Accommodating a Disability: Adults with Learning Disabilities Tara J. Childers University of Oklahoma EIPT 6183, Dr. Greene May 3, 1999 Whether we graduate from highschool or college we all hope to find a challenging career that will propel us forward in today’s society. For those suffering from dyslexia this only adds to the frustration and fears associated with seeking employment. Many adults with dyslexia or other forms of learning disabilities never disclose their disability in interviews or once employed for fear of being discriminated against. Several investigators have noted, however, that many persons with learning disabilities adjust well to the demands and complexities of adulthood. (Greenbaum et al. 1996).
The basic cause of dyslexia is still not known, however, much research is being done to determine the problems underlying dyslexia. In many cases, dyslexia is highly inherited. Studies have shown a number of genes that may set the stage for its development. Characteristics of dyslexia are now more apparent to educators than ever before. Early educational interventions are helping individuals to manage their dyslexia. There have been some studies that attend to accommodating persons with learning disabilities in post-secondary and occupational settings. Only a few articles will be reviewed having been found worthy of this subject. However, before reviewing the articles, in order to gain a greater understanding of the types of learning disabilities people face lets define one of the most significant learning problems: dyslexia.
A Type of Learning Disability: What is Dyslexia? The word dyslexia is derived form the Greek “dys” (meaning poor or inadequate) and “lexis” (works or language). Dyslexia is a learning disability characterized by problems in expressive or receptive, oral or written language. Problems may emerge in reading, spelling, writing, speaking, or listening. Dyslexia is not a disease; it has no cure. Dyslexia describes a different kind of mind, often gifted and productive, that learns differently. Dyslexia is not the result of low intelligence nor is the problem solely intelligence. An unexpected gap exists between learning aptitude and achievement in school. Dyslexia is not truly a visual or auditory problem, but a language problem. Dyslexia results from differences in the structure and function of the brain. People with dyslexia are unique; each having individual strengths and weaknesses. Many dyslexics are creative and have unusual talents in areas such as art, athletics, architecture, graphics, electronics, mechanics, drama, music, engineering, and medical professions. Dyslexics often show special talent in areas that require visual, spatial, and motor integration. Their problems in language processing distinguish them as a group. This means that the dyslexic has problems translating language to thought (as in listening or reading) or thought to language (as in writing or speaking). After looking at what dyslexia means and some characteristics of this disability now lets look at a study of learning disabilities in the workplace. Research by Greenbaum, Graham, and Scales (1996) adults with learning disabilities in the work place indicate that most adults adjust well to the demands and complexities of adulthood.
The purpose of this study was to identify occupational and social status of adults with learning disabilities once after college. This study was conducted at the University of Maryland. Only eighty-one students with learning disabilities received assistance from the office of Disability Support Services during a twelve-year span from 1980 to 1992. In the study conducted by Greenbaum, Graham, and Scales (1996), out of the 81 former students, 49 adults with learning disabilities agreed to be interviewed about their current employment and social status. The study was based on increasing reports of adults with learning disabilities in recent years and the questions about the efficacy of special education services. As Patton and Polloway (1992) cited by Greenbaum et al. (1996) noted, the scenario for many adults with learning disabilities is characterized by unemployment, low pay, part-time work, frequent job changes, non-interaction with community, limitations in independent living, and limited social lives. Several investigators within this study noted persons with disabilities adjust well in adulthood years. Greenbaum et al. (1996) found that a number of adults with learning disabilities were employed in white-collar jobs (e.g. lawyer, urban planner, and real estate investor). Thirty seven percent of adults with learning disabilities studied by Gerber et al. as cited by Greenbaum et al., classed as highly successful in their job, eminence within their occupation, earned income, job satisfaction and education. Within all three studies, one factor for success for adults with learning disabilities was the level of education.
Persons with mild learning disabilities who dropped out of high school are often employed at a lower rate than persons with mild disabilities who graduated. (Edgar, l987; Hasazi, Gordon, & Roe, l985; Zigmond & Thornton, l985). Persons with learning disabilities who graduated from college are more likely to hold a professional and managerial position than persons with learning disabilities who only graduated from high school. (Rogan & Hartman, l976, 1990). The successful functioning of persons with learning disabilities was evident by post-secondary education. Eighty nine percent of the students Gerber, Ginsberg, and Keiff (1992) studied obtained a bachelors degree or higher. The current study examined the occupations and social status of adults with learning disabilities who graduated from college. Employment Current employment at the time of the interview, 35 of the 49 participants was employed. One working on graduate school part-time, 7 of the remaining 14 were engaged because they were attending school full-time, 2 working on undergraduate degrees, and 5 were attending graduate school.
