Academic accommodations help University of Iowa students with disabilities get over obstacles in learning

Academic accommodations help University of Iowa students with disabilities get over obstacles in learning

Finding the right college or university is a challenge for every student. This challenge becomes even more daunting for students with learning disabilities (LDs). Even academic institutions are found struggling because LDs are considered “non-apparent disabilities” due to the absence of outward signs. Although federal law mandates American colleges and universities to offer certain services for students with LDs, only the bare minimum assistance and accommodations are provided.

The University of Iowa’s (UI) Student Disability Services (SDS) aims to “level the playing field” for students with disabilities by providing academic allowances to eligible individuals. UI provides accommodations for students with LDs, brain injuries, medical, psychological (depression, anxiety) disorders and physical disabilities. According to Mark M. Harris, director of SDS, although certain disabilities may be obvious to others, 96 percent of these are invisible.

The intention behind providing accommodations to students with LDs is to eliminate potential obstacles to learning and not to give anyone an unfair advantage. “We want each student to be able to perform based on factors other than their disability,” said Harris. According to him, SDS tries to account for the impact of the disability, whatever form it may be in, so that the success or failure of the student is based on efforts which are similar to other students without disabilities.

Learning disabilities may slow down information processing

Harris pointed out that in certain students with LDs, the ability to process information may be slower than their peers. To overcome this barrier, he mentioned the importance of allowing “extra time for an exam” so that affected students can be evaluated fairly. In the absence of such an accommodation, the assessment would reflect their reduced skills of processing information rather than their proficiency in a specific subject matter. “It’s a question of fairness,” said Harris.

Some of the SDS accommodations offered included taking exams in low-distraction settings, more time duration to attempt the exams and getting help for class notes. Foreign language courses can be particularly tough for students who process information slower than their peers due to their LDs. In such cases, students were given opportunities to enroll in alternative classes which could help them fulfill the requirements of the language course.

Students may be unaware of other available accommodations, like the permission to audio record a class and the availability of textbooks in other formats, including etexts that can be understood using the text-to-speech software, after showing the original proof of purchase for the text. Unknown to many students, such software is available free of cost to all UI students, even to those who are eligible for such accommodations. SDS also offers Read & Write Gold, a literacy software with the relevant support tools.

Significance of academic allowances

Poor academic performance is an immense burden since it affects every aspect of a student’s experience. According to Harris, academic allowances can gradually help a student going downhill, to become stable, and then improve. This consequently boosts their self-esteem and confidence. Harris believed that this can prove to be a “game-changer” for students.

Students who have benefited from accommodations would like to see others becoming aware of the services and use them if they are struggling. There has been a 117 percent increase in the use of SDS over the last five years, from 508 in 2012 to 1,104 in 2017. The increase is being attributed to people having a better understanding of these disabilities, getting diagnosed and treated, and asking for help.

Dealing with learning disabilities

There are wide variations in the estimates of Americans with LDs, possibly due to variations in diagnosis requirements across U.S. states. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) previously found that in 2014-15, the number of children and youth aged 3-21 receiving special education services was 6.6 million (13 percent) of all public school students. Of these, 35 percent students had a specific learning disability. Other research, including a major national study, found lower estimates.

Just like brain injuries and medical and physical disabilities can be treated with intervention, psychological disabilities like depression, anxiety disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also require timely professional help to ensure that a student suffering from these gets a fair chance at academics. White River Academy is the leading boarding school for learning differences. It provides treatment and care for boys with learning disabilities through a disciplined and personalized education program. Contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online with a trained specialist for more information on the best learning disability boarding school for boys aged 12-17 in the U.S.

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