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Access of students with learning disabilities/challenges to higher education: Issues and solutions


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Title: Access of students with learning disabilities/challenges to higher education: Issues and solutions

Access of students with learning
disabilities/challenges to higher education
Issues and solutions
  • Dr. Carla Di Giorgio
  • UPEI Faculty of Education
  • May 20, 2009

Community Partners
  • Dr. Audrey Penner, Holland College
  • Joanne McCabe, UPEI Webster Centre- Accessibility
  • LD Association of PEI

Research questions
  • 1. What are the barriers to students with
    learning disabilities/challenges in
    post-secondary programs in PEI?
  • 2. What successful practices have helped
  • 3. How do educators at community college and
    university view their role as teachers of
    students with learning challenges?
  • 4. What practices might improve the experiences
    of students?

Literature review
  • Adults with learning disabilities and
    difficulties have been studied in university and
    community college settings in the United States,
    but few studies have explored factors specific to
    Canadian populations.
  • (Educational Policy Institute, 2006 Vogel and
    Holt, 2003).

"Learning Disabilities" refer to a number of
disorders which may affect the acquisition,
organization, retention, understanding or use of
verbal or nonverbal information. These
disorders affect learning in individuals who
otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities
essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As
such, learning disabilities are distinct from
global intellectual deficiency.
  • Learning disabilities range in severity and
    may interfere with the acquisition and use of one
    or more of the following
  • oral language (e.g. listening, speaking,
  • reading (e.g. decoding, phonetic knowledge, word
    recognition, comprehension)
  • written language (e.g. spelling and written
    expression) and
  • mathematics (e.g. computation, problem solving).
  • may also involve difficulties with organizational
    skills, social perception, social interaction and
    perspective taking.

Factors affecting post-secondary success
  • level of academic achievement in the school
  • low self-esteem
  • lack of occupational goals
  • gender
  • age
  • literacy
  • poverty
  • in some cases health issues, including mental
    health issues such as anxiety, depression

Leads to?
  • negative experiences in school systems lead to
    lack of confidence in pursuing areas of learning
    which are challenging.
  • students not having realistic understanding of
    their strengths and weaknesses in pursuing
    post-secondary programs leads to unrealistic
    goals (Reiff, 1997).

  • Very little research has explored teaching and
    other related educational practices that help
    adult learners reach their potential in accessing
    and succeeding in these settings (Butler, 2003
    Towler, Wallace and Smith, 2000).

  • Assessment practices and the transition from
    secondary school to post-secondary need to be
    improved to allow for better access for students,
    and better sharing of information with students
    and educators (Ross-Gordon et al, 2003 Goupil et
    al, 2002).

  • Direct teaching practices, mentoring, strategy
    instruction, and organizational skills have been
    found to help students and educators adapt their
    learning and teaching to better educate not only
    those students with learning disabilities but all
    participants in programs (Deford, 2006).

  • Several specific programs exist in American
    universities which address students with learning
    disabilities, but these practices need to be
    available to adults in basic education and
    community college settings as well (Covington,

In Canada
  • Accessibility services in many universities allow
    students to attend regular classes while
    providing supports such as assistive technology
    and adapted testing to students.
  • Community colleges as well offer assessment,
    counselling and accommodations for students with
    learning difficulties.
  • Associations such as the Learning Disabilities
    Associations in each province advocate for
    students and inform them of available services
    and occupational opportunities.
  • BUT there is a lack of integration between these
    various systems (Learning Disabilities
    Association of Canada, 2007).

Research aims of this study
  • collect and connect knowledge on barriers facing
    students with learning difficulties and their
  • provide educators with useful strategies for
    improving access and success for students.
  • connect learning difficulties to other life needs
    and issues

  • 1. Interviews with students at UPEI and Holland
  • 2. Interviews with instructors and professors at
    UPEI and Holland College
  • 3. Interviews with adults not in school
  • 4. Workshops with instructors/students at both
    institutions and at the LD Assoc.
  • 5. Develop recommendations and disseminate

Stage 1 Interviews
  • UPEI students with LD 8
  • UPEI professors 8
  • Holland College students with LD/ learning
    challenges 7
  • Holland College instructors 7
  • Non-students 1

  • 1. For students what are the positive and
    negative experiences you have had as a person
    with a learning challenge?
  • 2. For instructors What is it like to have a
    student with learning challenges in your class?
    How have you adapted your teaching for this?

