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Show 35 __ Transition from High School to College - Part 1

This interview has been divided into two parts. This episode includes the first half, and the rest will appear in Show 36.

Jean Ashmore, Director of Disability Support Services, is interviewed by Jac Brennan about issues surrounding the transition from high school to college for students with disabilities. Included in this discussion are the differences between the laws that cover students with disabilities in high school and college, the responsibilities of students with disabilities in post secondary education, the differences between accommodations available in college and modifications that are not available, on-campus living arrangements for students with disabilities, service animals on college campuses, personal care services, adaptive technology, tips for a successful transition, and resources for students, parents, and high school transition personnel.

You’re listening to the Disability Law Lowdown, Show #35.

[music plays]

Beth Case: Hello, this is Beth Case, the producer and editor or The Disability Law Lowdown Podcast. I’m popping in here to let you know that what follows in an interview that Jacquie Brennan did on transition from high school to college with Jean Ashmore from Rice University.

This was a really good interview, but it went a little bit long. I just couldn’t stand to cut anything out, so instead, I’ve decided to split this interview into two episodes. So what you’ll hear today is Part One of the interview that Jacquie did with Jean and in two weeks you will hear the rest of it.

Hope you enjoy this and check back in two weeks for the rest of the interview on “Transition from High School to College”.

Jacquie Brennan: Today’s podcast is going to be about the transition for students with disabilities from high school to college and some of the problems that students might encounter during that time. I’m going to be interviewing Jean Ashmore who is the Director of Disability Support Services at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

So, again today we’re going to be talking about the important things to know and to take into consideration for a student with a disability who’s moving on, what we call transitioning, to college from high school. This information is going to be useful for students, parents, high school transition and counseling personnel, as well .

Thanks for joining us today, Jean. I really appreciate your taking the time to do this.

Jean Ashmore: I’m glad to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Jacquie: Let’s sort of start with where that transition takes place. During grade school and high school, school systems are responsible for identifying students who may have disabilities and, in most cases, are providing them with special education and related services. Of course, the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, IDEA, and each state’s separate Office of Public Education gives guidance on how that education and those services happen.

So, I know those laws don’t exactly apply the same way at colleges and universities, but can you discuss what laws do apply and what are the differences between those laws?

Jean: Great, I’d be happy to. You’re absolutely right. There are some major differences in the laws that pertain to students with disabilities in higher education.

For colleges and universities, the two main laws that apply are the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. These laws are basically civil rights laws and, as such, prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability.

On the other hand, that law you mentioned, that IDEA, that pertains in the K-12 system, that’s an education law with regulations for implementation and federal funds come with that to provide a free and appropriate public education for children with disabilities.

Just right there, there are some basic differences. Any student who receives special education during high school will have had, under special ed, what is called an IEP, an Individualized Education Program. Also some students may have had what is called a 504 plan and those things all proscribe what type of education support or supplement is to be provided. In colleges, there are no such formal plans. Qualified students at college with be authorized to receive accommodations, and we’ll talk about that later.

During high school and before, students provide lots of personal and even medical support, equipment, transportation, dedicated special educators to assist students with disabilities. In general, these types of services and aids are not available at colleges and universities. An example of this is a student who was provided with a personal care assistant in high school. In college, he would have to make his own arrangements for this. Similarly, if the college doesn’t provide transportation for all students around campus, they are not going to provide transportation for students who have disabilities. This may be a really big difference.

Another critical difference we find between the two levels is that, before college, services from special educators focus on assistance that leads to the student’s success. In college, however, the emphasis isn’t on success. Of course, everyone wants everyone to succeed, but the emphasis has switched now to a term I’m going to use which is access. This is really something pretty different. With access and accommodations, a college student with a disability should have an equal opportunity to succeed or fail based on his or her talents and efforts.

There’s another significant difference and that is, in the K-12 system, the school district is responsible for identifying the students with disabilities and then providing the support and special ed that they need. In post-secondary ed, which is a term we use for colleges and universities, the student who has the disabling condition needs to come forward and self-identify. We’ll talk a bit more about that, I bet. Procedurally, it’s very different, too. Again, a student needs to come forward and make his needs known and the school will expect some information from him.

Jacquie: You said the student is responsible for informing his or her college about what they need in terms of disability and the school doesn’t, I guess, search out those students. Now what kind of information does the student need to provide to the college so that the student can get accommodations?

Jean: Okay, great question. You’re right. The student has to inform the college about his or her needs because the college can’t ask students, do you have a disability. It is, by the way, illegal for those kinds of questions to be included in an application to a college or university. So we set the stage that says a person needs to come forward. Let’s see, you asked what kind of information is needed.

most colleges are going to have published statements of what they expect both procedurally and in terms of information about the disability itself. At our school we call that documentation guidelines. I think you’ll find that typically at most colleges and universities.

