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Financial Aid for Students With Disabilities

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Obtaining financial aid can be a complex process. Laws and policies regulating the disbursement of financial aid change frequenly. It is important to keep informed about changes in the financial aid system.

What is Financial Aid?

Individuals receive financial aid to meet their educational expenses when their own financial resources are insufficient. A standardized formula determines financial need that takes into account the family's ability to contribute to educational expenses. The family includes the student, the student's parents (for dependent students), and the student's spouse (if any). There are three types of financial aid: grants, loans, and employment. Grants include gifts and scholarships that do not have to be repaid. Loans are money borrowed to cover school costs that one repays over time (usually 10 years). Employment programs enable a student to earn a portion of school costs by working while enrolled in school.

Students should apply for financial aid through the financial aid office of the college or university they plan to attend. Taking care to be early and accurate in applying for aid is the most important step in the financial aid process. All students applying for financial aid must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Forms for non-federal assistance are available in the financial aid offices of the schools you are interested in attending. Deadlines may vary from school to school. Students must reapply each year.

What Are Disability-Related Expenses?

Students should be sure to inform the financial aid administrator of disability-related expenses that the family used to pay. Often leaving home necessitates the purchase of new or additional equipment that will allow the student to be independent at school. Costs related to a student's particular personal circumstances might be included in financial aid requests if the student incurs them because of attending school. Students with disabilities who believe their costs are higher than the standard estimated by the college should ask to speak with the school's financial aid administrator.

Additional expenses incurred by students with disabilities may include:

  • Special equipment (related to the disability) and its maintenance

  • Expenses for services for personal use or study, such as readers, interpreters, note takers, or personal-care attendants

  • Transportation necessary to pursue an academic program, if regular transportation is not accessible

  • Medical expenses relating directly to the individual's disability that are not covered by insurance

Financial Aid Resources

Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS)

The state vocational rehabilitation agency often assists qualified students with disabilities. The local DRS agency has counselors who can help a person with a disability determine eligibility for assistance. Students served by DRS apply for student financial aid under the guidelines of the Vocational Rehabilitation Financial Aid Cooperative Agreements.

Social Security Administration

Many students with disabilities are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Social Security makes funds available to people with disabilities who have minimal income and are not working full time. Take care when making financial aid decisions to assure that your SSI is not compromised by financial aid provided through the institution. Sometimes work-study programs can pose problems for students on SSI.

You can get more information about Social Security matters 24 hours a day by calling Social Security's toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. You can call for an appointment or to speak to a service representative between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. The lines are busiest early in the week and early in the month so, if your business can wait, it is best to call at other times. Whenever you call, have your Social Security number handy. Recorded information and services are available 24 hours a day, including weekends and holidays. People who are deaf or hard of hearing may call the toll-free TTY number, 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days.

The Social Security Administration provides a program called Plan for Achieving Self Support (PASS) available at Anyone who has a certified disability, is 16 or older, and has a gross family income of less than $57,000 a year is eligible for PASS dollars. The program assists people with disabilities acquire services or items needed for education and employment. It provides money for educational training programs/tuition, transportation, medical necessities, and other needs. Benefits, such as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, SSI, alimony, disabled veteran's benefits, or wages earned do not affect PASS funding. It is important to realize that PASS is restrictive. There are time limits on the amount and time an individual can receive PASS dollars.

Resources on financial aid and scholarships