Diabetes at College Advice Series: Accommodation Letters

Posted by shannon on Wed, 04/09/2014 - 11:59 in

What I (and my parents!) wish I was told before going to college: general advice about the college transition with diabetes.

College is an exciting and scary time for everyone. There was so much to think about between meeting new people, living on your own and figuring out where everything on campus is located. Every new student experiences the nervousness, but having diabetes brings a few added unknowns when heading off to school.

Managing Diabetes in High School

Diabetes-at-CollegeIn high school all of my diabetes accommodations were always met. Usually my parents and I would be able to meet with school officials and go through what my high school called a “504 plan.” These plans were several pages long, listing my accommodations as well as explaining type 1 diabetes. Accommodations included things, such as allowing me to have food in class for low blood glucose levels, allowing me to make up classwork or a test if my glucose levels were too high or too low, allowing me to go to the nurse any time I needed to, etc. In high school, teachers were made aware of my diabetes before I even stepped into their classroom. If I had any problems with teachers it was taken care of immediately once my parents contacted the school.

Transitioning to College with Diabetes

Now that I’m at college, things are definitely different. As expected, college emphasizes “independence” and learning how to handle situations on your own. All universities or colleges have some type of office for students who need medical accommodations. I reached out to my University’s office during the summer before my freshman year. I was surprised to learn that universities take a much smaller role compared to high school administrators. Together, my school’s academic success office and I went through my doctor’s notes and the school official said he would write up an accommodation letter for me.

When I received an e-mail version of my accommodation letter, both my parents and I were a little shocked. It went from being several pages in high school to one simple condensed page for college. In the e-mail I was told when I arrived at school I had to come pick up the letter myself and the office would give me a copy for each professor. I assumed that similarly to high school their office would have given my professors the letter. Instead I learned it was my responsibility to give them my letter. If I failed to do so it wouldn't be the professor’s fault if my accommodations were not met. If I gave a professor my letter and they failed to give me any accommodations, then the school would step in to help me.

Preparing for College with Diabetes

The first day of classes is definitely scary enough for anyone and having this responsibility for the first time was intimidating. But I knew I could handle it because I was expecting it and I was prepared. Being prepared was honestly the best tool I had. I knew friends with diabetes who didn't bother to give their professors an accommodation letter and unfortunately they ran into several problems. They just assumed that the experience would be similar to high school where their parents or a school official would intervene if something went wrong.

Having this responsibility actually turned out to be a good thing. I was able to reach out to professors on my own the first day of classes and explain my diabetes to them. I feel like they understand my disease a little bit more than if I just handed them the one-page accommodation letter. I also can show them my Omnipod insulin pump and let them know if I’m on a cell phone-looking device that it’s just my Personal Diabetes Manager. Luckily I haven’t had any issues with professors, but at least I am prepared and know what to do if something unfortunate happens.

To learn more about the Omnipod insulin pump and try a free demo for yourself, click here.