, this process takes place through the disability services office.

As you help your soon-to-be college student with the transition from home to school, be sure to:

  • Help plan the move.
  • Reassure your child that home will always be home.
  • Give your child space.
  • Set up scheduled phone calls.
  • Make plans for regular visits.


Help Plan the Move

In many cases, it’s easier to move a child with disabilities into a campus dorm so he is close to services available through school. Campus buildings in schools that receive state funding are required to be accessible, which means it may be easier to find the right room in the right location. Freshmen and sophomores are often required to live on-campus anyway.

Search for Accessible Housing

If your child will be living in off-campus housing, it’s important to know that the federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act prohibit landlords from discriminating against people with impairments. They aren’t allowed to ask discriminatory questions such as, “I see you’re wearing a hearing aid; how much can you actually hear?” or “Can you get out of your chair and walk upstairs?”

Landlords have a duty to accommodate disabled tenants, within reason, at their own expense. You have the right to expect a landlord to reasonably adjust rules and procedures (such as parking), so your student has an equal opportunity to enjoy and use his rental home. Landlords must also allow disabled tenants to make reasonable modifications at the tenant’s own expense if they’re necessary for the tenant to live safely and comfortably. Adjustments can include things like installing special faucets or door handles for people with limited hand use, or installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access between rooms, as long as the tenant gets prior approval before making the modifications. Landlords do not have to make accommodations or permit modifications that are “unreasonable,” such as ripping apart a building to install an elevator.

It’s ideal to find housing as-is that meets your child’s needs. In some cases, you can talk to a real estate agent to help find properties with certain specifications, such as nearby parking spots, accessible ramps and other necessities.

Challenges for Parents

As the parent of a college-age child, it may be rough seeing an empty bedroom and waiting for phone calls rather than seeing your child every day. Your child is moving toward independence, which can be emotionally difficult for moms and dads. It’s perfectly normal to worry, even if you know your child is capable. Here’s what you can do to make things easier on yourself:

  • Have good, solid lines of communication with people at your child’s school who understand Section 504, Subpart E of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. (While your child was in elementary, middle and high school, he was likely covered under Subpart D of the Act; in college, it shifts to Subpart E.)
  • Learn as much as you can about the accommodations the college will provide for your student. Communicate with individual professors, as well as front-office staff.
  • Know that not all colleges provide the same level of support for differently-abled students. Section 504 only requires colleges and universities to ensure access and prohibit discrimination, but some schools go above and beyond to help students with disabilities.


Challenges for College Students

Moving away from home is sometimes as stressful for college students as it is for parents, so provide support in any way you can. Your child will still need you, but in different ways. Here’s how you can make things easier on him:

  • Let him know that there’s always room at home, if necessary. Don’t make it seem like you want your child to stick close to the nest, even if that’s what you’re feeling. College kids don’t want parents to hover, but they do want reassurance that paretns will always be there.
  • Set aside time for phone calls and visits. A regular schedule helps everyone involved and allows parents to call (or visit) without being intrusive.
  • Give your student the space he needs to learn about being an adult. This is, arguably, the hardest part for any parent, but it’s absolutely necessary in order for your child learn to be self-sufficient.


How did you help your child transition to college? Please let us know how you helped him find the right place to live and be successful at college in the comments below. Your story can help other parents!

Alejandra Roca is on the content marketing team at Redfin  and enjoys writing about home decor and real estate trends. She loves the outdoors and her favorite activities include hot yoga and going on long hikes.

For more information about college and adult transition, visit Special Needs Resource Foundation of San Diego.