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Preparing Students with Disabilities for College

Posted: August 24, 2011 — Conservative estimates indicate that at least 1 in 11 incoming college freshmen will report having a disability as they enter the fall semester.  These numbers are based in part on a 1999 report by the American Council on Education which found that 9% self-reported having an impairment in one or more major life areas.  The current incidence of students with disabilities transitioning from high school to higher education is likely to be higher than this due to improved technology and health services, changing attitudes and understanding of disability issues, and increased implementation of federal laws.

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibit discrimination of students with disabilities, although the applicable laws depend on  whether the student is in grade school or college.  Community colleges such as FM have seen increasing numbers of students with disabilities because students with disabilities are more likely to pursue associates degrees that prepare them for employment rather than for transfer into a baccalaureate degree, want to remain in their supportive community, and/or be nontraditional students with disabilities related to age.

Students with disabilities are a welcomed addition to FM’s campus and add to the campus’s diversity.  Students come with their unique issues and challenges and it is the responsibility of FM’s Accessibility Service Office to help eliminate artificial barriers to their learning.  This charge goes beyond just the physical and architectural accessibility of the campus.  Adaptive technology and services are available to assist students with physical, psychiatric, and learning disabilities so that they may reach their individual academic goals.

For instance, students with vision impairments may benefit from using magnifiers, note takers, or the use of a number of screen readers such as JAWS or Premier software.  Students with hearing impairments might use sign language interpreters or make occasional use of the Ubi Duo, a communication tool that uses texting to allow face to face and telephone interactions that can be downloaded onto the computer.  Students with psychiatric disabilities often benefit from extra time for tests or a reduced course load with counseling supports while students with learning disabilities, who make up a large proportion of students with disabilities, may seek assistance from books on tape, speech to text programs, or possibly a reading pen.  Each accommodation plan is individualized and determined by the student and the Disability Service Office with the assistance of medical and school evaluations and is provided at no cost to the student.

There are many things that incoming students with disabilities can do to prepare for success in the college environment.  Perhaps the most important is for the student to fully understand their disability and any functional limitations that they may have.  Very often young students will come in with their parent and expect that, as in grade school, the parent and school will be responsible for identifying.  In the college setting, however, the student must self–identify.  By law, parents cannot have access to student records without written student consent.

Parents and other student supporters can help the new student with a disability by teaching them the skills to navigate the college setting and encouraging the student to seek out disability services.  With their disability service provider, students can learn of other campus and community supports such as the student-driven club ABLE, arrange a schedule that will optimize services and learning opportunities, be introduced to adaptive technology, and understand their strengths and areas for growth.

Current and perspective FM students who want to discuss possible eligibility for these services should call 762-4651 x7-4500 to be connected with either Ellie Fosmire, Learning Disability Specialist or myself.

Robin DeVito is Coordinator of Disability Services at FM

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