Enrollment boom of students
with disabilities creates growing pains for students, faculty
"You have to succeed," San Francisco State University professor
Paul Longmore recalled his sixth grade special-education teacher saying
as she "mainstreamed" him into a seventh grade classroom. "If
you don't, they won't provide the opportunity for other students like you."
Longmore, now 51, talked about his challenges as a student with disabilities
in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.
Some four decades later-even after the 1973 Rehabilitation Act and the
1990 Americans with Disabilities Act-students with learning disabilities
at Emory and nationwide are encountering some of the same challenges Longmore
faced in his pioneering efforts. Namely, they are struggling to gain acceptance
in some quarters for their right to attend college and receive a "regular"
education. On a more basic level, they're grappling with the complex logistics
of accommodating their needs inside and outside the classroom.
A survey by the American Council on Education found the number of college
students with disabilities tripled from 1978 to 1994, and students with
learning disabilities were the fastest growing category. In 1988, those
who identified themselves as blind or visually impaired made up 32 percent
of college students with disabilities and students with learning disabilities
comprised 15 percent; by 1994 the numbers were 22 percent and 32 percent,
In almost four years, Emory has gone from 60 students citing disabilities
to 400. "Of those 400 who have self-identified," said Equal Opportunity
Programs Director Bob Ethridge, "about 70 percent have learning disabilities."
The types of conditions that typically affect students' ability to process
and retain information include attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia,
memory and comprehension disorders as well as visual and hearing impairments.
Services targeted by Ethridge's office to accommodate students with learning
disabilities include, but are not limited to, priority registration, classroom
notetakers, taped textbooks and lectures, enlarged print or Braille books,
real-time captioning, sign language interpreting and alternative testing.
Students must self-identify as having a learning disability to receive
these or other services. The process of self-identifying requires the student
to provide appropriate documentation as outlined by The Office of Disability
Services and Compliance (DSC). That includes an assessment by a qualified
psychologist or other health care professional to determine whether the
student has a disability, the scope of the disability and the services needed
to facilitate learning. "Any faculty who think students can just claim
to have a disability and we accept that are wrong," said Ethridge.
Tricia Jacob, coordinator of student services in the DSC, works with
students at the beginning of every semester to create individualized service
plans detailing their special needs.
Accommodating learning disabled students takes planning and a little
extra effort, said Jacob. The late syllabus or back-ordered textbook that
merely frustrates typical college students can spell disaster for their
learning disabled peers. Jacob needs as much lead time as possible to obtain
Braille and large-print editions of texts or hire readers to record books,
weekly handouts and reserve reading.
Creating the best learning environment
Encephalitic meningitis in the eighth grade left SGA representative Ryan
Rudominer '00 with difficulties comprehending text. "I'd read a book,
and it really didn't mean anything," he said. While he's slowly conquering
the lingering effects of his illness, the political science major says taped
texts have been of great benefit. "It helps to read along and hear
[the words] too," he said.
But providing these services to students in a timely manner can be difficult.
This semester Jacob and an assistant-shared with Employment and Physical
Access Services-are coordinating reading services for more than 100 classes.
She started requesting syllabi in November but by the semester's beginning
had fewer than 10 percent in hand. What's more, the process of putting books
and lessons on tape can take weeks, especially if professors and students
are slow in getting information to her.
"Even though professors can be flexible and accommodating, saying
to students, 'Don't worry, I know you'll be behind,' it limits their ability
to participate in classroom discussion," Jacob said. Sometimes students
have to catch up on several weeks' reading, she said.
Rebecca Katz-Doft appreciates the tremendous effort made by Jacob but
feels DSC is understaffed. A sophomore with multiple physical disabilities
and a vision impairment, Katz-Doft said the fact that her parents live near
campus has helped her succeed in school. They've spent lots of time enlarging
text for her and bought a special machine that magnifies copy for her dorm
room. Still, she said, "My being able to participate and do well in
college should not depend on my parents."
Katz-Doft, who spoke of her frustrations at length at a recent University
Senate meeting and who founded the Disability Services and Compliance student
group, said students call her every day with complaints. "And lots
of professors still won't comply with service plans," she said.
Many professors chafe at what they perceive as preferential treatment
for students with disabilities, particularly concessions such as extended
testing periods, private testing rooms and alternative test formats. Many
are left "wondering if the integrity of the course is being compromised"
by these concessions to students with learning disabilities, Ethridge said.
"Faculty feel they have more at stake in the sense of trying to be
fair to [all] students."
And some simply don't understand why students with high GPAs and test
scores need extra help. Ethridge said faculty members have asked him, "How
do [these students] get into this institution in the first place?"
"We need to move beyond that," Ethridge stressed. "These
are excellent students who must be accommodated in order to demonstrate
their excellence." The tools for learning disabled students are no
different than wheelchair ramps or accessible bathrooms, advocates say.
They just take barriers out of students' way.
Professors who don't understand this "aren't bad people, but unfamiliar
with ways to provide for students with disabilities," said Rudominer.
Like Katz-Doft, he has found himself an increasingly vocal advocate for
Emory's students with disabilities. Preparing a run for SGA vice president,
Rudominer said, "If I'm elected, this issue is going to be on the table
immediately." His plans include information sessions for faculty, mentoring
programs for students and perhaps a few rallies to get the campus community
At last month's Faculty Council meeting, theology professor David Pacini,
chair of an ad hoc subcommittee formed to address teaching students with
disabilities, announced three key issues. The subcommittee is looking into
ways faculty can identify students who might have undiagnosed learning disabilities,
the creation of an academic resource person to coordinate the needs of students
with disabilities, and a faculty information program. Pacini's subcommittee
hopes to bring a resolution to the Faculty Council for consideration by
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of students, faculty and Disability
Services and Compliance to make sure all students are given an equal opportunity
to learn and succeed at Emory, said Jacob. "It takes all three to be
effective and efficient."
to February 16, 1998 Contents Page