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Suesan HarperHelp On Campus for Adults with Reading Disabilities

by Suesan Harper

Going back to college is an exciting, and often scary, challenge for you if you are an adult student re-entering the halls of academia after years of being out of school. Often, all the studying and frequent writing assignments that are so common to college work bring to light that you have a reading difficulty, such as dyslexia, which up to this point you have not noticed or it has not interfered that much with your daily life.

Such a discovery does not have to mean the end of your dream of obtaining a college degree, however. Fortunately, reading and other learning disabilities are more readily supported in today’s colleges and universities.

This support comes largely motivated by several pieces of federal legislation, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and, more recently, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which mandated that institutions of higher education provide equal access to programs and services for students with learning disabilities. As a result, colleges and universities have stepped back and re-evaluated the support services they provide, if any, to students, and have made the necessary changes to ensure they are within federal guidelines.

According to ERIC (the Educational Resources Information Center), in a 1995 survey conducted by the American Association for Community Colleges (AACC), 80 percent of all community colleges responding to the survey had a formal Disability Support Service Office. These support centers are also springing up in colleges and universities across the United States, with one of the best and first being Boston University's Office of Disability Services.

The services provided by these university support centers can range from assessment, advising, tutoring, special courses, providing adaptive equipment, and testing accommodations in support of your disability. According to
Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders, colleges can offer specific comprehensive programs designed for students with learning disabilities or they can offer special
services to such students but not have specific programs in place.

Many students find it helpful to have full testing by a licensed diagnostician before approaching their college for services.

Once such adult student from suburban Philadelphia, Beth*, learned firsthand the benefits of a private disability assessment. Returning to college at age 28, Beth struggled for five years going part-time in the evening school at a
private four-year college.

“I knew something was wrong because I was having a harder time reading the assignments, especially in my English and Philosophy classes,” Beth said. “I just happened to meet this lady who works with adults who have reading
disabilities. She had heard me talking in church one Sunday about how tough college was getting for me with all the reading and writing assignments. I had mostly taken math and business classes before. And my job doesn’t require much reading at all, it’s mostly working with numbers. So I had never noticed this problem before then. Anyway, the coach suggested I meet with a reading
specialist who could test me for reading differences.”

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