What does the office of Academic Support Services for Students with Disabilities do?
- We coordinate accommodations for eligible students on a course by course basis each semester.
- We work individually with students as “academic coaches,” educating them about study strategies and time management. Moreover, we refer them to other academic support services on campus such as the Peer Tutoring Services and the Center for Math, Writing, and Study Skills.
- The Director of Academic Support Services is available to provide informational workshops to departments and university offices in order to elucidate the services we provide, to educate about disability-related issues, and also to provide updates on disability law.
- We individually consult with instructors when there are concerns about a particular student’s needs.
- We refer students to other professional services on campus when appropriate.
What exactly is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a documented neurological disorder that affects the ability to process information in individuals of average or above average intelligence. It is a permanent disorder that may affect the manner in which an individual takes in, processes, retains and/or expresses information. Individuals with learning disabilities may exhibit significant weaknesses in reading, decoding, comprehension, spelling, written expression, math computation, and/or problem solving. The discrepancy between ability and achievement cannot be primarily the result of a visual or hearing impairment; emotional disturbance; or educational, cultural, or economic disadvantage.
Do students with learning disabilities get special consideration during the application process?
No. Students with learning disabilities or any other disabilities have the same rigorous standards of admission that our Lehigh University students are subjected to, and they are expected to meet the same standards of performance as all students.
If a student has a physical or sensory disability (visual or hearing impairment), are they also considered learning disabled?
No. However, many disabilities present a challenge to learning in the traditional education environment in similar ways and require similar accommodations. These separate and distinct disabilities may appear alone or in various combinations with one another.
What are some typical accommodations for students with disabilities?
The accommodations depend on the nature of the disability. Based on the specific diagnosis and the student’s strengths and weaknesses, an individualized accommodation plan is developed. Although extended time on tests is the most common accommodation due to difficulty processing information, it is not the only option. Other accommodations may include: textbooks on tape, readers, note-takers, tape recording lectures, use of laptop computers, use of word processors or spell-checker, or sign language interpreters. Test modifications may include: extended time, alternate test format, or oral exams. Faculty consultation is an essential part of this process. Creative and cooperative efforts are required to provide students with an equitable education while maintaining academic integrity.
Does giving extended time on exams give the student with a disability an unfair advantage over other students?
No. The purpose of extended time testing is to minimize the impact of the disability on the student’s performance. Extended time on tests assures equal opportunity to show content mastery by providing time that is necessary to compensate for the disability. Several studies have been conducted to determine the effects of extended time testing for student with disabilities as compared to non-disabled students. The University of California conducted a study that indicated that extended time makes a significant difference in the performance of disabled students, while only slightly improving the performance of non-disabled students.
Why am I notified about some students at the beginning of the semester, and others at the middle or end of the semester? Wouldn’t it be better if I knew what their needs were before they started having problems?
Due to the confidential nature of disability issues, students must sign an authorized release form each semester in order to provide faculty with notification of their disability. Students who have disclosed their disability are encouraged to notify their professors during the first week of classes. Some students may want to begin their education at Lehigh without the stigma or label of having a disability; therefore they may try to forego requesting accommodations until the last possible moment. Some students who are newly diagnosed may present their documentation to us during the semester. We will notify you of a student’s disability and the appropriate accommodations as soon as the student has signed the release forms granting us permission to do so. We strongly recommend that faculty members include a statement in their syllabus requiring students to give seven (7) days notification for any accommodation.
Once I am notified of a student’s disability, with whom can I share this information?
The confidential nature of disability-related information has been an over-arching principle of nondiscrimination since the establishment of Section 503 and 504. Disability-related information is considered to be medical information and to be treated in the same confidential manner, with the same need-to-know restrictions.
What should I do if I suspect a student has a disability but I have not been notified?
If you suspect that a student has a disability, talk with the student about your observations. Since this is an extremely sensitive topic to some students, it is best to speak to the student in a private setting. Focus on the student’s performance and why you are concerned. Ask the student if she has ever received support services in high school and then recommend that she meet with the Director of Academic Support Services to help her identify the problem areas and recommend strategies for success.