Most colleges provide disability services

Rich Lavoie, a well-known educator, author, and advocate for children with learning disabilities contributed the lead article in the August 2005 edition of LD OnLine. His provocative piece is entitled “Education’s Most Damaging ‘Urban Legend’” and refers to the claim by some high school teachers that students with disabilities do not have the right stuff to make it in college.

Sadly, this perspective is all too common, with the onus laid squarely on the student. What is sorely missing is the acknowledgment that these students have not been adequately prepared for college. A related assumption is that colleges do not have adequate support services. How discouraging! How erroneous! A little research and some phone time would soon provide a very different conclusion. Most colleges provide disability services and others, especially community colleges, have long offered developmental classes for students who have not been prepared sufficiently for college work.

The developmental curriculum is one in which a student must take non-credit bearing classes in basic skills to a level of proficiency before advancing to the college curriculum. This is often frustrating for a student who has graduated from high school. However, the rewards of learning how to write, read, and take math classes on the college level can outweigh the frustrations stemming from non-credit courses. Students with learning disabilities and those requiring a developmental curriculum can find well-trained support staff and adaptive technology at a college to which they have met the entrance requirements. These students have succeeded in the Ivy League, at technical schools, and city colleges. Colleges especially those with strong education, psychology, and related departments have long conducted research into how students learn effectively. Some of these schools have put the findings of their research into practice by providing comprehensive services adjunctive to the required curriculum.

An outstanding example is the SALT program at the University of Arizona in Tucson that recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Interested applicants with a Learning Disability or Attention Deficit Disorder must be accepted to the university and then apply to the program by having a battery of tests, letters of recommendation, and their own handwritten statement of purpose. Among the many services offered by SALT are mentoring, tutoring, adaptive technology, and self-advocacy skills.

Colleges with excellent disability support are numerous. Well-established programs to reference are in place at American University, Adelphi University, Lynn University, Marist College, and Quinnipiac University. Visiting these schools and reading about admissions criteria should ascertain whether their programs would meet the needs of specific students before beginning the time-consuming application process.

A local example of an excellent resource is the Disability Services at Bucks County Community College (BCCC) under the directorship of Marie Cooper. I have known Marie for years, having met her when she came to my Foundations of Education classes to describe the services. Since that meeting I have referred many students to the Disability Center and each semester take students on a tour of the facility. The technology designed to help students who learn differently is extraordinary. One of the staff is thirty years old and a current student at BCCC who graduated from high school unable to read. Years later, having hid her secret behind a charming verbal shield, this young woman diagnosed her own dyslexia, and with the help of Disability Services, has become an A student.

At the conclusion of every tour, Marie Cooper wistfully states that she wishes that high school students entered college more aware of their rights and the resources that would help them succeed. And yes, Mr. Lavoie, I agree that many of today’s high school teachers are not aware of the extensive services available to the student with learning disabilities or requiring developmental classes. Your article is greatly appreciated, and hopefully it falls into the right hands, helping to dispel the destructive urban legend that students with disabilities do not have it in them to succeed at college.