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Advocating in the Postsecondary Setting

Adult learners taking a classroom testby Analisa Smith, LDA Advocacy Committee

I have worked with individuals with learning disabilities (LD) to teach them how to advocate for themselves for years, almost a decade…but, now my son is in high school and it’s become personal. It is daunting to think about preparing him for what is ahead. I have spent years teaching him how to advocate effectively, through a multitude of settings. Preparation for advocating for himself, and self-identifying, in the postsecondary setting seems hard and somewhat foreign to me. I have gone to all the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings and made sure his teachers followed the plan. I have been to all the psychological meetings. I have followed up endlessly to ensure his IEP goals and objectives were met instructionally and that the accommodations were followed. Throughout everything, I have always believed my son (and all the students I taught) could learn.

Each child grows up and eventually the parent will have to back away when the student with a learning disability enters the postsecondary setting. Parents can no longer be the sole advocate and the student with LD has to advocate for himself/herself. The key is for students with LD to advocate for themselves effectively. Students need to first be aware of themselves. Independent advocacy here comes when you are knowledgeable of your strengths and weaknesses and know how to ask for what you need when you need it. Students with LD must be empowered to be knowledgeable of their independent needs and be taught previously how to ask for what is needed to be successful.

The first step for any student with LD entering the college setting is to meet with the disability coordinator at the college. Each college that receives federal funding will have someone in this position, though the title may differ with each college setting. It is easy to do a search within the college website for disability services to find the correct person to contact, along with contact information. The student with LD will need to provide the disability coordinator with documentation of diagnosis. It is typically helpful to have the previous year’s IEP, any psychological reports, any doctor’s notations, or letters from a physician of a documented disability in hand. The disability coordinator will review the records with the student and help identify accommodations and support services the college/university can provide to help meet the student with LD’s learning needs. Many times it will be up to the student to make individual professors aware of the learning plan each semester. This is called self-identification. A student with LD must self-identify to receive services and must utilize services offered from the college/university.

At times, students with LD will attempt to not use the accommodations that they have or are allowed or do not identify to anyone that assistance is needed. No one can make the student with LD self-identify or use the assistance offered. Some students may fare well and some fail. Time and experience in working with students with LD has demonstrated to me that the most successful are the ones whom are proactive in advocating for their needs and then using the resources and supports made available to them. Students with LD do need to make full use of the services and available, particularly in areas of known academic weakness.

Students with LD also might find it useful to seek out university tutoring services. This can often be included in the disability plan made with the disability coordinator for the college/university. It is important to note that the plan developed for use at the college/university setting is not an IEP, but might include some types of the same academic supports and accommodations. Some accommodations might include tutoring, copies of notes, a scribe, oral testing accommodations, extended time for tests/quizzes and assignments, or electronic or audible textbooks. Another key to success is to talk with professors before a potential issue or difficulty with a course or assignment may arise.

Students with LD will need to be consistent in their efforts to utilize accommodations and supports available. It is possible for the student with LD to experience success at the college/university setting. The most important piece to this success is to be proactive with advocacy from the beginning and carry the efforts of being proactive throughout the academic year. It is critical for the student with LD to do the following:

  1. Know yourself (strengths and weaknesses).
  2. Know which accommodations and learning supports work best with your learning style and do not be afraid to ask for these.
  3. Make sure each professor knows about your disability plan and what you need to be successful. Follow up with professors to make sure they received a copy of the disability plan and ask if there is anything specific or different you need to know to be successful in their class.
  4. Make full use of accommodations, college services, and academic supports available to you through the disability coordinator.

By using the steps outlined above, students with LD should be able to do well in the college/university setting.

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