CT students with disabilities need to choose college wisely

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It’s that time of year… summer vacation with the kids, and if you have a rising senior, a side trip to visit a college campus or two.  However, if you have a student with a disability, the plan becomes more complex and the research requires a more thoughtful approach.

Summer is a good time to research postsecondary opportunities that meet the learning needs of your child.

While your college-bound junior is determining what to do with the rest of his or her life, as a parent you may be wondering if their college choice is the right fit.  The National Council on Disability (NCD) reported in 2015 that students with disabilities are entering higher education at roughly the same rate as their non-disabled peers. Based on the NCD statistics, parents and students need to assure that the institution they are considering understands the law and has the resources available to meet the student’s individual needs.  If your college-bound student is one of the estimated 2 million students with a disability, there are some important issues to consider.

Current research reflects that only 34 percent of students in this demographic are completing a four year degree after eight years.   Why are students with disabilities who are entering higher education not completing their degrees or taking so long to do so?  These are important facts to consider when planning for college.

This is what students (and parents) need to determine: Is the college of my choice the right fit?  Not only academically and socially, but does the institution meet my learning needs?  One size does not fit all, whether the student has an identified disability or not.

First and foremost, it is important for parents and students to know their rights. It is also important to know that the accommodations and modifications of a K-12 individualized education plan under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are not the same as those in postsecondary education under section 504.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act ADAAA of 2008, and section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 provide the framework that identifies the importance and need for colleges and universities to offer equal access.  However, the manner in which each institution provides access and to what degree reflects how they implement public policy.

The most significant difference for colleges and universities is that they must provide “equal access.”  Equal access for students refers to academic and most non-academic student activities.   This also applies to student housing, meal plans, as well as, college and university sponsored student activities on and off campus.

When making a college visit or planning to speak with an admissions counselor, ask the important questions.  They include: What services will be provided to a student with a documented disability?  Is there an office or program that coordinates accommodations and resources for students with disabilities?  What percentage of students with disabilities graduates from your institution? Finally, request to meet with a representative of the office of disability services or speak with the coordinator.

Not every college and university will provide the necessary access.  This is important to know before applying to an institution.  Know what options are available and what institution best meets your students’ individual needs.

Mitchell College, in New London, offers The Bentsen Learning Center Program (BLCP), which provides support to students with learning disabilities.   Postsecondary institutions are required by law to support students with disabilities, however, there may be an additional fee associated with the services

In my experience as a college faculty member, students who know how they learn and identify their learning needs are often more successful.  This has been supported in the research.

Stan Shaw PhD, a researcher and professor at the UConn Center for Postsecondary Education and Disability co-authored a study which emphasized that self-determination and characteristics of the learning environment influence student success in postsecondary education.

College planning is a process, and when a student has a disability, it becomes more complex.  Parents and students need to consider transition planning before college, while enrolled in secondary education.

A Parents Guide to Special Education, published by the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE), indicates that for IEP planning, transition planning begins after a child’s 15th birthday.  Parents and students must advocate for planning and goal setting sooner.

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD) offers membership and resources for parents, students and professionals devoted to postsecondary access and participation for persons with disabilities.  In addition, The UConn, Neag School of Education, Center on Postsecondary Education provides resources for research, disability assistance and programs on Connecticut college campuses.

Finally, research conducted by Vogel and Adelman in 1992 and 2000 indicated that when students are provided with accommodations and support in the postsecondary setting, they persist at the same rate as their non-disabled peers. A student must decide whether to disclose his or her disability and receive equal access benefits under the ADAAA and 504.

Self-determination is an essential skill and a student who doesn’t disclose may just become another statistic.

What do you think?

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