My Experience with Receiving Accommodations at a University
By Al Vadon
I am a graduate student in the field of Adult Literacy at a university in the state of New Jersey. I am working on my Master of Arts degree, and am hoping to complete the degree in the Fall Semester of 2000. I have been successful in my academic career, in that I have both a Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in Communications. I was diagnosed with NLD three years ago at the age of 30.
I decided to request accommodations to complete my comprehensive examination, which is required to successfully complete my degree in Adult Literacy. Even though, I have been working on my Adult Literacy degree for the last two years, I felt that I did not need to disclose my disability because I did not need assistance in completing my coursework. I had been successful in completing the academic work in Adult Literacy because it had been mostly written papers. There were only in-class tests in two of my classes, and the professor who taught those classes provided us with sufficient time. I learned that the comprehensive examination is application oriented, and that I would only have three hours to complete it. Also, it is an essay test. Based on past experiences, I know that I have difficulty integrating course material quickly, and so would need additional time. I am also a slow writer, due to having impaired fine motor coordination. In the past, when faced with essay tests, I would sometimes get some extra time to finish the exam because the professors could see that I needed extra time. If I did not get the extra time, I sometimes would just quickly write anything that would come into my mind, and on some occasions, I just was unable to complete the exam. Because of the importance of this comprehensive examination, I knew that I had to disclose my disability. I learned that in order to pass the comprehensive examination; all the questions had to be correct. Also, this degree in Adult Literacy is very important to my future career plans and to me.
I decided that I needed to disclose my NLD. I was scared about disclosing my learning disability, but felt that I had nothing to lose. If they refused to accommodate me by giving me extra time, then I felt that at least I made an effort. On the other hand, if I received the accommodations, I would at least have a fair chance of passing the exam. I looked in the university's catalog for the learning disability office. In the catalog, I found a program called Project Excel, which is a program for highly motivated college students with learning disabilities. I nervously called their office on the phone, and explained my situation. I was able to obtain an appointment, and was told to bring the paperwork on my disability. I had been diagnosed with NLD by a neuropsychologist. I took the neuropsychologist's official diagnosis to my meeting with the woman from Project Excel. I explained to her that I had NLD, and that I needed extra time to take my comprehensive examination. She asked me why I had not disclosed my learning disability previously. I told her that I was doing well academically, and so I did not feel that it was necessary. I was amazed that this woman knew about NLD. She said that she knew about Sue Thompson, and her book. After she mentioned this, I knew that I had a person who understood my NLD. She filled out a Classroom Accommodations Request form. She noted that I had problems in the areas of essay exams, motor control, and processing deficits in terms of rate, information retrieval, and spatial orientation. She also noted that I would need extended time. The woman at Project Excel told me to take the form to the person in charge of my graduate program, and have him sign it. She told me that it was his decision if I would be granted extra time, but that if I had any difficulties obtaining his consent, she would do her best to help me. I was also told to submit a copy of the signed form to the Graduate Studies Office. I took my form to the chairperson of my department, and explained to him that I needed extra time to complete the comprehensive examination. The chairperson was very understanding, and signed the form. I then took my form to the Graduate Studies Office. The women in charge of this office told me that I could receive four hours to complete my exam, if I took it a day earlier than the scheduled date. I agreed to take the exam a day earlier.
I found out that I needed every last minute to complete the comprehensive examination. All the questions were very application oriented, and required a great deal of detail. I ended up writing for four and a half-hours straight. In fact, the woman proctoring the exam told me to take as much time as I needed to complete the exam, and just take it to the Graduate Studies Office when I was finished. I was exhausted when I finished the examination, but felt that I was given a fair chance to pass it. I waited approximately seven weeks for my results. I nervously opened the envelope, and was extremely happy to find out that I had passed. I am so grateful for all the help that I received in obtaining the necessary accommodations. In fact, I am glad that my NLD has been disclosed. In order to complete my degree, I have to do a practicum in the fall, and so I will not hesitate to ask for additional accommodations if they are necessary.
Based on my experience, I would highly recommend any NLD students planning to attend college to disclose their learning disability. I would look for colleges that will make the necessary accommodations for the student to be successful. I would set up a meeting with the learning disability office of the college to submit the necessary paperwork, and to discuss what types of accommodations can be made. I think that with the right accommodations and support, NLD students can successfully complete college or even graduate school.