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14August2015

Applicants who are disabled should check for special accomdation

by Orginally Published in The Hindustan Times Education Supplement

Academic accommodation for learning differences

 

Most would agree that the topic of learning differences is not commonly acknowledged or openly discussed in India. Hopefully the success of popular films like Tare Zameen Par have helped to open up the conversation somewhat, but I also want to do my part by raising the issue of academic accommodation for students with learning differences. These can range from dyslexia, dysgraphia, attention deficit disorder, and other learning issues (see http://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/ for a list of the most common) and they range in severity. It is important to acknowledge that no learning difference is too insignificant. Every child should have the chance to succeed.

 

If you are a student who requires academic accommodation, the most important first step is obtaining a reliable evaluation. Consult your pediatrician, local hospital, a psychiatrist or even your school to find the resources for evaluation of learning differences. These entities can often suggest further resources for intervention therapies or other remedial assistance with whom you can work to manage the problem. But most importantly, they can provide a professional evaluation and diagnosis needed for the purposes of academic accommodation. Once you have the evaluation, you can then apply for the required accommodation. Because each student’s case is unique, the accommodation granted will be different – for example, a student who is visually impaired will require tests in braille, while a student with dyslexia might require a reader for his or her test.

 

Accommodation can be given for international board exams and should also be granted by your school for internal assessments and tests. Work with your school to make sure these accommodations are arranged. Ideally, though it is not always the case in India, every school should have an administrator who is responsible for handling all cases of students who need academic accommodation for any case. This person may be required to submit requests on a student’s behalf or act as a liaison with testing agencies.

 

Once it comes time to apply for college, students who want to study abroad may be required to take standardized test such as the ACT, SAT or TOEFL. All of these agencies have well-documented processes for requesting special testing accommodation. However it is crucial to understand that these requests must be made six to seven months ahead of time and that they require ample documentation to grant a request. Recently I attended a conference where an SAT representative explained that 85% of requests are granted once proper procedures are followed.

 

Testing accommodation is wide ranging and can include extra time or assistance during the test, provision of a reader or a writer. For blind students the test is prepared and administered in braille. And for students with physical disabilities the testing space will offer appropriate seating for wheelchair or other requirements. Diabetic students will be granted breaks as needed to eat. The list goes on. In one extreme case the SAT accommodated a student undergoing cancer treatment by administering her test in the hospital. So as you can see there is no limit to what a testing agency might do to accommodate a test taker if appropriate steps are taken to document and request it. I recently worked with a student who realized, after giving a few of the exams, that she had a problem, but by the time she started getting the problem documented and then submitting to the testing agency, it was too late. She could not be accommodated before her applications were due.

 

For higher education, academic accommodation for learning disabilities goes beyond testing to help students once the reach college campuses. US colleges are required by law to offer equal opportunity and access to for students with disabilities, and international students are covered by the legal provisions of the American’s with Disabilities Act that governs these practices. If you’re a student heading to the US to study and you have a physical or learning challenge, look into these laws to understand the accommodations that are offered.

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