Accommodating students with learning disabilities

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In 1996, the most recent year for which longitudinal survey results are available, students with learning disabilities accounted for 3.1 percent of all freshman on the nation's two and four-year college campuses (This Year's Freshmen, 1997). Other incidence figures indicate numbers vary by type of college, e.g., the presence of students with learning disabilities may be as high as 11% in small liberal arts colleges (Cohen, 1984) and 5% in professional schools (Parks, Antonoff, Drake, Skiba, & Soberman, 1987).

The particular dilemma if providing accommodation for this growing population of students arises from the fact that learning disabilities are "invisible" disabilities, which by definition, affect cognitive areas of functioning.

Accommodation requests that are typically deemed reasonable might include, for example, the provision of a notetaker for class lectures; extended time on exams or class assignments; use of a spell-check, grammar-check, and/or proofreader on written tasks; tests in alternate formats, such as an oral rather than written exam; and other forms of accommodation based on individual student profiles and needs.

Endeavors to accommodate college students with learning disabilities have given rise to a range of responses on the part of faculty.

Some faculty note the importance of considering individual student abilities and attitudes in the accommodation process; others express interest in learning new methods to meet the needs of students while maintaining academic excellence (Nelson, Dodd, & Smith, 1990).