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Dean College profiled in Boston HeraldAugust 10, 2010
|Dean College profiled in Boston Herald|
Students with learning disabilities must advocate for themselves, say experts
By Rochelle Stewart Rubino
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
When Dean College junior Peter Diabakerly began his school search a few years ago, he knew he had to be his own advocate. Though he has a learning disability, he wasn’t going to let that stop him from finding success in college. Now, the business major is urging students who may be in a similar boat to become their own self-advocates to achieve success.
“Your professor will never know you have a learning disability unless you tell them,” Diabakerly said. “At the beginning of each semester, you have to have a sheet filled out with your accommodations requests and hand it to the professor.”
As many students gear up to begin college this fall, others are just beginning their college search process. Dr. Paula Rooney, president of Dean College, has tips for high school students on Individual Education Plans or with learning disabilities, on what they need to know to help them find the best college to meet their needs.
“The sooner a student can communicate with us (college or university) about what their needs are going to be, the better we are able to say whether we are the right place for them,” Rooney said.
John Marcus, vice president for enrollment services and marketing at Dean College, agrees.
“A lot of times an essay question or a catch-all question where they have the opportunity to speak about themselves is a good place to address it,” Marcus said.
Rooney stresses to students looking to enroll in college that just because a student might “learn differently” doesn’t mean they don’t have the intellectual capability to handle college-level course work.
Will O’Leary, a second-year student at Dean College, advises students not to worry about what others think of them. O’Leary said a lot of students have learning disabilities, even if they aren’t taking advantage of the resources the college has to offer.
Diabakerly said it’s not even necessary for other students to know about your own learning disability.
In fact, regardless of a learning disability, all students tend to struggle with the transition from high school to college.
“One of the things we hear from (learning disability) students in high school is that high school is very different,” Rooney said. “Sometimes it’s harder in high school because everyone is struggling to be like everyone else.”
Not so in college, where independence and individuality become the norm.
“In college, everyone is struggling to be independent,” Rooney said.
And sometimes, students without learning disabilities still need extra help and can take advantage of resources such as peer-tutoring.
Andrew Cioffi, assistant director of Dean College Learning Center, said the college’s system is designed to offer academic support through accommodations, but students are to be the ones advocating for it.
“We meet at the beginning of the year and determine the accommodations,” Cioffi said. Then the student has to initiate those requests with the faculty members to help “teach (the student) that level of advocacy. They should also try to explain (to the professor) as much about their own unique learning styles when they do this.”
(Diabakerly said this also helps him get to know his professors and it gives him self-confidence because he knows his professor is accepting of his learning disability.
Cioffi said students need to learn how to do this so when they transition to a career they know how to address these needs with their employer.
“The more you can articulate your needs, the better you will be,” Rooney said. “(College) should be a training experience for the world of work. You need to be able to communicate with your employer, ‘I do this differently, and is this OK?’ ”