Can you tell us a bit about your history and personal experience attending college with a learning disability?
Attending a traditional four-year college was not an initial goal of mine. I had so much difficulty graduating from high school that I did not see a college degree as something attainable. I did apply to Landmark College, which is a college that specializes in teaching students who learn differently. Landmark College ended up being the only college I was accepted to in the fall of 2011. Even though the college I ended up attending was made for students with learning disabilities, the course work was by no means easy. I still had to complete 20+ page papers, internships, and capstone projects. I received my AA in general studies from Landmark in 2014, then my bachelor's degree in the liberal arts with a minor in communications.
What do you tell other students who don't believe they can attend college with a disability?
Each individual with a learning disability not only learns differently, but perceives their actual abilities differently based on how others treat them. I have found that most students with learning disabilities think they are stupid, when that is far from the truth. I have a lot of difficulty with reading, writing, and decoding. Through attending college, I found a system of active reading that makes my learning disability feel like less of a burden. Through my own experiences, I truly believe that any individual, regardless of their past academic abilities, can graduate from college when given the proper tools.
What are some common misconceptions about disabilities and education?
I find that most often that professors in higher level education or high school teachers see accommodations given to students with learning disabilities as 'cheating' or 'unfair' to neurotypical students. The accommodations that LD students are given allow them to be taught how to learn in a way that I best for them, not change the difficulty of what they learn -- I think most people forget that.
Should students be up-front with universities about their disability during the application process? Or is this something students should bring up after they have been accepted and plan to attend that university?
It is different for each student based on what their preference is. A university or college cannot deny acceptance to a student based on a disability, but they can deny acceptance based on grades. Since I cannot be denied acceptance based on my disability, I choose to wait until I have been accepted to then ask for accommodations with the proper documentation available.
If so, what are some strategies you have seen students successfully use to address their disability with universities during the application process?
I do urge students to look into what accommodations can be offered by the college's disability service center prior to applying. This will give them a better understanding of what types of accommodations the college offers and if they offer the types of support that the student needs.
If you could give one piece of advice to students with a disability applying to college, what would it be?
Research colleges early, take time with the applications, ask as many questions as you want, and find out what accommodations can be offered. Most importantly, do not be afraid of not being accepted. Many people, including those without LDs, are not accepted to all the colleges they apply to. You will find a college or university that is the right fit for you.
As a student with a learning disability, how do you suggest a student addresses stigmas that may be associated with learning disabilities on a college campus?
My favorite is when people say, “Well you don't look disabled, so why do you get accommodations?” I think people forget that a learning disability makes learning new material much more challenging, which is why accommodations are needed. However, those accommodations do not mean that an individual with a learning disability is unteachable or dumb; it just takes some extra effort to get to the same point as our neurotypical peers.
What did you find the most important attributes or characteristics a student with disabilities should consider when selecting a university and why?
The college's disability service center accommodations, advisors' availability, and professors' willingness to work with each student's needs.
If a student does a campus tour, what are features they should be looking for? What are some questions they should consider asking?
In terms of their academics, they should be looking for quiet study areas and work spaces, whether they are designated work spaces or possibly the library. They should also pay attention to dorm quiet hours if they complete homework in their room, assistive technology availability, average class size, student-to-teacher ratio, tutoring availability, and whether or not there is a writing support center.
Where can students seek help/advice if an issue does arise?
In terms of academics, ask your professor for assistance and look into tutoring or other support services. For overall disability services, go straight to the disability resource center on campus, they are there to help you. You can also reach out to your advisor with questions.
What are ways students can start to build a long-distance support system if they attend college away from friends or family?
I regularly scheduled Skype sessions with friends and family. I also looked to my advisor for help finding on campus support through clubs and student services. Students have to be willing to look outside their comfort zone for support and be their own advocate for their needs.
Rachel BrownGraduate Student
My name is Rachel Brown and I grew up in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. At 10 years old I was diagnosed with ADHD and an unspecified learning disorder which affects my reading, writing, and decoding. Since my learning disability affects my ability to use, learn, and understand written language, any process that involves those skills takes me longer to complete than my neurotypical peers. Even through all of the struggles, I did manage to graduate from college. I graduated from Landmark College in the spring of 2016 with my bachelor's degree in the liberal arts with a minor in communications. I am currently working at a small public high school in New England as an admissions specialist and I am working towards my master's degree in communications from Southern New Hampshire University.