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This paper explores some of the barriers students with learning disabilities face while attending college. The research will examine some of the hindrances a student encounters with professors, peers, themselves, and Student Disability Services. There are three peer reviewed articles cited, expounded ideas from class notes, personal experience related, and correlation from these sources that are used to identify ways to bridge the gap between students, universities, profes-sors, and Student Disability Services. This information may be used to help bring knowledge of difficulties, ways to cope with the setbacks, clarifying the need for such research, and aid to erase stigmas.
Relationships Between Students Having Learning Disabilities and Professors is Vital
Many students attending college have diagnosed learning disabilities. The learning disa-bility itself is less cumbersome to deal with than what is in store for a student when they ask their educators to help them with accommodations for these learning disabilities. What challenges do students face after the question for help has been asked? What attitudes are reflected from their peers and professors during this plea for help? What support systems are in place or what sup- port systems may be needed to ensure a student gets the assistance necessary for them to suc-ceed? Are there hindrances both internally and externally to a student, a professor, or within the current systems being utilized? These are some of the matters I would like to delve into while contemplating ways to implement new ideas, erase old ideas, or modify existing ideas to make certain students are not overlooked because of a personal setback they may have little or no con-
There are many adversarial predicaments awaiting students as they embark on a college education for the first time. Questions within a student arise as decisions are being made while settling in for the first semester. Will the student be able to adjust to campus, dorms, libraries, classes, requirements from professors, find ample transportation, finance school, acquire a job, discover time for a social life, make new friends, navigate the city, and meet the various de-mands of academia? Do these students have the mental toughness, emotional command, and spiritual health crucial to accomplish the new aims set before them? Do these students have backing from family, friends, peers, or church to hearten them through the arduous times ahead? Will they be problem solvers, task masters, or movers and shakers? Will they have favor with a professor, supervisor, or residential director? Undoubtedly these are but a few of the barriers both internally and externally they will tackle. All of these matters in one form or another will be answered. Many of them may already have the essential attention required. Ultimately the
seeds that were planted during childhood and puberty, while setting the stage for adulthood, will in due course make that determination for the students.
Now pertaining to students who will be facing this undertaking and all the more to those muddling through additional trials in the form of a learning disability. It is my reflection from obtaining knowledge in relation to these types of challenges through peer reviewed journals and personal experience, these unique students are challenged at a distinct level because of the learn-ing disability. Accommodations from any university could be fine-tuned more suitably for the student, so tasks are less taxing, so both student and professor are doing well as a rule. Students involve the professor after class or meet at the professors office to present their case for accom-modation needed to complete the course. By the time a student has reached this point in college, they have already visited a doctor more than once to acquire documentation and clarity to man-age their learning disability. The earlier a student finds out in their academic career they have a learning disability, the more time they have to resolve the new issues that will turn up. Even af-ter grasping these facts, "it appears that only a minority of college students with learning disabil-ities utilize academic support services available to them. This is of concern, as college students with learning disabilities demonstrate significantly poorer academic adjustment to the college setting than their non-learning disability peers." (H. M. Hartman-Hall, D. A. F. Haaga, 2002). Now why would any college student, with a documented learning disability, not pursue avail-able accommodations so their college studies may be more successful than without any addi-tional help? A fragment of the answer lies in part to the individual's uncertainty to take a ven-ture in asking for help in public, especially if public sentiment is lacking. People like to see results explicably. A learning disability is something internal and gradually becomes clearer as time lapses. Skepticism from others contributes to disinclination for seeking help. Having a learning disability places someone at a disadvantage because a tendency is to have an inferior perception of potential and a student may be self conscious which stifles their draw for support. Sensitivity has much to do with how an individual may reach out for assistance. If the early thought process is fostered in a way that is comforting and not confronting, then the student stands a better chance to thrive.
