Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Disclosing Differences

We recently had the opportunity to meet with Helen McDonald, the Director of Admissions at the Threshold Program, a post-secondary program for students with learning differences and cognitive limitations at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We also had a chance to speak with Threshold students and take a tour of its compact urban campus.

The Threshold Program was founded in 1982 and serves students from all over the country in its two year curriculum and additional one year Bridge and Transition programs. More than half of the Threshold students have physical or psychological conditions in addition to their learning difficulties and the average student enters with the reading and mathematical skills of a 4th or 5th grader. Clearly, this program is for students with profound learning issues, well beyond the vast majority of students we see at the Yellin Center.

One thing we learned during our visit is that the Threshold faculty has undertaken extensive surveys of its past students, and their research both validates the value of their program for the students it targets, and provides an important lesson for all students -- even for those with relatively minor learning difficulties or other kinds of disabilities. In a 1996 study entitled Beyond Threshold, faculty members Fran Osten and Carole Noveck surveyed employers of workers known to have learning disabilities. They asked how the timing of the workers' disclosures of their learning difficulties related to the employers' assessment of their workers. Not only did employers rate employees who disclosed their disabilties early on higher than those employees who did not disclose, or disclosed later in their employment, but 79% of the employees who disclosed their learning disabilities during the hiring process received raises and/or promotions compared to those who did not disclose early on -- only 25% of who received raises and/or promotions.

We believe this remarkable difference should be considered by all students who struggle with learning as they complete their education and move into the workplace.

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