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Colleges Besieged With Disability Accommodation Requests

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Requests for disability accommodations at college campuses are on the rise, leaving administrators struggling to determine whether or not flexibility is warranted in every case.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, universities are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” for students with disabilities. Often this means allowing those with special needs extra time or a quiet room for exams.

But colleges from New York to Texas are reporting a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of students claiming that they need special accommodations, in many cases due to psychological conditions like depression and bipolar disorder.

And some students are looking for far more than an extra few minutes on a test, asking for extensions on assignment deadlines and forgiveness for missed classes.

That’s leaving university disability offices and professors in a tight spot, trying to distinguish those with legitimate needs from potential opportunists, all while working to ensure that students meet appropriate standards.

“There’s the danger that we take too much care and when they hit the real world that same kind of support isn’t there,” a dean at the University of Wyoming in Laramie told The Wall Street Journal. To read more click here.

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Comments (4 Responses)

  1. landis789 says:

    Well, this was a very interesting article. My son who was a Senior at Marquette University in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He had suffered a severe concussion last November as a result of a mugging on their campus. He was advised to take off a few weeks, but because of Financial Aide he was forced to return to campus and resume classes. Naturally, his GPA fell from 2.7 to a 1.1 the campus texted and emailed ( no calls) my son 3 days before Christmas to inform him that he was being dropped from their program.
    Oh! Did I forget to mention that he has an IEP which is a 504 plan when in college. He has two marked learning disabilities which impact all areas of his academics.
    During his first two years at Marquette all his professors gave him his accommodations which comprised of extended time on tests and written assignments, front row seating and a note taker.
    After the third year in huge financial debt, after his concussion, he was to be expelled from the Business School? He was not given proper notice, his Special Ed Rep. was not in on the meeting, his advisor was not included in this “secret academic committee”. I being his number one advocate wrote a letter protesting that his rights had been violated and was finally able get my son reinstated for the Spring semester. However, was not told that there were stipulations to his returning. They forced my son to sign a contract stating that he was to pass all four classes with the passing grade of 2.0 and not permitted to drop a class should the need arise.
    My son had maintained a high B/C in his classes prior to this injury. Now, he was struggling to pull his grades up after a severe concussion. All faculity was aware of his concussion. My son proceeded to pass all classes except for one. He was denied by a professor numerous times to receive extended time on a written assignment. This professor’s entire class was all written assignments. My son, in many emails and visits to this professor, pleaded for more time due to the subject matter he was writing on. The topic had not enough research written about it, for him to proceed with writing a paper in time to meet the deadline.
    We have emails to document his denial of reasonable accommodations. This professor not only denied extra time, but he took off 25% everyday the paper was late. So, by the end of a four day time extension my son would have failed the class. My son then was forced to drop the class and came out with a 2.4 GPA which according to Marquette was not “enough” progress towards his graduation.
    This time, the college proceeded to notice him up that he was expelled from the University due to poor grades, was a week. He was given one week to write a rebuttal to his expulsion.
    As a result of this late notice my son was unable to secure financial aide granted by the new college he choose to finish his education. He has not been able to recovered financially, or emotionally from what happened to him at Marquette all his friends went on to graduate, he feels like a failure to the point he refused to come home for the holidays for fear of running into his friends. Financially, he has had to assume more debt that weighs on him as he tries to finish his schooling.
    What Marquette did to my son is inexcusable. Reasonable accommodations is a necessity for many students especially now, that these students not only have learning and mental disabilities, but they are more aware of the debt they have acquired and the burdens they have placed in their families.
    I was at Evanston Northwestern Hospital today and the xray tech told me that some of the most tragic cases he has seen this last years are the many Northwestern SUICIDE attempts. The pressure is on these children and we need to do what it takes to support them.

  2. eduadvocate says:

    The article misses the point when it comes to post high school readiness.

    Our free, public education system assumes that everyone will need college to find their place in the world and focuses on that goal, even for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, they ignore the reality that the national average for HS graduation is less than 50% and around 25% in the inner cities for students without disabilities. These kids don’t need college prep, they require skills that they can use in the job market.

    The picture is far worse for people on the Autism Spectrum. Seven years ago, when our Aspie daughter graduated HS, the percentage of AS/HFA who were UNABLE to find and maintain substantial employment that would afford independence as adults was 85 to 87%, including those who earned college degrees. This year the US Dept of Ed revised that up to 95% for Spectrumites who can’t become self supporting and live independently.