"Students with disabilities face multiple barriers in pursuing and succeeding in postsec-ondary education. Some of these barriers include gaps in services and supports between K-12 public schools and in postsecondary settings; and negative or inaccurate attitudes and perceptions among faculty regarding the capabilities of students with disabilities in postsecondary settings." (C. Murray, A. Lombardi, C. T. Wren, and C. Keys, 2009). A number of advantages and support to students that have learning disabilities are extended test times, note takers, private rooms for testing that may monitored by a person or camera, tutors, helps with reading materials providing larger print, or various media utilities. Unmistakably from administrative relief down to students doing their part, features are in place to help them improve.
Regrettably another problem the student is constrained to permeate is the impartiali-ty of a professor. "Results demonstrated that the response a student receives to a request for as-sistance or accommodation for a learning disability, particularly from a professor, likely affects the student's willingness to seek help in the future." (H. M. Hartman-Hall, D. A. F. Haaga, 2002). Caution should be put into effect when a professor is approached by a student for benefit in this way. Each students condition, no matter how similar it may be to a professors back-ground of encountering learning disabilities in the past, is inimitable and separate from them all. "Data pertaining specifically to students with learning disabilities indicate that these young adults are less likely than those with speech-language impairments, hearing impairments, visual impairments and orthopedic impairments to attend four-year colleges and universities." (C. Mur-ray, A. Lombardi, C. T. Wren, and C. Keys, 2009). Is it plausible these impairments are more observable than the learning disabilities, so they are anticipated to hail conjecture from profes-sors? Measurably it is easier to write a policy than put into action its rationale. Sure there are laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the Rehabilitation Act, but employ-ing them is another undertaking.
Professor Perry A. Zirkel took cynicism a bit further in evaluating the proportional change of students seeking accommodations at a much higher rate than in the past. Professor Zirkel found something he felt mind boggling, "Compared with other freshman in1998, those who were listed as learning disabled had, on average, a significantly higher parental income and were, more often, white. Risk factors for disabilities are usually connected with poverty, not wealth. The recent findings have led many observers to question if these students are truly learn-ing disabled." (P. A. Zirkel, 2000). Professor Zirkel goes on to say that this is possible because the specifics defining learning disabilities are loosely written in the laws. Therefore student's parents and in many cases their attorneys approach the schools in an intimidating manner. Schools back off their inclination to sometimes lessen or deny accommodations if there are doubts to the students authenticity. This is done to thwart possibility of lawsuits, degradation of a school's reputation, or lacking resources to further challenge a particular case.
At first glance and being a student who receives accommodations, I felt Professor Zirkel lacked a sympathetic, ethical, and professional attitude from one who teaches at a high level of learning. If a student desires to use authentic, validated documentation their college of choice deems satisfactory, then it does not matter what anyone else feels is adequate. It is not difficult to comprehend when a student with a learning disability senses negative feedback from a profes-sor, naturally the student seeks less assistance from the academic world and gradually becomes less forthright towards education in the future. I was once singled out by a professor while the professor handed out graded exams. The professor was ill advised and told the class that the graded exams for students with disabilities were on one side of her desk and the graded exams for students without disabilities was on the other side of her desk. Absurd! A crux in seeking help is to not be singled out, especially in class. It should not have happened, but did and contin-ues to throughout our colleges and universities on a daily basis. Most students that are victims in this manner write it off and state, "I am used to it." or "It happens every year."
Do the majority of professors have a general knowledge on Student Disability Ser-
vices? Probably. Would professors who made it a point each year to find out what is currently expected of them on behalf of students with learning disabilities, reach more of the students so they are not averse to getting help? Most likely. There are aids available to professors, support services, students, and anyone interested. These come in the form of websites, workshops, courses, surveys, and taking initiative. Professor Zirkels study is good because it brought disclo-sure to the students most needing help even though I did not care for his motive behind it. Do most professors heed concerns like this while going over the syllabus each semester even though it tends to be no more than checking off a shopping list? I would hope so. Certainly there are hindrances within the system, biases contribute to this. Students need to pursue more vigorously what is available to them so Student Disability Services and professors can meet together in a way that benefits all involved. Students in these cases would do well to be solution oriented and less defensive. A student with specific goals in mind, weighing means to achieve these goals, having passion to obtain the goals, needing to evaluate progress from time to time, and not wavering from the goal set before them, should in all likelihood be successful.