Results University students
  • Many rely on the Accessibility Services office
    and this experience has supported them greatly
  • However, many students still do not like to ask
    professors for extra support
  • They want to be assessed like other students
  • Extreme determination to be self-sufficient
  • Rely on support from family and friends
  • Limited social life

  • My anxiety isnt going to go away because I can
    read a little better. Especially when it comes
    to an exam and theres somebody watching every
    move youre makingI dont have anxiety anywhere
    else in my life. But when it comes to my
    schooling, I have huge anxiety. Like if Im
    getting a test back, my hearts beating. Even
    after the test is back and I know I did okay, I
    still have anxiety and it takes me a while to
    calm down.

  • Theres a few that I met in class, some people
    Ive seen there dropping off books and stuff.
    Some people are really shy about itreally shy.
    Like one girl I metso I said to her in class,
    So it was a pretty bad scan, wasnt it? and her
    face just dropped and she was like, what do you
    mean? I guess I caught her off-guard.

Limited social life
  • I dont know- Im not too into the social scene.
    Like, I like to keep on top of my work and stuff.
    Most weekends I do schoolwork and watch TV
    because Im tired from working on schoolwork.

University professors
  • Difference between LD and ACE students
  • Adaptations are taken care of by Accessibility
  • Variance in ownership taken by professors
  • Adaptation of teaching?
  • Variance in personal contact with students with
  • Personal experience
  • Professional standards

Lack of knowledge
  • One was that they wouldnt give me my
    accessibilities. They wouldnt allow me to write
    my tests in a separate place or to use the
    technology. So I said, fine. I wont take your
    course. And the other one, it was mostly her
    lack of knowledge about learning disabilities. I
    told her I had one, and she- I think she thought
    I was blind or something because I said learning
    disability. So I was just kind of annoyed with
    her that she wouldnt take the time to know
    thatlike blindness isnt a learning disability.

Professional resistance
  • And they actually denied that (extra time on lab
    exam) because they said it was part of the
    (program)I dont knowBut the way I understood
    it was that with (program), you have to have a
    certain amount of respect for the time frame, and
    they just werent going to accommodate that they
    put it into their policy, I believe.

  • He said to me If I do it for you, Id have to do
    it for everybody else.

Role of professor
  • I did have one that did become particularly
    clingy. She wa sin my office twice a week when I
    taught her, and then every week for the next two
    years. You know, just dropping by. Eventually I
    just had to step back a little and, not withdraw,
    but I didnt want to be feeling like her mother,
    and I expect from what she told me that she had a
    very abusive mother, psychologically, and
    certainly a very uncaring mother. So I didnt
    want to become like a substitute mother for her,
    because its just so inappropriate. But at the
    same time, shed sometimes come in and just be
    crying and just need a hug- thats what she
    needed. And so that its really hard to know
    where that line is drawn

Personal empathy
  • I think it could have been different because in
    that time, my whole understanding of what a
    learning disability was- because I was doing all
    of this reading because of my (child)

Community College students
  • Life experience
  • Gender, family
  • Determination
  • Lack of identification of LD
  • Negative experience of school
  • Plans for future
  • Need for support
  • Health including mental health issues
  • Large range of abilities and motives
  • Medication effects

Tough life
  • I got pregnant when I was sixteen dropped out of
    school. Raising, I chose to stay home to raise
    my son. And as he got older, I decided to try
    upgrading but upgrading just wasnt doing it so I
    hadnt gone to school in eighteen years and since
    my son passed away in (month), I decided to try
    school again and Im liking it and its good.
    Really rough, but-

Pass it on
  • See, when I was pregnant for my daughter, I had a
    lot of prior, before I found out I was pregnant I
    had a surgery, and I had lots of medications, so
    they thought she was going to be brain dead when
    she was born, because of all of the medication.
    Come to find out she might have a learning
    disability from it and she might have thyroid
    problems from the medication when she gets older.
    So I contributed with the medication, but I know
    that with learning disabilities and stuff like
    that, it could be hereditary, I know theres
    something somewherebut I want to try to nip it
    in the bud, so I can help my kids so they can
    help their kids, you know what I mean?

