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November 17, 2003

Students with disabilities face challenges in college

From: Framingham Metro West Daily News, MA - Nov 17, 2003

By Carolyn Kessel / News Staff Writer
Monday, November 17, 2003

HUDSON -- Most 18-year-olds have enough to handle when they leave home for college -- learning how to do laundry, balancing studying with partying and keeping up their grades.

But the many students with disabilities are leaving an even bigger safety net, a school district required to find out their needs and meet them.

Some parents are looking for assurances from colleges that their child will have the help they need once they leave home.

"We're looking for the colleges to kind of sell themselves and the services they offer," said Barbara Rose, a member of the Special Education Parent Advisory Council. "We want to get a better idea of what's out there."

Colleges advertising at the high school college fair should have more details of what they offer for students with mild to severe disabilities, the council told the School Committee last week.

Colleges are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to make facilities and learning accessible for every student, "but the problem is that you don't always get a good feel for it by reading the materials," Rose said.

"You read something in the college brochure, but how willing are they to carrying it out?"

Some colleges go beyond calculus and sociology, and offer classes or programs for disabled students to transition to adult life.

Lesley University runs a two-year college program for young adults with disabilities, called the Threshold Program, where the students live in dorms and take classes on developing marketable skills and living independently.

"I doubt most high schools even know that exists," Rose said.

Dennis Polselli, director of disability services at Framingham State College, has noticed more students with "hidden" disabilities at the school, such as attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and traumatic brain injury as well as psychological diagnoses such as depression and bipolar disorder.

Students have to prove they have these difficulties, but then the college makes sure they have what they need to learn, Polselli said.

"I make sure that we comply to all the aspects of the law to the ADA," he said. The school offers a center for academic advising available to students with disabilities. And those students can also take a reduced course load and still qualify for financial aid. The college has note-takers and books on tape, as well as sign language interpreters and computer transcribers for the deaf and hard of hearing. There are only one or two blind and visually impaired students, he said.

Admissions officers are the ones who represent the school at college fairs, Polselli said. But if a high school wanted more information on disability services, "I'd love to do that," he said.

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