Atlanta, GA,
09:30 AM

Students with Disabilities Need to Ensure School is Prepared to Meet Their Needs

Shepherd Center’s academic coordinator advises about the process.

By Chrissy Booth
Academic Coordinator, Spinal Cord Injury Program, Shepherd Center

With the summer break drawing to a close, it is time to pack book bags, finish summer reading and, for students with disabilities, ensure that your school is prepared to meet your needs this year.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires public schools to provide a free and appropriate education to all elementary and secondary students in the least restrictive environment. Application of this mandate looks different for every student, so students with disabilities and their families should take the initiative to advocate for themselves in a few ways:

  • Make a plan. Schedule a meeting with your teachers and administrators to write an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 plan, which lists all the accommodations you will need. Accommodations can help you participate in class, navigate campus and manage your medical needs. If you have a brain injury, asking your school to schedule a neuropsychological exam or a psychometric test will help determine the accommodations you need. These plans are flexible, so as you get stronger, you can adjust your plan accordingly.
  • Get comfortable. Ask for a “run through” before school starts to make sure the environment is accessible. Students with mobility impairments may need elevator keys, desks of different heights, extra time between classes or classroom rearrangements. This is also a good time to meet the school nurse, drop off any supplies you need to keep stocked in the nurse’s office, and ask questions about emergencies and special events.
  • Teach your teachers. Some schools have never taught a student with a brain or spinal cord injury, so you may need to teach them about your injury. Shepherd Center’s online care manual and are great resources for you to give your teachers and administrators.
  • Test out technology. Assistive technology can be enormously helpful for students. Did you know you can dictate your papers, organize notes and take tests on a tablet computer, move a mouse with a sip-and-puff joystick, and use your phone and a stylus to wirelessly control a computer? Ask your school district about assistive technology options and find out what works for you.
  • Share your story. Shepherd Center therapists can help adolescent patients prepare a “No Obstacles” presentation to teach your peers and teachers about the brain and spinal cord. This presentation is a chance for you to share your story, answer questions, and teach your school about your injury and rehabilitation. Many of our adolescent patients have said that No Obstacles helped them readjust to school and transition comfortably.
  • Be creative. After an injury, some students need to adjust to different learning styles and new ways of completing schoolwork. If your first approach doesn’t work, keep brainstorming and trying new strategies. 
  • Speak up. You are the expert on what you can do and when you want assistance, so do not be afraid to advocate for yourself.

Even though colleges and universities don’t write IEPs or 504 plans, they still want to help you succeed. If you are college bound, contact your school’s office of disability services and schedule a meeting. Bring a copy of your diagnosis and a completed application for disability services. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer, Disability Services can offer you accommodations for classes, housing, transportation and any aspect of college life in which you hope to participate. Try to meet with disability services as early as possible because some accommodations take time to implement. For more guidance and support, consider applying to a program like The Ramp Less Traveled for college students with spinal cord injuries. Contact them at

Whether you are preparing for first grade or your first year of college, take some time to ensure that you are set up for success this year in school. If you are not ready yet, please reach out for support, and if you have developed successful strategies for accessing education, we would love to hear about your experience and share your ideas with others.

This web page provides more information on Shepherd Center’s rehabilitation program for adolescents with spinal cord injury. And this page describes the rehabilitation program for adolescents with brain injury.

CHRISSY BOOTH is the academic coordinator for the Shepherd Center Spinal Cord Injury Program. As such, she teaches middle and high school patients in Shepherd Center’s Hospital Homebound Program and helps adolescent patients return to school. She has worked as a chemistry teacher, health educator and curriculum writer. Chrissy has received the Excellent Educator Award and Star Teacher Award from Booker T. Washington High School in Atlanta. She graduated with distinction from Duke University in 2010. You may reach Chrissy at

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.