College Accommodations and Self-Advocacy Part II

college accommodations part 2

By Kathy Kuhl     In last week’s post, I discussed college accommodations and self-advocacy for students with learning challenges, especially in the context of college. In today’s post I’ll answer questions about college accommodations. I’ll discuss some of the practical aspects of accommodations.

How to evaluate college accommodations

Not all colleges offer the same levels of support. When your student is considering college, you and the student need to learn what services different colleges provide–before applying. Dr. Stan Shaw describes five levels of services:

  • Level 1: No services available — rare but possible
  • Level 2: Decentralized and limited services — extended time might be provided; other support is minimal
  • Level 3: Loosely coordinated services — accommodations may be available in one class but not another
  • Level 4: Centrally coordinated services — the institution has made a commitment to disability services and has a special office and programs
  • Level 5: Database services — cutting edge, usually connected to a graduate program in special education

(Dr. Stan Shaw, quoted in Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disablities by Henry Reiff, Ph.D., p. 15-16.)

What specific helps are available?

Here are a few examples of services to look for:

  • Extra time on exams
  • Permission to take exams at disability services or at a testing center, at a time of one’s choosing
  • A reader to read the exam aloud to the student
  • Adaptive technology to assist a student in typing exam answers
  • Receiving a copy of a classmates’s notes from each lecture
  • Receiving, at no charge, an audio version of textbooks

Audio textbooks are provided through the college’s membership in (formerly Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic). These textbooks, stored on special DVDs, are amazingly compact. My son’s 580-page psychology textbook was on one disk, read by a special Walkman-like device called a Daisy Reader. Individuals can also purchase membership in LearningAlly if they provide documentation of dyslexia or vision disability.

Some universities provide special programs for students with disabilities. For example, Rochester Institute of Technology has a program for incoming freshman and transfer students who have autism. Ask college counselors and disability services centers what’s available on their campuses.

In addition to the services provided by colleges and universities, students can hire other help. Tutors can help with classes. Academic therapists can help hone reading, writing, and study skills. ADHD coaches can help with time and work management, study skills, and more. Private programs such as Bass Educational Services and College Life Experience can also help.

Are college accommodations unfair?

Sometimes people wonder: is it unfair to give one student extra time for an exam? Wouldn’t we all benefit from having extra time and a copy of the notes of a good notetaker?

Yes, but imagine your hand was in a cast and you could only write slowly and laboriously. Letting you dictate your answers would give you a fairer chance, not an advantage. In the same way, students with learning disabilities may need extra time or other accommodations in order to give them a fair chance to perform. Then their test results can accurately reflect their ability and understanding.

Or take distractions. They bother everyone. But a few people are so easily distracted that sitting in class to take a test is like another person trying to take the test in a busy shopping mall the week before Christmas. For these students with a diagnosed attention deficit disorder, it is fair for a college to provide a quiet room so that they can complete the exam.

Your student needs to understand that it’s not cheating to get this help. It’s not cheating for me to wear glasses as I write this, either! If your child doesn’t understand and believe it’s okay to get these helps, he or she won’t use them. In addition, if the college makes it impractical to get services, students won’t bother.

How does my student qualify?

If your child was ever in public school, you may have been through the process of getting accommodations. Your student may have had a 504 or IEP (Individualized Education Plan). These documents include lists of accommodations the school promises to provide. These plans are a result of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

College is different. The IDEA does not apply to college, but the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does. However, if you have that IEP or 504 documentation, keep it. Take it along when you and your teen request services. It may help make the case that help is needed. Check the Wrightslaw website below for more information.

How does my student get and make the most of these services?

Next month I’ll review Dr. Henry Reiff’s Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities, a book that addresses this question thoroughly. But in brief, students who need accommodations should bring evidence of disability to the college’s disability services center. This could be test results or a doctor’s letter. The evidence needs to be less than three years old.

If a college accepts the evidence and grants accommodations, they typically provide those services for the entire time the student is enrolled. He or she won’t have to reapply for these special services every year.

Some universities will also provide some testing services. Some bright people with learning disabilities reach college before the workload overwhelms their ability to compensate. These folks may only learn in college that they have a learning disability.

For students and young adults with ADHD, I recommend Chris Dendy’s book and video, A Bird’s-Eye View of Life with of ADD and ADHD: Advice from Young Survivors. She brings together the insights of many young adults with ADHD. See below for a link to my review.

How to teach self-advocacy skills

Later this month I’ll review Self-Advocacy Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities: Making it Happen in College and Beyond, by Henry Reiff, Ph.D. It’s the best resource I’ve found so far on this topic.

What are your tips and experiences with accommodations for students with learning challenges? Please add them in the comments section below.


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