How Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities Works

Grants for Students with Disabilities
Grants are helpful, since students don't have to pay them back.
Grants are helpful, since students don't have to pay them back.
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Unlike loans, grants don't have to be paid back, making them especially attractive to many students [source: U.S. Department of Education, Federal Student Aid]. However, grants do tend to have more criteria associated with receiving the funds. Grants can come from many sources, including the federal government, state governments and postsecondary institutions.

One of the most widely utilized grant programs is the Federal Pell Grant, which also provides a good example of another consideration that students with disabilities may miss if they're not careful. Student eligibility and funding amounts from the Pell Grant program are based on the FAFSA form and several other factors. One of these other factors is enrollment status, such as full-time or part-time enrollment [source: U.S. Department of Education, Student Aid on the Web]. Pell Grant allocations are based on a scheduled award, the amount a student receives based on a given cost of attendance and expected family contribution (EFC), assuming that the student is enrolled as a full-time student for a full academic year [source: FSA Handbook Federal Pell Grant Program]. Yet, a student will receive less than this amount if they don't meet the enrollment criteria, and this can't be modified even if a student has disabilities that makes achieving this criteria difficult. "However, institutions may be able, if a student is not able to be full time, to use institutional funds that would fund additionally and wouldn't have the same requirements," says Martin. "And that really would vary greatly from school to school, depending on what funds they had available" [source: Martin].

Students may also be eligible for financial help through a state program -- the vocational rehabilitation program. This program works to help people with disabilities to gain employment [source: Sherman]. "For transition students, after eligibility is determined, the student will work with a counselor to define an employment goal and develop an IPE (Individualized Plan for Employment)," says Beth Ruth, communications manager for the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission [source: Ruth].

This plan may include postsecondary education to meet the individual's employment goals. "If someone is eligible economically and we determine that their educational goal should be teacher, as an example, testing shows that they have the aptitude to be a teacher and that is their interest area, then we can assist them with postsecondary or vocational training," says Susan Sherman, assistant vocational rehabilitation director at the Georgia Department of Labor. "We would determine what type of financial aid they would have, and then we could possibly help them with some expenses towards postsecondary training."