Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Your Advocacy Backpack

Students heading off to college in the next few days have been packing their bags and loading the car with all sorts of items to improve their dorm room and their academic work. One item that is crucial to college success for every student, especially for those who need academic accommodations because of learning or attention difficulties, is something we like to call an Advocacy Backpack.

For students who don't need to arrange special accommodations with professors, or to deal with the college Disabilities Services Office, the Advocacy Backpack is a small to medium sized bag. What should it contain?

  • An understanding of how you learn best -- Do you follow a lecture better when you take notes, or when you listen and review written materials later? Do you tend to do your work at the last minute or are you someone who can break it into chunks and work on it over time?

  • A sense of what kind of work environment you need -- Can you work while your roommate plays loud music, or do you need a quiet spot to concentrate? Or maybe you are the one who needs music to study.

  • The recognition that ignoring a problem -- a late paper, a missed class, or an assignment you don't really understand, is only going to make things worse down the road.

If you are one of these students, you need to take steps to maximize your effectiveness and create a positive work environment. This may mean working with another student who likes to take notes, or arranging a living situation that is conducive to studying, or speaking to a professor about a difficult situation or assignment.

For students who have learning or attention difficulties that require assistance from the college's Disability Services Office, a larger Advocacy Backpack will be required. This backpack will contain all of the items for students without specific learning issues, plus some important additions. You will need:

  • Documentation acceptable to the school to provide you access to accommodations.

  • An understanding of Section 504 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, the two laws that give you specific rights to accommodations.

  • Contact information for the individuals in the Disability Services Office whose job it is to assist in planning your accommodations.

  • Information about what your school requires to set up special testing settings, such as quiet rooms or extended time to complete an exam.

So, have fun picking out a colorful quilt and a terrific study lamp. But don't forget to pack your Advocacy Backpack too.