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How Financial Aid for Students with Disabilities Works


Scholarships for Students with Disabilities
Students with disabilities should broaden their scope when looking for scholarships.
Students with disabilities should broaden their scope when looking for scholarships.
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Scholarships are similar to grants in that they don't have to be paid back. Some scholarships are based on need, but many are based on merit or even other criteria. "There are some, but not many, scholarships that are disability specific requiring the student meet a particular disability criteria -- and those that are available often do not offer large sums," says Donna Martinez, Ed.D., International Education Consultant [source: Martinez].

Many of the disability-specific scholarships can be found through advocacy organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind [source: McVey, National Federation of the Blind]. Foundations such as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing also offer disability specific scholarships [source: Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing].

Yet, students with disabilities shouldn't narrow their search for scholarships to just disability specific scholarships. "The point being just because one has a disability the student should not limit his or her search to only those disability focused scholarships, but look to see what other personal traits, skills, background characteristics or affiliations the student has and compete for those as well, remembering that his disability is only one characteristic not the defining one," says Martinez.

Thinking more widely can help students access more financial aid opportunities. "I have had one student who was in a wheelchair, and she received scholarship money for her academics, but the only money she received for her disability was from the local Kiwanis who have a scholarship for students who have 'overcome great challenges,'" says Kate McVey, director of college advising for Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis, Ind.

When exploring your options for scholarships, there are many resources. Talk with your college/university financial aid office for any institutional scholarship options. "Our office offers specific scholarships and awards based on disability and need; these monies are secured through development funding," says Margaret Collins Totty, M.Ed., assistant director of the Disability Resource Center at The University of Georgia [source: Totty].

Another place to check would be with a parent's employer [source: DO-IT University of Washington]. There are also many books and online sources filled with scholarship opportunities.