The occupations of the participants varied and included customer service representative, bartender, medical researcher, reporter, camp director, bank teller, salesperson, mechanical engineer, artist, botanist, corporate vice president, teacher, embryologist, investment banker, paramedic, social worker, securities broker, line cook, office manager, and so forth. Of the employed participants, 25 were in professional, technical, or managerial positions; eight were in clerical and sales and two were in service occupations. Eighty percent of adults with learning disabilities were employed full time, in professional or managerial positions or occupations. Job Satisfaction Of the 35 employed, 33 were satisfied with their current employment. Even though most of the participants enjoyed their jobs, 21 of the participants stated they would like a different job. Reasons for wanting a different job included a) wanting to make more money b) wanting a more challenging or interesting occupation. Social Status All but one of the 49 participants was socially active. Social activities ranged from going to bars, movies, and dinner, as well as sporting events. Only nine of the participants said they were unsatisfied with their social lives.
Disclosure of Learning Disability Of the total of participants who had been employed, only nine indicated they had ever disclosed their learning disability when interviewing for a job. The reasons for disclosing their disability to their interviewers was a) they were not ashamed of their learning disability and felt they had learned to compensate b) that their disability would have an impact on their performance of the job. Most participants did not reveal their disability when applying for their job. Reasons for not revealing their learning disability was a) fear of discrimination and stigmatization b) no longer being affected by the disability. The primary reason for not disclosing their disability was the fear of discrimination. Impact of Learning Disability Participants in the study by Adelman and Vogel as cited by Greenbaum et al. reported that their learning disability affected their work and that they had devised specific strategies for coping with their difficulties. Some of the strategies include taking extra time to complete work, asking for additional help, carefully monitoring or proofing own work. In the current study, participants were knowledgeable about their disability and its effects on their lives. There were a total of 41 participants who had difficulties in multiple areas such as, reading comprehension, organization, and note taking. Eight indicated they had difficulty in only one area: reading (n=3), composition (n=2), mathematics (n=2), or information processing (n=1).
Participants typically described their learning disabilities with the term dyslexia. What role did the participants’ learning disability affected their work environment; 39 participants indicated that their learning disability affected them either at work or in other areas of their lives. These areas included reading, writing, math, and memory. Adelman & Vogel, (1990) as cited by Greenbaum et al. (1996) the most common problems centered on processing, language, and math difficulties. The current study adds to a growing body of work indicating that a learning disability is a persistent problem that does not go away with age. Conclusion From this study, we have found that education plays an important role in the future success of a person with a learning disability as well as persons with learning disabilities adjust well to the demands and complexities of adulthood. (Greenbaum et al. 1996) The study examined some of the difficulties and fears one may face in the work place. The article suggests that self-awareness can help a person with a learning disability by strengthening them to become the person they want to be. The article however, does not address or suggest specific strategies one may use to achieve personal goals.
The article did cover how most participants were unwilling to disclose their learning disability to their employer. People with learning disabilities have specific rights according to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Revealing learning disabilities to an employer would allow accommodations and adjustments for those people in the work place but the authors did not go into great detail concerning discrimination issues. Moving to the second study, students with learning disabilities in education face a similar task as that of adults in the work. According to Ysseldyke & Algozzine, 1990 as cited by Barga (1996), it is estimated that five percent of young school aged adolescents is considered to have some type of learning disabilities. Due to the passage of the Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 schools are now becoming involved in assisting disadvantaged students. Congress passed the 1973 Vocational Rehabilitation Act, which focused on providing equal education for any and all students with learning disabilities. This law mandates that students with learning disabilities receive supplemental services while attending educational settings (Barga, 1996). Today, the number of students in higher educational settings who have experienced some type of learning disability has increased from .3 percent in 1983 to 1.2 percent in 1987 (Heath, 1992). This same survey found that students with learning disabilities in postsecondary institutions have grown to over 20,000. From this we can clearly see that students with learning disabilities are the largest group of students who receive services that assist them with the learning process, especially at the college level (Jarrow, 1987 as cited by Barga, 1996).
Clearly, there has been a great increase of students who are showing learning disabilities in the higher educational arenas. Students with learning disabilities have difficulty in reading, writing, and spelling and with mathematical concepts. Often time’s students are easily distracted, unfocused, and have a hard time developing good time management skills. In addition, many students who struggle with learning disabilities have great difficulty in understanding and following directions and struggle with different aspects of their social situations that they encounter. One of the most significant facts about these students is their alarming rate of high school dropout. According to Lichtenstein, 40 percent of students with learning disabilities drop out of high school, as opposed to the 25 percent without learning disabilities (Lichtenstein, 1992). The purpose of this study was to find out the factors that has enhanced the success of students with learning disabilities in school settings and to explore how these students managed their disabilities from kindergarten through college. This study was designed due to the alarming number of students with learning disabilities who dropped out of school.
