“I’m really optimistic about the future of students with learning differences in secondary education,” says Manju Banerjee Ph.D., Vice President and Director of Landmark College Institute for Research and Training, who has over 27 years experience in the field of learning and other disabilities.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have made it easier for students to gain access to the assistance they need in the classroom.

Changing attitudes

“Since passage of ADA and IDEA, we have more people who would not have even thought about higher education or certain types of professions, now not only thinking about it, but making it a reality,” says Dr. Banerjee, who is a certified diagnostician and teacher-consultant for learning disabilities.

In the past, college students with learning differences, often referred to as “LD,” were stigmatized for needing additional help or time to learn, but that’s changing.

“The accommodations are about providing access and not providing any unfair advantage,” says Dr. Banerjee.

A common misconception is that students with LD will always need support, which is far from true.

“Each individual with LD is different and accommodations are determined on a case by case basis,” says Dr. Banerjee, who explains four factors determine accommodations: the student’s perception of strengths and weaknesses; formal evaluations by educators; course expectations set by the faculty member and technical standards for the program for which the student is enrolled.

Students need to be eligible for accommodations in specific areas. For example, a student with a math challenge might not need accommodations in writing.

Universal design

The success of LD programs is credited to universal design, which is about creating proactive “teaching methods that anticipate the diversity of learners within that environment,” says Dr. Banerjee, who previously worked on a $1.03 million three year federal grant project about universal design for instruction in online and blended courses.

Educators are planning ahead to have “materials, methods, protocols” that anticipate ways students might learn better, such as “with their ears, rather than their eyes,” or with flexible due dates to complete a project.

Asking for accommodations

Students who qualify for help, don’t always ask for it until it’s almost too late.

“There continues to be lingering belief about perceived and real stigma,” says Dr. Banerjee, “students don’t come forward to report accommodations until they are already failing and close to dismissal.”

While there are no extra fees for accommodations, students might have to pay for tutoring.

“The accommodations are about providing access and not providing any unfair advantage.”

College and the workplace

“Increased numbers of students with LD not only expect to go to college, they do actually get to college and graduate,” says Dr. Banerjee. “That’s a really positive change.”

Young adults with LD are attending two-year community colleges at more than double the rate of the general population. The completion rate for four-year colleges is 41 percent for LD students, compared to 52 for the general population.

Students with LD benefit from an “individualized and personal approach to higher education,” says Dr. Banerjee who also credits a “focus on self-advocacy” with helping students transition from the classroom to the workplace.