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College-Bound: What Every Student with Learning Differences Needs to Know

March 13th, 2013

By Samantha Feinman, Director, New Frontiers in Learning

During this time of year, high school juniors and seniors are hard at work preparing for college entrance exams, writing the perfect admissions essay, touring colleges, and eagerly awaiting decision letters from their institutions of choice. While this can be an exciting, yet stressful time for all students, students with learning differences have another level of factors that they need to take into consideration when choosing the right college. It is important for these students to not only consider the skills necessary to set themselves up for success, but to also be aware of the supports available to them at the colleges where they are considering attending.

There are several different factors that differentiate the postsecondary environment from the high school setting that students with learning differences are typically accustomed to; first and foremost, college is not a right, but a privilege. Colleges have the right to choose which applicants they wish to accept, as well as have the right to dismiss students that do not meet the institution’s specific academic and/or behavioral code of conduct. Second, supports for students with disabilities at the postsecondary level fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), rather than the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). While IDEA requires that high schools identify and provide appropriate services to students with disabilities, ADA requires that colleges make reasonable accommodations available to students, such as extra time on exams or a note taker. One of the biggest differences between these two laws is that, while it is the high school’s responsibility to identify and provide appropriate services under IDEA, it is the student’s responsibility at the college level under ADA to seek out supports, as well as provide justification for the need to access such supports. Finally, students typically turn 18 during their transition from high school to college. According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), parents do not have direct access to the students’ educational records as they did when students were in high school. In order for parents to receive information from universities regarding student records, students need to give written permission to the institutions allowing them communicate with parents.

Differences in students’ rights and the law can be overwhelming during the college transition process; however, there are several skill areas that students can develop to increase their chances of success, specifically in the areas of general executive functioning skills, self-monitoring and self-advocacy, and social engagement. Further, there are several factors students with disabilities can consider and several questions they can ask when choosing the right college for their needs.

Executive functioning includes skills such as time management, scheduling, organization, prioritizing, and multitasking. Prior to leaving for college, students should be able to get themselves up in the morning by using an alarm clock. They should learn how to leave themselves enough time to get to appointments, taking into account responsibilities such as showering, eating, and the amount of time it takes to travel to the appointment. Students should learn to use a planner to organize responsibilities, as well as follow and refer back to the planner on a daily basis to keep up with appointments, coursework deadlines, and other responsibilities. In terms of self-monitoring and self-advocacy, students should have a plan in place to inquire about being approved for testing accommodations, as well as have access to the paperwork needed by the college to be approved for such supports. Once approved for accommodations, students need to learn the protocol in how to access the supports, which can be different from school to school. In terms of academic responsibilities, students need to understand that professors may not seek them out when their assignments are late or when they have missed an exam; therefore, students need to proactively check in with their professors to make sure that they are on track with their work and in good academic standing in each of their courses. Regarding social engagement and communication, students can practice identifying social cues, as well as how to respond appropriately in a variety of social situations with professors and peers. For those students living on campus, they should also investigate the different housing options, as well as be prepared for the pros and cons that come along with living with a roommate.

When students are investigating colleges, most take into account the type of campus (e.g., rural vs. urban, size of campus, etc.), the types of degrees and academic programs offered, and living arrangements (e.g., living in housing vs. commuting) when making their final decision. Students with learning differences need to consider these types of factors but also may have additional concerns in terms of access to academic, social engagement, and/or career development supports. Some questions to consider reviewing with the colleges during this decision making process are:

  1. What is the process for obtaining accommodations?
  2. Do they offer priority registration to students with disabilities?
  3. What types of tutoring are available on campus and for what subjects? How often can students access tutoring and what is the process to receive such services?
  4. What kinds of counseling services are available? How does a student access the services?
  5. What are the housing options offered (e.g., themed floors, quiet floors, medical single, etc.)?
  6. What clubs, events, and activities are offered?
  7. What kinds of career services are available?

Finally, sometimes the services that the college has available may not be enough to help assist the student in the transition from high school to college. It is important to also identify outside programs, agencies, and other resources that may be helpful in supporting the students on the road to college success. With the right balance of support students with learning differences can make strides towards success at the post-secondary level and beyond.

Samantha Feinman is the Director of New Frontiers in Learning (www.nfil.net), a high school and college support program for students with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, and related learning differences. New Frontiers brings services directly to students in high schools and colleges in the Westchester and New York City areas, allowing students to apply for and attend colleges based on their plan of study or personal campus preferences. For more information, please contact Samantha at (646)558-0085 or sfeinman@nfil.net.This article was originally posted on www.specialeducationadvisor.com.

