by Dr. Chester Goad
Students with learning disabilities and their parents are typically anxious and stressed when they visit colleges and universities for the first time. Often they are transitioning with concerns that transcend those of their non-disabled peers. Students with learning disabilities, and especially students with dyslexia, are often misunderstood and under-served in the typical K12 environment.
Most educators are more than willing to do what is necessary to assist these students but are limited in time, resources, and training specific to dyslexia. Unfortunately, even more common is the state's misapplication of laws and regulations surrounding dyslexia. That is why dozens of states have already passed dyslexia specific legislation to address the problem, and why on a federal level US legislators have founded a congressional caucus and continue each session to introduce legislation to help correct the educational services gap that exists for average to above average students with reading disorders or dyslexia.
As long as this problem exists these students will continue either not qualifying for the help they need, or simply falling the proverbial cracks. These continuing parent and student frustrations are why advocacy groups like the International Dyslexia Association and Decoding Dyslexia are growing exponentially.
As a college university administrator who works directly with students with learning disabilities, I find the college atmosphere a much more educationally welcoming and workable environment for students with learning disabilities than many K12 environments. At the college level, students are more likely to get the adaptive assistance, use of
software, and other accommodations they need in the classroom and often with less bureaucracy.
Currently I work in higher education in an office that serves students with disabilities, though I am a former K12 teacher and principal. I present on a variety of leadership, disability, and transition topics. For the last several years, I’ve been heavily involved in advocacy for students with learning disabilities and those with attention deficit disorders, and I often find myself at school events primarily attended by parents of K-12 students. It’s always interesting meeting and talking with families in the various venues, and learning more about their own personal stories.
Most families might find the contrast of services in K-12 and services in college to be striking, possibly not for the reasons one might think.
In fact, most parents do not realize all the services that do exist to help students access learning in higher education. The most notable difference in services is technology.
It’s fair to say that the technology available in college is typically not offered or available in K-12 learning environments. Families of students with learning disabilities, learning differences, and more would be surprised to learn about all the technologies and technology related support available to college students. It can also sometimes be much easier for students to qualify for that kind of assistance on the college level.
While services and budgets vary from college to college, below is a list of some common items or services that may be readily available for your college student—and there are no costs involved:
- Audio books on CD, MP3, or in other alternate formats. Most colleges use multiple sources for audiobooks so in most cases, they’re available if they’re ordered early enough, from groups like Learning Ally.
- Screen readers, or text-to-speech programs. Many people think of screen reading technology primarily in terms of support for visual impairment, but students with learning differences appreciate and use screen reading technology in a variety of ways too. Many are used in conjunction with high speed scanners to create downloadable audio files as well. Check out Kurzweil, Firefly, or TextHelp products that assist with literacy and accessibility.
- Speech-to-Text devices and speech recognition software. In the past, some families may have found speech-to-text devices cost-prohibitive, thought they are becoming much more affordable. The cool thing is that most colleges have items like Dragon Naturally Speaking at the ready as well.
- Notetaking technology apps, and computer software. Some of the most popular items like Sonocent’s Audio Notetaker assist students with day-to-day note taking. Sure, students can often request physical note taker assistants, but most students prefer the independence, as well as all the additional bells and whistles that come with computer or app related programs. In our office, we’ve actually had students brought to tears over their newfound independence from such technology.
- Smart Pen technology. These days smart pens offer much more than simultaneous recording. Smart pens allow for audio recording of lectures, but also simultaneous physical recording of the handwritten notes. If students get stuck while they’re studying their notes, or they forget something the professor said, they can simply choose that portion of their notes and listen to the audio recorded as they were writing. In addition, notes taken from smart pens can now be uploaded into computer files, or word documents. Handwritten notes can be easily converted into word files as well. Take a look at LiveScribe 3!
- Language and Grammar support. Some colleges and universities have software available on their campus computers to assist students in the paper writing and proofing process. At first glance, they may seem like simple spelling or grammar check programs, but often they are much more than that. Some programs check for misspellings or word usage in context, catch repeated phrases, make useful suggestions for sentences and word choice, and more. In fact, many have integrated personalization. One great example is Ginger software.
The bottom line is that most colleges and universities offer a great deal of assistive technology related support for students who qualify. And while many families have struggled to get technology support during their kid’s K12 experience, they won’t have to fight for it in college. Check with any potential college’s disability support office to find out what sort of technology is already available. It’s there! And they want you to use it!
About the author: Dr. Chester Goad
is a university administrator and graduate instructor, a former K12 principal and teacher, former US Congressional staffer, author and blogger. He is co-author of Tennessee's “Dyslexia Is Real" law and has presented on disability and leadership-related topics from Appalachia to Africa. Currently he sits on the Editorial Review Board for the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, and the Board of Directors for the Association on Higher Education and Disability. A leader in education, non-profit advocacy, parenting issues, access and policy, Chester has been quoted in major media outlets such as CNBC, Yahoo, the Washington Post, Forbes Leadership, and others. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, The Good Men Project, and Edutopia. You can learn more about Chester and his Amazon #1 Best Seller at www.purplepeopleleaderbook.com
. He and his wife live in Tennessee with their teenage son.