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The following are questions and answers from Dr. Tracy Gray on this topic.

How can a student who has a learning disability and no computer skills survive college?

Thanks for going the extra mile to help this young woman. There are actually several underlying issues related to your question: Can this student use any kind of computer technology?; Are there any assistive technologies (AT) that may be effective for her?; What accommodations can the post-secondary institution provide and what are her legal rights in regard to accommodations? An initial step to consider would be an assistive technology assessment, possibly arranged through the local Vocational Rehabilitation Center as an element of her Transition Plan. The next step would be a visit to a local college and discuss options with the Disability Resource Center. Here is some information on these steps:

  1. AT assessments: It may be that computers will work for her with appropriate accommodations, or perhaps some other type of assistive technology will be more appropriate. This student needs to know what she needs before she can request appropriate accommodations. If there are personnel in the school who can do this, seek them out. Otherwise, start with Step 2.
  2. If she is not currently a client of Vocational Rehabilitation Services in her state, she may be eligible to apply for services. Work with the Transition Coordinator at the high school who should have a connection with the VR system. They may be able to help provide an (AT) assessment for her and perhaps even assist with funding.
  3. Plan a visit to a Disability Resource Center at a local college. They can counsel her about expectations and assumptions, inform her of the types of accommodations they are able to provide students, and may have information about other colleges' programs.

The guide, Transition of Students with Disabilities to Postsecondary Education: A Guide for High School Educators will provide you information about students' civil rights in regard to post-secondary education. You may also want to check out the questions answered on this site by Matt Cohen regarding special education law. His answers on the legal rights of adults with LD may be particularly helpful.

How can I get help with technology accommodations in graduate school?

As a graduate school student, you will likely find that you have access to many of the same accommodations you had in your undergraduate program. Your first step as an incoming student should be to meet with your university's disabilities services office. Policies regarding resources available for graduate students with disabilities may vary from program to program, but you with a documented disability you are eligible for accommodations.

Depending on the university, you may need to provide additional documentation, or updated testing regarding a learning disability. Contacting disabilities services early will ensure that you have all necessary paperwork submitted in plenty of time for your first class. If you are requesting texts in alternate formats, or other reading supports, contacting the office well in advance also gives the university time to prepare accessible materials for you. You may find that your university is willing to provide the reading software you need; some universities have computer labs set up with accessible software for student use.

If the university is unable to provide you with the software accommodations you need, they may be able to help you find additional sources of funding to help you upgrade your computer. Many universities have hardship funds for their students, providing small grants for medical needs, emergencies or other issues.

Your university's disabilities services may also be able to help you locate grants, loans, or other options. The booklet Learning Disabilities, Graduate School, and Careers: The Student's Perspective may provide you with some helpful suggestions for working with your school. You may be able to find additional helpful suggestions for getting the technology tools you need from the community on the LD Online Postsecondary Education forums.

What technology helps students take notes in lectures?

It can be challenging for many students with disabilities to take notes while listening to teacher lectures or instruction. A couple of different options may be helpful for your son, depending on the resources available at your school and his teacher's instructional style. If your son's teacher regularly uses overheads or slide presentations, it may be helpful for your son to have access to the slides during the lecture. He can view the slides on a laptop and add his notes to them as the teacher presents information.

Another option if your son's teacher doesn't use slide presentations during lectures would be to ask the teacher to create electronic note-taking tools or graphic organizers for the lecture material. Depending on the specific content being covered, these could include partially completed outlines, concept maps, or story analysis webs. Your son could have these available on a laptop and fill them in as the teacher presents material. This article on Tech Tools for Students with Learning Disabilities offers some suggestions for students that may be helpful.

There are also several software options available for creating concept maps or online note taking. Inspiration and MindManager are both tools that allow users to create visual representations of information. These tools could be beneficial for writing activities or connecting concepts.

Online note taking software such as EverNote would allow your son to create searchable notes and diagrams using digital images, handwritten text from a tablet PC, text from websites or text from Word documents and PowerPoint presentations. If a laptop is unavailable for your son to use in the classroom, a portable note-taker might be a good solution. AlphaSmart and Fusion makes portable note-taking devices that are popular in schools; other options can be found on the TechMatrix website.

Can you provide recommendations of things to consider when developing a university program for students with learning disabilities?

It is wonderful to hear about AUST working with parents to develop a program for students with disabilities. No doubt, collaboration between the two entities will enhance the process. There are many issues that need to be considered in such an endeavor in addition to those that you have mentioned.

I think a good place to start may be with the HEATH Resource Center Clearinghouse, which provides information for students with disabilities on educational disability support services, policies, procedures, adaptations and access, as well as links to many other valuable resources.

Also, explore the web site for the Association on Higher Education and Disability — AHEAD, which is the premiere professional association committed to full participation of persons with disabilities in postsecondary education.

In addition, I recommend that you contact the directors of various university programs for students with disabilities. These professionals should be able to provide you with information about the development and implementation of their own programs, as well as practical advice from their lessons learned.

Colleges with Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities, a directory maintained by the American Educational Guidance Center, can provide you with links to dozens of universities that have registered programs.

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