An explosion in the number of students with learning disabilities prompts efforts to make assistive technology available campus-wide, not just in the disabilities office.

firefly-assistive-technologyADHD diagnoses have increased 53 percent in the last decade, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2009 analysis from the General Accounting Office (GAO) indicates that the number of students with LD such as dyslexia has also risen, from 5 percent in 2000 to 8.9 percent by 2008.

Over the past decade, higher education has seen a significant change in the kinds of disabilities faced by students. While the percentage of students with physical disabilities has dropped, there has been an explosion in the rates of students with learning disabilities (LD) and associated disorders.

Unfortunately, many of these students must cope with more than one learning impairment: Up to a third of students with LD have also been diagnosed with ADHD, for example.

One face among all the statistics is DeAnna Guetschow, who was diagnosed with dyslexia tendencies and ADHD as a student at Adrian College in Michigan.

“It was as if the dyslexia and ADHD ganged up against me,” recalled Guetschow, who graduated in May with a major in studio arts and a minor in English. “For example, I would misread a word like ‘succor’ as ‘soccer.’ Then I would think about how they call it football in Europe, and how I hated football in high school because the players were jerks. The next thing I know, it’s four hours later and I’m thinking about iced crickets in Thailand.”

Assistive technology has been available for years for LDs like dyslexia, but it’s also proving useful in helping ADHD students like Guetschow organize their work and stay on track. The disabilities specialist at Adrian College introduced Guetschow to Kurzweil 3000, an integrated literacy solution originally purchased by the school for a blind student. The product originated as a text-to-speech program that has evolved to incorporate additional supports for comprehension and writing, including mechanisms (such as writing templates) to help students marshal their thoughts.

(Next page: Key features of new assistive tech)


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