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Another Voice: Colleges must empower students with learning disabilities

By Katherine Conway-Turner

SUNY Buffalo State, like other higher education institutions, finds that its student body continues to represent every aspect of diversity. One aspect that often goes overlooked includes students with documented learning disabilities. These disabilities frequently require accommodations and support to ensure the possibility of educational success.

Learning and attention issues are far more common than most people think. One in five children in the United States has learning and attention issues such as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Some of these children receive specialized instruction or accommodations, but many do not.

While students with learning disabilities are just as smart as their peers, they attend four-year colleges at half the rate, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. And those who do attend college are less likely to complete it.

The requirement to address the needs of these students is codified in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; however, higher education’s commitment goes well beyond the legal requirement to provide access and support within our institutions.

At Buffalo State, we are proactive in identifying students with learning disabilities and offering them individualized attention and the tools they need to obtain a degree. Our mission is to provide all students with the opportunity to pursue higher education.

It is well-documented that individuals who complete a college degree have multiple positive outcomes, including greater lifetime earnings, lower unemployment and better overall health.

We are proud to offer help to this population through our Student Accessibility Services Office, which provides a bridge from high school to college. SAS offers a free, one-week college transition program that provides opportunities for students to practice self-advocacy and study skills, improve note-taking skills, and learn about college-level accommodations.

Once the school year begins, SAS staff members work carefully with each student to define the required accommodations, which are shared with the student’s professors for implementation.

In today’s accessibility toolkit, there is an arsenal of technological tools to help students overcome obstacles that might impede educational success. Buffalo State has an expert in assistive technology dedicated to this area.

Institutions of higher learning must continue to advance creative methods, refine technologies and research new strategies that give all students the opportunity to succeed.

Katherine Conway-Turner is president of SUNY Buffalo State.

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