We had the chance this past weekend to visit two Washington D.C. universities that take different approaches to working with students with learning disabilities. The kind of differences we encountered should be considered by students and families planning for college, no matter where they choose to apply.
George Washington University is a vibrant urban campus in the city of Washington. We had the chance to meet with the Director of Disability Support Services and to discuss the process for getting support and the kinds of supports offered to students. The Director was welcoming and her office clearly took its responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act seriously. Students with documented disabilities of any kind could receive accommodations and physical modifications to give them equal access to the classes, dorms, and other university services. But, there was no special support program offered for students with learning issues. Like any student, a student with learning challenges could use the school tutoring services, but no proactive supports were in place to help these students. It's a fine school, but we wish it did more to support students who learn differently.
We found a different story at American University, located at the edge of Washington, in a more suburban setting. There, we spoke to both the Disability Support Services staff and the Coordinator of the Learning Services Program run by the Academic Support Center. We were impressed by both staffs and the supports they offer. American offers the required supports under the Americans with Disabilities Act through the Disability Support office but also has a staff member whose role is to help students with assistive technology -- special tools and programs that will enable them to access the curriculum despite their disabilities.
Students who have disabilities relating to learning can enroll in a freshman year program at American that offers extensive learning supports. This program requires a separate application and a separate fee, but enables students who learn differently to get started on their college education with a safety net of supports that can continue less intensively throughout their years at American. We think this kind of support can make a real difference in helping students with learning challenges achieve academic success.