More students with learning disabilities applying to colleges

| Contributing Reporter

Over the past several years, Washington University has seen a significant increase in the number of enrolled students with learning disabilities, in line with national trends.

According to a recent article from the Wall Street Journal, the number of students with learning disabilities applying to colleges this fall is five times the number in the 1980s.

In 2001, the University began to see an increase of students with non-apparent learning disabilities. According to Cornerstone’s Assistant Director of Disability Resources Christine Street, that increase is starting to level off this year.

Street attributes the increase partly to improvements in teaching students with learning disabilities within the K-12 educational system.

Students who utilize disability resources at Cornerstone have just as much opportunity to succeed and excel in the college environment as any other student, Street said. However, even with the availability of resources, students may still face a difficult adjustment depending on the kinds of support they received in high school.

“We see students with disabilities generally mirror the student population,” Street said. “We have students with disabilities who are doing great—graduating with honors—and we have students that are struggling, just like the rest of the student population.”

The college admissions process does not require students to declare their learning disabilities. Even when students do choose to declare their learning disabilities, laws forbid colleges to discriminate based on their disabilities.

Colleges are still not required to alter their admissions process for these students, however.

“Students are admitted to the University blindly,” Street said.

Only after they are admitted do they contact and approach Cornerstone and Disability Resources, and even then, the services are entirely optional.

Cornerstone serves students with a wide range of disabilities, including physical disabilities, non-apparent disabilities such as AHDH, ADD and mental health illnesses and other chronic medical conditions.

Although resources are offered at Cornerstone, students with disabilities may not be as well accommodated elsewhere on campus.

According to Street, due to the different nature of college classes, not all students who qualified for accommodations in high school will receive accommodations in college.

In order to receive accommodations, students must complete a comprehensive battery of psycho-educational tests and be able to demonstrate that their disability inhibits their learning.

Accommodations are limited to those that do not “fundamentally alter the nature of the course,” Street said.

Alternatively, students who may have qualified for accommodations in high school but did not use them can now choose to take advantage of the opportunity if they are struggling with the different pace of college classes.

However, regardless of whether or not they received accommodations in high school, students may feel more reluctant to make use of the resources in college, Street said.

Even though more students with learning disabilities are applying to colleges, the subject continues to be a quiet issue. Some believe that there is still a certain amount of stigma attached to a person with learning disabilities.

Due to the fear of being stigmatized, some students may choose not to inform their professors.

Assistant Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature Erin McGlothlin said that she respects students who admit to their disabilities because it shows that they are responsible and active in their education.

“[It shows] someone who is working with their limitations to succeed,” McGlothlin said.

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