Saturday, August 14, 2010

Self-Advocacy at College

I was a high school SLD teacher for 13 years, and I have worked as a college LD Specialist for 14 years. I know both sides of the fence. In high school everyone is telling you what to do...your teachers, your parents, your friends. In college, because you are now the legal adult and the college is governed by FERPA laws, you must handle your concerns and issues yourself. The only way someone at the college can assist you is if you meet them and explain your needs. Disability Services are there for you, but they need you to be your own advocate and talk to them about your situation; otherwise, they will probably not be aware of it!

The first job of the Disability Office is to determine if your problem is disability-related or classroom-related because that makes a difference as to how we proceed and whom you need to talk to about your issues. For example, if an instructor did not provide you with an accommodation that you should have been given (for example, extra time on a test), my first step is to find out if you gave the professor your accommodation paperwork from our department. Again, the college Disability Services personnel will give you the papers with your accommodations, but you will take the accommodations paperwork to the professor to explain your needs - not Disability Services and not your parents!! You must be your own self-advocate in college!! If the office gave you your accommodation paperwork, and you did not follow up with the professor, we probably cannot correct the problem.

If the problem turns out to be a disability-related issue, then the Office of Disability Services will act accordingly, but if the issue is classroom-related (for example, one of your grades was incorrect), then you would follow up with the professor and the academic dean.

The key to all of this is YOU! Talk to the people who can help, but seek your help in a courteous, logical way and follow up as quickly as possible. Don't wait until the end of the semester to bring attention to a problem that has happened earlier in the year! It may be too late!! Understand what help is out there for you and keep in touch with the professionals who can help. Be a self-advocate, and know how the college rules work!

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