Help on Campus for Adults with Reading Disabilities

Help 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.”

Beth scheduled a diagnostic appointment with a licensed reading specialist/psychologist, who administered to Beth a series of specialized reading, writing, numerical and memory tests over a period of two days. Beth was diagnosed with severe dyslexia.

“Finally, after all these years, and being told over and over by my high school counselors that I was dumb and would never be able to go to college,” Beth reports, “I knew what was going on.”

As part of the assessment, the specialist provided Beth with a written detailed report, including detailed diagnosis, and recommendations for learning support services. These recommendations were tailored for Beth’s college setting and included guidelines for testing and assignments.

“I took the doctor’s report to the evening school’s director and met with her, outlining the recommendations. As a result, all of my professors were required to provide me with their class outlines four weeks before classes started so I would have time to get the textbooks on tape from the Philadelphia Public Library or the Dyslexia Association,” Beth said. “I was allowed to tape record my classes. Also, the college assigned me a proctor and was required to allow me to take my exams separate from the class. I would schedule a time to meet my proctor at the evening school’s offices, usually a day or two before the exam was given to the class. Then the proctor would read me the test questions and I would have a certain amount of time to type the answers into the computer, using a word processing program. I also had the choice to tape record my answers if I felt I couldn’t write out my answers, because sometimes when I’m tense my disability really kicks in and I can’t even type.”

Beth also worked with the private reading and writing coach once a week. Two years later, after years of going to college two nights a week, Beth graduated with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration degree.

“I couldn’t have done it without first having the diagnosis and report, and second, having the support of both the college and my private coach,” Beth said. “And they said I could never do it,” she adds with a mischievous smile, as she proudly points to her specially framed and matted college diploma in her living room.
Additional Resources

Peterson’s Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorders, by Peterson’s Guides. Lists more than 1,000 two-year and four-year colleges and universities that have either comprehensive programs or special services for students with learning disabilities. Includes CD-ROM and Quick Reference Chart.

LD Online.

Learning Disabilities Online provides information on learning disabilities and treatment, a newsletter, and online forums. See also LD Resources.

International Dyslexia Association .
The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) helps individuals with dyslexia, their families and the communities that support them. See also The Dyslexia Center (provides solutions to reading, writing, and attention problems.

Adults With Learning Disabilities.
Looks at definitions of learning disabilities, the experiences of adults with LD, factors influencing their successful adjustment to adult life, and strategies for educators and counselors.

Success in College for Adults with Learning Disabilities.
Information on self advocacy, legislation, choosing a college, and available services and programs.

* Name has been changed to protect privacy. Suesan Harper is a Personal Resource Coach and Writer who specializes in reading, writing, and personal coaching. She has a Master’s in English Linguistics from the University of Cincinnati and is a trained personal coach. She can be reached online through The Writers Cottage.