Resources for students with disabilities

Resources and supports for students with disabilities exploring or attending Alberta post-secondary programs.


Albertans with disabilities have equitable access to adult learning through a process called accommodation.
The goal of accommodation is to remove barriers and obstacles that might prevent a student with a disability from being able to fully participate in a post-secondary program. This can include:

  • ensuring physically accessible classrooms
  • flexible course delivery and exam formats
  • assistive technologies
  • individualized services, such as sign language interpreters

Accommodation does not:

  • require institutions to lower their learning standards for students with disabilities
  • replace the student’s responsibility to develop the skills and competencies needed for their learning program

Read about an institution’s duty to accommodate students with disabilities.


A disability can involve one or more impairments, such as:

  • physical, including mobility or functional limitations, such as arthritis or a wide range of medical conditions like muscular dystrophy, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia
  • sensory, including being deaf/hard of hearing or blind
  • psychiatric, including depression, anxiety or behavioural disorders or eating disorders
  • cognitive, including developmental disabilities, learning disabilities or ADHD

These impairments can be:

  • permanent
  • temporary
  • intermittent

A short-term illness could be a disability if it is:

  • chronic, such as a thyroid condition
  • recurring, such as severe seasonal allergies
  • temporarily affecting your ability to function, such as a cast on a broken leg or a short-term brain injury

Impairments can create learning barriers. If these barriers are not addressed, a student’s disability can affect their full participation in society.

Rights and responsibilities

Students with disabilities and post-secondary institutions play important roles in the accommodation process.

Making your institution aware of your disability increases your access to related services. Every institution offers different types of services, so it’s important to do your research before you apply.

The information you share about your disability is confidential, and managed under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).

Your rights

You have the right to:

  • receive reasonable accommodations
  • access services and environments available to all students in the same course or program
  • change your accommodations and resources
  • determine your own success

Your responsibilities

Students in Alberta’s post-secondary system are adult learners and their own advocates.

This means you choose if you want to:

  • disclose your disability to your post-secondary institution or instructors
  • request services or accommodations that may be available to you
  • use the services offered through your post-secondary institution

You can choose not to disclose your disability to your post-secondary institution or instructors. However, they are not obligated to accommodate your disability if you don’t disclose it.

If you need accommodations, you have the responsibility to:

  • make an appointment with the disability service provider at your institution (preferably before classes start)
  • make your request in writing, especially if your accommodation needs are extensive
  • provide medical information that supports your request for accommodation
  • keep track of how your accommodation plan is working
  • let the disability services area know if changes to your plan are needed, or if accommodations are no longer required
  • learn how the post-secondary system works, including accommodation steps and processes

Your institution’s responsibilities

Every post-secondary institution has a policy for reasonable accommodation. The policy outlines their:

  • rules
  • standards
  • processes
  • procedures

Policies should also be shared with and understood by:

  • faculty
  • staff
  • students

You can find your institution’s policy on their website, or by asking them for a copy.

Institutions must also:

  • respond to requests for accommodation in a timely way
  • document the accommodation process
  • consider evidence from medical and other professionals, and ask for other expert advice as needed
  • develop an accommodation plan based on your specific needs
  • outline appeal processes for students not satisfied with their accommodations

Disability services

Disability service offices

Every publicly funded post-secondary institution in Alberta has a Disability Services Office (DSO). These offices provide students with:

  • information
  • accommodations
  • services
  • supports in order to access loans and grant funding

Other types of post-secondary institutions may not have a DSO. Before you apply to an institution, ask about services available to you and how to access them.

When to contact the DSO

Before you apply

Contact the DSOs at the post-secondary institutions you’re considering before you apply. Ask about:

  • accommodations, services and resources they provide to help people with disabilities
  • how to access assistive technology, services or accommodations that may be available, including:
    • application processes and deadlines
    • documentation you need to qualify for resources and supports
    • other supports that may be available to you
  • resources to help you figure out if the program you’re applying for is a good fit
  • next steps you should take

You can also ask to meet a disability advisor to discuss any questions you may have in more detail.

After you enrol

Connect with your post-secondary institution’s DSO before your program start date.

Ask to meet with a disability advisor, and bring any relevant documents with you. This way you can review them together, and find out what else may be needed. Every institution manages their DSO office in different ways, but your advisor may be able to help you:

  • identify documents and learning assessments you may need for academic accommodations or assistive technology
  • set up a learning assessment, if needed
  • set up academic accommodations, assistive technology and other services for the upcoming term
  • communicate with instructors about academic accommodations and learning strategies
  • provide information about funding supports that may be available
  • figure out an appropriate course load
  • manage disclosure issues, if needed
  • advocate on your behalf, if needed
  • connect with groups and other kinds of on-campus support

Financial assistance

Grants, scholarships and bursaries

Grants, scholarships and bursaries provide money you can use to meet your education expenses, without having to pay it back. You can research program options by:

Student loans and grants

Student loans and grants can help you pay for more than your tuition and books. They can also help you cover:

  • living expenses
  • disability related assistive services and/or equipment

When you provide medical documentation diagnosing your disability, you can be considered for supports and funding from:

  • government
  • your post-secondary institution
  • other sources

If you’re eligible for student loans with a documented disability, you’re also automatically considered for both provincial and federal government grants. You will need to apply for Alberta student aid to access these grants.

The DSO at your post-secondary institution, or admissions office, may be able to help you prepare your funding application. Contact your institution for more information.

Specialized programs

Programs for students with developmental disabilities

A developmental disability is a significant limitation on a person’s intellectual capacity and adaptive skills. The most common developmental disabilities include:

  • asperger’s syndrome
  • down syndrome
  • cerebral palsy
  • fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
  • intellectual disability

Programs at post-secondary institutions

Some post-secondary institutions offer specialized programs for students with developmental disabilities. Ask your institution about possible program options.

Transitional Vocational Program

The Transitional Vocational Program helps adults with mild developmental disabilities learn specific career and life skills, and live independently. The program is offered by:

A similar program is offered by Red Deer Polytechnic;

Inclusive Post-Secondary Education (IPSE)

The IPSE program, coordinated by Inclusion Alberta, helps adults with developmental disabilities build the skills needed to live independently and contribute to their community. Students:

  • register to audit courses or programs on a non-credit basis
  • participate fully in all parts of college and university classes (such as lectures, labs, assignments and exams)
  • take part in convocation with their classmates when they complete the program and receive a certificate of achievement

A facilitator helps students:

  • set achievable personal goals
  • select courses
  • access tutoring
  • recruit peer supports
  • change classroom and exam materials
  • by supervising their practicum

Programs are wide ranging and can include:

  • Bachelor of Arts (various majors)
  • Bachelor of Music
  • criminal justice
  • culinary arts
  • animal health technology
  • business administration
  • hospitality and tourism
  • kinesiology
  • sports studies

Students are also encouraged to take part in campus life, including:

  • clubs
  • sports and recreation
  • cultural events

Contact Inclusion Alberta to find an IPSE program near you.

Other resources

Disability cultural resources

Education planning

Family Support for Children with Disabilities (FCSD) program

If you’re 16 or 17 years old and accessing the FCSD program, your program team can help you create a transition to adulthood plan. This plan is a road map to help you achieve your goals and vision for the future.

Student associations


Connect with the Public Awareness Branch:

Hours: 8:15 am to 4:30 pm (open Monday to Friday, closed statutory holidays)
Email: [email protected]