There were two objectives for this study. The first objective was to find out how students with learning disabilities managed their disabilities while in school; and the second objective was to find the methods of success. This study was conducted at an average sized, 4-year state university with an enrollment of 9,000 students. The students for the study were identified with the help of the director of learning disabilities clinic. The students were first contacted through a letter that was written and generated by the director of the clinic and the researcher. From the letter, four traditional and five nontraditional students with learning disabilities were selected for this study. Selection was based on verbal response, willingness to participate in this study, and availability of time. The age of the students ranged from 18-45 years, with the median age being 27.5. The range of disabilities varied widely from each person. Data for this study was collected over a six month period of time and the collection of the data consisted of conducting semistructured, open-ended, taped interviews; completing classroom observations; reviewing academic files; and collecting other documents related to the study’s participants. The focus of the interviewers was on exploring the student’s history and educational experiences from kindergarten through their current schooling status.
The results indicated that the students experienced various forms of labeling, stigmatization, and gatekeeping that created many of the barriers that they have faced in their education. To gain a better understanding of these results I will define labeling, stigmatization and gatekeeping. Labeling is defined as “anything functioning as a means of identification or as a descriptive term, formal or informal” (Barga, 1996). Basically, this means that when someone comes into another person’s presence, we label and categorize the individual based on his or her appearance. From this study, students described labeling as a very positive experience when it made sense out of their academic struggles and involved getting help. On the other hand, labeling was negative for students when it created conditions of being set apart from their peers and receiving differential treatment from other people. Stigmatization is defined as “receiving differential treatment based on others’ perceptions” (Barga, 1996). In this study, stigmatization took on several different forms, depending on the context. At times stigmatization was evident through name calling, accusations, and low academic expectations by peers and teachers.
During the college level, stigmatization was self-imposed or forced on the students. Gatekeeping is defined as the “barrier process that serves to maintain the status quo of an organization” (Barga, 1996). This was accomplished by either denying students with learning disabilities access to a college goal or permitting access but on conditional terms. The coping techniques that were found due to this study were of great importance. Coping techniques are “behaviors or initiatives the student takes to assist in managing his or her disability” (Barga, 1996). The first coping technique was benefactors. The benefactors functions included providing emotional support and understanding, acting as a sounding board for personal problems, helping with homework, and being an advocate on behalf of the student. The second technique was self-improvement techniques, which included taking longer breaks, seeking and initiating help at the university level, using positive affirmations for motivation, and seeking situations that produced personal growth. The final coping technique was study skills and management strategies. Use of technology, relaxation techniques before tests, taping classes, maintaining a personal day timer, and the amount of time devoted to study. From this study we can clearly see that students experienced labeling, stigmatization and gatekeeping and the ways that they learned to cope with there disability was through relying on benefactors, implementing self-improvement techniques, and utilizing particular strategies and management skills to assist students with academics.
The results from this study have tremendous implications for schools and school administration. The purpose of this study was fulfilled and it is of great importance for the future of students with learning disabilities. In conclusion, the findings of research have shown similarities and differences in accommodating persons with learning disabilities. Barga (1996) finding supports students with learning disabilities has increased at an alarming rate and learning disabled students continue to face challenges in the school environment. Greenbaum et al. (1996) found after post-secondary education persons with learning disabilities adjusted well to the complexities of adulthood even though those individuals rarely disclosed their learning disability to their employer fearing being discriminated against. How can we as a society empower persons with disadvantages to become more aware of their rights as defined by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990? We should make every effort to inform students about services offered in schools as well as their rights to those services. Employers need to become more knowledgeable of their responsibilities to employees faced with learning disabilities.
Both schools and employers need to become more aware of discrimination, labeling, stigmatizations, and gatekeeping that persons are faced with during their life as disabled. Due to these negative outcomes, persons must avoid disclosing their disability to make it through a school or work situation. However, disclosing is starting to become easier as the stigma lessons, but unfortunately, discrimination is not yet cleansed from our country. Some may wish not to disclose their learning disability, but by using positive terms to explain what one needs can be another option. Example: I need Mary to proof my work before you see it. That way we can both pay more attention to the content and not worry about the way it is typed. Have you seen the XYZ software? It gets the computer to talk so that you can hear what is on the screen. Since my job requires so much detailed reading, it would be wonderful if I could hear it. Then there would be fewer errors. Regardless of the strategy, one may take. An accommodation request must be well thought out, and the easier it is for your employer, the more likely your success. As stated in the passage earlier, participants of the Greenbaum et al. study indicated difficulties in multiple areas one being organization. A strategy for helping organizational skills may include using a daily calendar, keeping your work area clean of clutter, color code items, keep items on shelves and bulletin boards. Use an alarm feature on your work computer so to remind you of important meetings.
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