What does documentation sort of look like at the college level? It will not be, in most cases, the expectation with it will be like an IEP document. Usually the IEP document in high school outlines all the special things various teachers are going to do, along that line. But in college, the documentation is needed to establish whether or not there is a disability that requires some types of accommodation. So what we look for is information that is recent, it’s from the treating professional, it gives us a diagnosis, helps us understand what kind of treatment or medications or devices the person is then prescribed, really just tells us the impacts or the functional limitations that come with the disabling condition. Then we want information on how stable the condition is, what kind of accommodations that evaluator recommends.

One of the common problems that disability offices at colleges and universities find is that students will be coming to college who have learning disabilities but sadly their high schools have not evaluated them formally in a good long time. The high schools may have given them a document that’s called a Summary of Performance and that sort of says what’s worked for that individual and how long they’ve gotten that help, but it really doesn’t include the kind of information that is expected in colleges. Unfortunately, a student with a learning disability or perhaps attention deficit disorder may end up being told by a college disability office that they need to have testing done by a psychologist who can confirm, or really establish, if there truly is a disability that needs accommodations. That can be unfortunate and unexpected for students and their families.

Most of the time, schools such as ours and many, will provide students with a history of this sort what we would call provisional accommodations for a semester or so they can work out all that retesting.

Jacquie: You use the term accommodation a lot and I know we also, in high school, well in K-12, we talk a lot about accommodations but also modifications. My understanding about the difference in those is that an accommodation sort of provides support so the student can do the work with the same outcome, have the same difficulty of work and so forth, as all the other students who don’t have disabilities. With modifications it’s more like, well maybe we can modify tests to make them a little easier or to sort of set the bar at a different place with modifications. In high schools, students have modified assignments and they take modified tests and all of that. Now, in college, are assignments and tests modified like that, just like they are in high school?

Jean: Oh, boy. This is another significant transition issue for students coming into college. Basically, the answer is no. In high school those modifications may be provided, but in college they are not. Just like you said, in high school perhaps a students exams, maybe they take ten instead of twenty questions. That is not going to happen in college. The academic expectations are really the same for all college students with or without disabilities and with or without accommodations. Remember we said accommodations provide access and they are not structured specifically for success. Another phrase that we use is “leveling the playing field”. We think of it as the accommodation of extended test time enables the student to take the test, the exact same test that other students take. That extra time just enables them to accomplish the test. They’ve gotten the access but it’s in the same environment.

So, no, things are not modified and another way that plays out in colleges is, sometimes in high schools students may go to a resource room or library, they may have a special learning teacher who is supporting them and assisting them as they manage their course work, but in college that looks very different. There are not resource teachers, there may be some learning specialists who are affiliated with the disability office or there may be some tutors. Again, the student needs to seek them out. The student needs to say, hey, I need some help with this, that or the other.

Maybe that sounds harsh, that there’s not much help available in college, and I don’t want that to be the impression at all. There’s lots and lots of help provided to all students and sometimes help dedicated to students with disabilities.

Jacquie: Okay. Let’s talk a little bit about living arrangements in college. How accessible are dorms or even classrooms at most colleges around the country? If a student needs some type of help or special arrangement to live at college. who does the student go to for that kind of thing? Or even if they need personal care help, is that provided by the college, sort of like the use of aids in high school? I’m sorry that was a bunch of questions.

Jean: Housing is available at many many colleges and universities around the country. One key feature of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that there is to be no discrimination in all aspects of university life and that applies in housing. That does not mean that every single dorm is wonderfully accessible, but it means that there will be dorm rooms or apartment rooms available for a person who uses a wheelchair or they have special equipment, an alarm notification for people who are deaf.

The other thing is that some colleges and universities will go that extra mile to provide some extra features that a person with a disability might need. An example of that comes to my mind is Student A uses a wheelchair. The room is spacious enough, the bathroom has all the facilities it needs, but getting in and out of the door itself is problematic so the university installs an automatic door opener to customize it for the needs of that individual. That is not always the case, but that is something that a students should explore with the school they’re going to attend and figure out how everything is going to work for them.

Beth Case: Do you want to hear more about living in dorms, Jean’s Top Tips for students with disabilities going to college and a whole bunch of resources to help you find out more? Well, you’ll just have to come back for Episode 36 when we have Part Two of Jacquie Brennan’s interview with Jean Ashmore on transitioning from high school to college.


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