Ongoing or unrecognized educational difficulties have adversely affected how many persons worldwide with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, and other Learning Disabilities view themselves and their opportunities for the future.
Difficulties in making major decisions about one’s future are a normal part of life and are not solely applicable to students with learning, attention, or social difficulties. Even with increasing awareness and legislation designed to facilitate inclusion, many find it difficult to identify what institutions and institutional resources are best suited to help advance themselves or how to make a solid informed choice about such a complex decision.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Disability Strategy mirrors in many aspects the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment Act (ADAAA). To begin, they are all united through statutory requirements focused on equality of educational and training opportunities for young disabled people in European countries (1 in 6 or 80 million) and the nearly 1 billion school/working age adults worldwide. Next, they measure/evaluate these outcomes for evidence of country’s progress towards full educational inclusion. As a note, education and training is a very broad area, which can include school education, higher education, vocational skills training, and lifelong learning opportunities. Therefore, for each piece of disability rights legislation or treaty, priorities link inclusion within the public school system and transitions for young disabled people to next level education, training, and employment outcomes.
One 2004 UK publication sees that historically, a major limiting factor (besides trained staff) for international higher education inclusion has been an unfounded attitudinal belief that these non-traditional students are academically unfit. The authors contend that many UK faculty and staff now generally accept that their ideas and learning abilities are as strong as any other student. Reported ongoing barriers such as accessing the curriculum would require a culture change within higher education, particularly older universities, with a shift towards more accessible teaching practices and the wider availability of learning support for all students.
What kinds of accessibility are we talking about?
Relatively simple adjustments, such as routinely providing course notes and handouts on-line, would effectively remove some students’ “special needs” and be a useful resource for all students. Current provision for disabled students places too much emphasis on providing them with individual support to get around institutional barriers rather than on more fundamental institutional change. The intention to “mainstream” disability remains a rather vague notion at the moment.
These reasonable accommodations or adjustments are tracked in the U.S., and a 2011 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the U.S. Education Department’s statistical arm, says 88% of colleges reported enrolling students with disabilities in the 2008-2009 academic year, which equals more than 707,000 students. About one-third of the students had a specific learning disability (LD). As such, a 93% of the institutions offered additional time to take exams while 71% offered students an alternative exam format. Further, 77% colleges provided students with note-takers. 72% provided written course notes or help with learning strategies, and 70% offered “adaptive” equipment and technology.
Does a child with disabilities have the right to receive free and compulsory primary education within the mainstream educational system?
In 28 of the countries surveyed, a right to such education does exist; however, 22 other countries only offer this opportunity to children with certain difficulties. However, the existence of this right does not mean that such education really exists. For example, in France, “the legal framework is not always respected as about 13,000 children are excluded both from mainstream education and from institutions.” Additionally, Brazil does not prepare all public schools and teachers to put inclusive education in practice.” Further, other problems cited in achieving inclusion are the lack of resources and attitudinal issues. For example, in Romania, some mainstream schools and parents of “normal” children protest against the idea of having their kids in the same class with a disabled, “ugly, sick” or “HIV positive student.”
Do persons with disabilities have equal access and reasonable accommodations/adjustments to general tertiary education, vocational training, adult education and lifelong learning?
It is truly astonishing that only four countries (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, UK and South Korea) of the 55 surveyed publish official numbers annually that identify the number of persons with disabilities who graduate from university. Thirty-three countries responded that no such figures are officially published or even available. Explanations for this reality range from Belgium’s response that “such data is not officially available, partly because of the lack of common understanding on what is to be understood under student with disability” to Serbia’s statement that “this is due to the autonomy of universities” to Sweden’s comment that “the existence of disabilities among those who graduate is unclear.”
Therefore, international student programs must continue to develop “bundling” of both academic and non-academic courses, services, and resources to provide a broad array of potential options for success in life, work, and community for all students. At the same time, disabled students should seek colleges and universities who have experience and continued willingness in using this approach and strategy. The best aspects of higher education aspire to equip students to succeed in a globalized world. Better upfront acceptance and institutional inclusion will result in effectively preparing young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and other learning disabilities to face the challenges of a highly competitive job market and multicultural environment.
To this point, Life Development Institute (LDI) strives to offer domestic and international students the opportunity to experience education that transforms lives and offers an actual transition to independent adult living. LDI is part of the community and not an “island,” which enables students to live out the “education and training” in real life. In turn, students are empowered in courageous self-expression and progress towards becoming confident, capable, and independent adults. In fact, LDI has had the great opportunity to work with students from Canada, Bermuda, Mexico, Bolivia, Panama, Curacao, Jamaica, Japan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Turkey.
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