ElderLaw News

ElderLaw News is a weekly e-newsletter that brings you reports of legal developments and other trends of vital interest to seniors and their advocates. This newsletter is brought to you by The Estate Planning & Elder Law Firm, P.C., William S. Fralin, Esq., President.

Choosing Colleges for Students with Learning Disabilities

A recent Wall Street Journal article described the challenges and opportunities facing students with learning disabilities.

According to George Jesien of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, only recently have colleges and universities made much progress in providing level playing fields for qualified students with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and other learning disabilities.

Colleges exhibit a wide range of attitudes and programs for students with special needs. One parent described her first-hand view of these differences when she toured campuses. Her son needs accommodations for a learning disability; some campuses described fine-tuned supports in place for her son. Other campuses said they didn’t have much of a need for such accommodations; that response raised red flags to the parent.

Parents normally are more used to the standardized approach that the law requires in public schools. The public schools must provide instruction tailored to fulfill the student's right to public education. Colleges, on the other hand, are required to make only "reasonable accommodations" for qualified students with disabilities. These accommodations are categorized by various terms, and they are not universal among colleges. The lowest level of support is "basic" support; they can also be called decentralized, limited, or self-directed programs. They provide the accommodations required by law, such as note-taking help or untimed testing. The "basic" level can also mean that the schools are doing nothing; this is one reason that retention rates among students with learning disabilities are lower than overall retention rates by as much as 10%.

"Coordinated services" go beyond the required minimums. They have at least one trained staffer, offer tutors, study-skills classes and other services. They also may have input on admission decisions. "Structured" or "proactive" programs provide the highest level of support; they charge fees from $2,000 to $8,000 per year and some require a contract. Trained staffers monitor progress, and they may offer modified coursework. Fewer that 100 schools are in this category.

Students should visit colleges in which they are interested, interview staff at the disabilities office about the services available, and see if they feel comfortable in working with the people on staff. Campus officials say that if a student reveals that the student has a disability, it is not likely at most colleges that the student jeopardizes the chance of admission. Students may first want to make their initial list of colleges based on general factors, then narrow the list based on the disability supports available. Students should also be as concerned about their chances for graduation as much as their chances for admission. They should make sure that the graduation requirements can be met, and that course substitutions or remedial classes are available.

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