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BC’s Invisible Disabilities Brought To Light

Issues For Students With Disabilities Go Unnoticed

Assoc. News Editor

Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

This is the first in a three part series on student disabilities at Boston College.

Boston College students are forced to think about the activities of a variety of student groups every day as they pass by bright advertisements while walking through campus. It is not unusual for thousands of BC students to be aware of the upcoming activities of a group composed of only 25 people. There is a group of approximately 200 students united by a commonality, however, that the general BC population is rarely, if ever, forced to consider: students with disabilities.

Students with learning disabilities, including conditions like dyslexia and ADD, may be the least considered of all, as they lack the cast or wheelchair that obviously differentiates them from someone without disabilities. Many BC students are therefore unaware of the struggles that these students go through, and the differences between their academic experience and that of a student with disabilities.

Paulette Durrett, assistant dean for students with disabilities in the Office of the Dean for Student Development (ODSD), is very aware of the needs of students with disabilities, and works each day to make their academic experience as normal as possible.

“My office ensures that the accommodations that students get help them to be successful in the classroom,” Durrett said. “They still have to do the work. They have to do all of their reading and all of their studying. The accommodations just bring a student with disabilities up to par with everyone else.”

Any student with a disability at BC who can provide proper documentation is able to set up a meeting with Durrett’s office to discuss his or her disability and devise a plan that offers accommodations for it. These accommodations vary from student to student. Students with learning disabilities are most likely to be given extra time on tests, the ability to take exams separately from other students, early registration for classes, notes from any class they take, and possibly the right to request any readings they need in an audio format. This represents only a subset of accommodations offered to students with disabilities at BC, and students with different learning disabilities can receive some or all of these accommodations depending on the nature and severity of their learning disability.

“I am allowed time and a half on any test or exam, the ability to take tests in the Learning Center, a note taker, and I can request readings in an audio format if I wish,” said a student with dyslexia who requested that her name not be printed. “I have only used extra time and testing in the Learning Center, but it has been really helpful. I didn’t expect to get as much help as I did. I think BC accommodates students with learning disabilities wonderfully.”

This student agrees with Durrett that these accommodations are necessary in order for her to have a normal academic experience.

“I can do the work,” she said. “I can do it just as well as anyone else. It just might take me an extra 20 minutes so I can go back and spell things correctly so you can understand what I’m trying to say.”

The task of creating a more equal playing field for students with disabilities can be very complicated and time consuming for Durrett and her staff. She currently has two graduate students working for her: one focuses on scheduling exams for students who wish to take their tests separately from their classmates, and the other focuses on creating audio formats of required readings.

“Say it’s September and you are a dyslexic student who has just received a syllabus,” Durrett said. “You have 3 classes, each of which have six different readings because you are taking Sociology. We have to locate these readings, and then get permission from the publisher to turn them into an audio format. We then bring them down to the library and scan every page of the reading into a program that turns the reading into an audio recording that we can e-mail to students. This can take a while.”

Regardless of how much time and energy the job takes, Durrett and her staff are committed to creating the best experience possible for students with learning disabilities.

“I don’t want this to be a place where they feel like they will fail again,” Durrett said. “This is one of the underlying issues for students with learning disabilities. They struggle so hard to produce the same documents that someone else could, and they think sometimes others look down on them because it takes them longer.”

Though students with learning disabilities often find that Durrett’s office accommodates them very well, they still have their academic struggles.

“I’ve had a very negative experience with professors,” the unnamed student said. “Some of them don’t believe a student with learning disabilities can do the work. A professor asked me what sport I play when I told them about my accommodations. I’ve had a professor that told me not to use my extra time because they thought it was cheating. I had a professor tell me it was unfair that I got to register early since I am an honors student.”

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