July 10, 1996
Hundreds of thousands of U. S. college students are receiving special educational favors under the Americans with Disabilities Act. And with the numbers rising each year, educators are questioning whether many of the students are afflicted with the learning disabilities they claim.
The 1990 ADA required educational institutions to make all "reasonable accommodations" necessary to put those with disabilities -- including learning disabilities -- on level ground with other students.
- According to one study, in just three years the number of students asking for help almost doubled to 3 percent of the more than 14 million enrolled in college in 1994.
- Other studies, using various definitions of learning disability, show that anywhere from 160,000 to 300,000 students are receiving special treatment.
- The proportion of students in grade schools and high schools who claim learning disabilities -- many of whom will be heading for college -- has risen to 15 percent according to advocacy groups.
- The number of students with special accommodations for physical or mental disabilities taking college entrance exams doubled from 1991 to 1995 to more than 55,000.
As for the extra costs involved, just a school-provided notetaker, for example, can cost thousands of dollars per school year for each student who claims to need the help. Other special accommodations can involve extra time and a room alone for all tests, as well as private briefings by professors in the event the student may have dozed during a lecture.
Educators are suspicious of student claims of disabilities such as "disrationalia," supposedly the inability to think and behave rationally, despite adequate intelligence, "disorder of written expression" and "foreign language learning disability." There is no standard test for most of these supposed maladies, and they occur only as vaguely identifiable manifestations peculiar to each individual.
One reason some educators are suspicious of these "disabilities": a survey at Boston University revealed that 40 percent of "learning disabled" students made it all the way through high school without having their problem diagnosed. And the experience of other schools confirm what Harvard found: one-quarter of those asking for special help had not had a learning problem diagnosed until arriving at college.
Furthermore, educators and others warn that students who are abusing the system are setting themselves up for disappointments when they enter the workforce -- where employers probably won't grant them special treatment.
Source: Victoria Allen (Public Broadcasting System), "A Disability Crutch," USA Today, July 10, 1996.
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