  • I wonder if its medication, she just is
    unfocused. You can look at her some days and
    say, you know, are you thinking? Most of my
    other students, because we have a self-paced
    environment, if they hand me something to be
    corrected they immediately move into something
    else. (Student) always has to be prompted. Is
    it because youre unmotivated? And theres some
    of that too.

Student quote mental health
  • I have to get past the problem of getting into
    the workforce and staying there. And then with
    my bipolar it kinda throws me off, because if I
    miss any days then I lose the job. So its like
    a Catch-22. So I have to work it out.

Family secrets
  • No, not a thing, no. I kept it hush, hush. I
    kept it, becauseWell, mom, you never did it,
    why should I do it? So I never gave them that
    ammo. I always told them, I lied to them. I
    told them that I had my grade 12. Always did.

Community college instructors
  • Plateaued learners
  • Goals and abilities
  • Curriculum vs. people
  • Variety of programs
  • Easy access
  • Limits to time in program
  • Self-paced learning
  • Gender of teachers

Instructor quote
  • People come in, have a lot of uh, some teachers
    call it garbage, I dont call it garbage. Some
    teachers say, Leave your garbage at the door
    but to me its not, you get them as a , theyre a
    unit and uh, you accept them as they are and if
    you have to take, you have to take theirOur
    students are the ones that probbaly fell through
    the cracks in the school system and maybe theyve
    had brushes with the law. Maybe theyre in
    debtSo we have people that have a lot on their

Themes and questions
  • Ownership
  • Stigma
  • Assessment services
  • School experience
  • Role of the university and community college
  • Outside influences
  • Future opportunities
  • Carryover into next generations

  • So usually, you know, quite often if they have
    been tested its a relief. Sometimes to find out
    that there is something wrong as opposed to not
    knowing and not really wanting to look into it,
    but knowing deep down that there is something.

School experience
  • Well its funny it never got picked up in school,
    cause I struggled all along. And mom said that I
    fell into just the middle- you know, I wasnt
    overly smart, I wasnt failingthey kicked me out
    (of resource)- I was doing too good. But I was
    struggling- my mom realized I was struggling and
    they just never, I wasnt struggling enough, I

  • I guess this would have been in about grade six,
    where she told me that I couldnt go to a
    university, that Id have to go to a college,
    cause of my reading problems and stuff. So then
    I just wanted to go to university.

  • Yeah Im the first one from my family to ever
    graduate. So I didnt have anyone to really give
    me guidance for university. So they had
    something called the first year advisement.

Future goals
  • To her, I think she wants, with the interest
    situation, when theyve had addictions and mental
    health issues, then they want to go into that
    fieldand so she sees herself as a crisis
    counsellor and really doesnt have the concept to
    understand how much work that would be. They
    really feel that if you have the life experience,
    therefore you know how to deal with somebody
    else. So theres that unrealistic disconnect
    thereShe doesnt have that, okay, I could do
    the job, but if I could do the job I wouldnt be
    where Im at.

  • Earlier assessment and identification in schools
  • Connection between parents and children
  • Integration of education and health, community
    care and support
  • More technological support
  • Closer look at teaching and personal support
  • Length of time in program economic support
  • Transitioning to life
  • Opportunities to support others

Helping others
  • And he ended up firing her. And she didnt have
    an advocate in her lifeand they fired her and I
    never saw her again. Yeah thats pretty illegal
    what he did, I think- she was there for three
    weeks. They never asked her. That was something
    that was pretty bad.

  • Time for study
  • Range of students and instructors/programs
  • Differences between university and community
    college programs
  • LD vs. learning difficulties
  • Gender in community college

Thank you
  • Dr. Carla DiGiorgio
  • 566-0365