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Wheelchair Accessible Taxi App Available in New York City

March 7th, 2013

People needing a wheelchair-accessible taxi in New York City will now find it easier to find one.  Accessible Dispatch is a new service available by phone, Internet or mobile app.

Accessible Dispatch is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout Manhattan.  Upon notification, a wheelchair-accessible taxi is dispatched to your location immediately.  Advanced reservations are not required, but they are accepted.

A taxi may be booked by calling 311.  You may also call in or text a request to 646-599-9999, book online at www.accessibledispatch.com/book, or use the mobile app, WOW Taxi (Wheels on Wheels).

Once the system receives your request, it locates the nearest available wheelchair-accessible taxi, all of which are equipped with GPS tracking.  The request is sent to the taxi’s data terminal for the driver to accept the request and proceed to the location.  If the closest driver does not accept the request within two minutes, the request automatically switches to the next-closest driver until an available cab is found.

The fare is the same as for any other taxi in New York City.  Accessible Dispatch pays the driver for the travel time to the pick-up location.  Drivers are trained in ADA requirements, customer service etiquette, and safety protocols for boarding and de-boarding with wheelchairs, scooters, and service animals.

Accessible Dispatch is a service operated by Metro Taxi, a Connecticut taxi company that brought the first wheelchair-accessible cabs to that state.

For more information about our special needs legal services, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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Five Ways to Recognize Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month

March 6th, 2013

By Marion M. Walsh, Esq.

March represents Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. According to the Center for Disease Control, the prevalence of developmental disabilities, in the past twelve years, has increased.

The term Developmental Disabilities encompasses a diverse group of severe chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments. People with developmental disabilities have problems with major life activities such as language, mobility, learning, self-help, and independent living.  Developmental disabilities can begin anytime during development up to 22 years of age and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.  Diagnoses include ADHD, Autism, Developmental delays, Learning disabilities, Cerebral Palsy, and many other disabilities.

Approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States has a developmental disability. Indeed, the prevalence has increased 17.1% from 1997 to 2008. The prevalence of autism has increased an astounding 289.5% in this time period.   Clearly, this data shows the increasing need for awareness, health, education and social services for people with developmental disabilities. Future research should focus on understanding the genetic and environmental causes, the known risk factors and the benefits of early intervention and school and home services.

Developmental disabilities can affect anyone. The conditions affect all socioeconomic groups and all regions of the United States. Males face greater risks and had twice the prevalence of any developmental disabilities than females and more specifically had higher prevalence of ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, stuttering/stammering and other disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, first codified in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Act, guarantees to every child with a disability a free appropriate public education.   Congress enacted the IDEA with the highest priority for students with the most profound disabling conditions. Every public school district in the United States must abide by this mandate to identify and serve students with disabilities.

Here are five ways you can recognize Developmental Disabilities month:

  1. Advocate for a Child. With 1 in 6 children having a developmental disability, chances are, everyone knows a child with a developmental disability.  Speak up for a child you know and do not be afraid to help a struggling parent.  Whether the child is your own, a relative or a good friend, take the time to explain to those who can make a difference.   Most children with these types of disabilities cannot advocate for themselves and need a strong voice and someone in their corner.   In most cases, school districts want to help and do the right thing but may not fully understand a child’s needs or believe that meager services are appropriate.
  2. Use the Right Language. Before speaking about children with developmental disabilities, please use the right language.   While seemingly a small step, language defines us and makes a difference.   In the regard, this Wednesday represents   “Spread the Word to End the Word” Day to expunge the word “retarded: from our vocabulary. Use the term intellectual disability, not the R word.   New York State has in fact changed its definition of classification categories from MR to intellectual disability. Also, when describing people with disabilities generally, use the condition after the person, to indicate that the individual comes first (Child with autism, not autistic child; child with deafness, not a deaf child).  Use the term emotional disability, not emotional disturbance.
  3. Volunteer. Many groups in your area offer help and services to children with developmental disability.  Most need help and volunteering makes a difference.
  4. Offer Support and Understanding to Someone Struggling.  Sometimes people are afraid to say anything to cause embarrassment to a parent of a child with a disability who is struggling. Offering support in a general sense is always helpful.
  5. Don’t Judge Others. On the other hand, offering judgmental words for parents is not helpful. If you see a child acting out in a public place, do not always assume parents or the child have control.

For more information about special education advocacy and special needs planning, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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