    Children on the autism spectrum have deficiencies in the areas of social, life and executive functioning skills. Parents are concerned about the social skills their kids lack, but their future will be determined by how well they can cope with the rigors of every day living and their lack of cognitive skills needed for planning, organizing, working memory, attention, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, initiation and monitoring of actions. Without these abilities, the college experience will not only be a waste of their time and money, it often leads to depression and escape into drugs, drink and the internet, in an attempt to feel good about themselves.

    The Special Ed system is concerned with providing as few services as they can get away with and getting rid of them as soon as possible. IDEA requires the schools to provide students with disabilities an education until the end of the year after they turn 21, because it is understood that more time may be necessary to get them ready to succeed. The schools will accommodate the student whose parents are savvy enough to realize that their child can stay in district for three more years, but rare is the district that will bring it up. IDEA also demands that students receive transition training to prepare them for life after they graduate, from the time they are 14. They ‘meet’ that requirement by planning for the child to be accepted into a college, which is not a real goal, since ‘open enrollment’ insures that anyone can go to college.

    After a school career that included watered down curriculum, all kinds of accommodations and people who take the place of those missing exec function skills, the SpEd student leaves high school on a high, believing that they are able to do as well in college as they were led to think they did in high school. It is not at all unusual for them to follow the pattern of landis789’s son, where they can’t keep up and receive notice of their impending doom just before the Christmas break. His son’s downfall included an injury, but in many cases, it is just one class that becomes a problem. They never faced failure before and don’t know how to overcome their difficulties. They are embarrassed and their self esteem plummets, encouraging them to withdraw from college life, perseverate upon their failure and often stop going to class altogether. They return home and don’t understand what went wrong, so providing parents with a reason is out of the question. The parents respond by demanding they get a job if they can’t handle college, but they are unprepared for that, as well. More failure.

    Research has found that the functional development of many ASDs lags behind their normal, or neurotypical, peers by 1/3 in the areas of their delays. The 6yo ASD will have the social skills of a child of four. At 18, they will act, think, perceive like they are twelve. They may not understand banking, budgeting, shopping or using public transportation. If they had everything done for them, they won’t be able to plan ahead, make and keep schedules or understand what is required when told to straighten their room. And it’s not that they don’t want to do what is expected of them, they just don’t know how. In some cases, the ability is just delayed, but others must be taught and there’s the good news. They can learn and develop coping mechanisms.

    This is where education is missing the boat. They are beginning to realize that the testing that is used now gives the impression that ASDs score 10 to 20 points lower on IQ tests than they would if the tests were less dependent on time and idiomatic speech. Many are able to recall information, so education-lite fails to challenge them and they coast through in a cocoon and never learn how to study.

    It’s time the policies that made education into ‘one size fits all’ are scrapped and replaced with tracks which are appropriate for students’ skill levels. Fewer than 40% of students who enter college ever graduate, so why waste the time and money of those who can’t succeed? People with disabilities should get the skills training throughout their schooling and programs to provide job / career training should be available to anyone who has evidenced that they are not ready or equipped for a post secondary education.

  3. Brenda says:

    It is so difficult to know the balance point in such issues. It is far clearer to determine the physical accessibility of the university setting (which is often problematic despite federal guidelines such as the ADA/ADAAG). 2% of the population will always abuse any policy. However, it takes great strength for students to put themselves out there in such a vulnerable way. When I worked for a disability support office, my job was always to work with students to develop contingency plans, be proactive, and develop real-world solutions that would work far beyond the university environment.

  4. NightRyder says:

    eduadvocate, I have Asperger’s Syndrome and I did not have the problems you say your daughter has. I was pretty much taking care of myself by the time I was 16 because my parents were having their own personal problems. I was a very studious student and got myself through community college and to a university without my parents’ involvement, with the exception of the occasional ride to and from school. I have a physical disability which worked to slow me down a little but never needed more than extended test time until I got to my second year at the university. It was then that my physical disorder progressed and I found myself needing a note taker. The school struggled to provide one and my GPA suffered as a result. Because my physical disability causes weakness in my upper body rather than in my legs, I’m not in a wheelchair, and I found myself constantly battling sentiments by school officials and instructors that there wasn’t anything physically wrong with me and, and an underlying implication that I just wasn’t intellectually cut out for the program, despite the fact that I won academic achievement awards my first term there, and despite having submitted my medical records to them. The only part having Asperger’s Syndrome played in this is I was too trusting of the school to follow their own policies, and federal laws and act in my best interest, and I was too nice to stand up for myself. Now I see I should have just hired a lawyer from the beginning.

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