Steps Towards a Successful Educational Experience
Planning Ahead is the Key
Entering post-secondary is a huge step for anyone. I am hoping the information in this section will make it easier for you to understand the rules, procedures, and responsibilities involved in enrolling and being successful in your educational experience.
Differences Between K to 12 and Post-Secondary
Planning for post-secondary education while in high school is an important first step. High school students do not have the responsibility to request services and because they are in the same system for 12 years, the teachers understand their needs. Moving to post-secondary, the student is an adult and, therefore, the student needs to both self-identify and request services. Understanding how the system works and the role of the student is critical to your success.
In a nutshell, here is a rundown of your new responsibilities.
- pick where you go to college based on what you want to be
- let the college know you are coming
- inform them of your disability
- give them the right documentation to support your needs
- are an adult and need to keep in touch with everyone
- are responsible for getting the right supports
- are now part of a team that works to providing you with the tools for success
Probably the first thing you want to do is decide whether YOU want to continue learning. Maybe you want to continue studying, or take some time off, or try to find a job. That is your prerogative. It is your life, you decide!
If you make up your mind to continue studies, you should think about what you are interested in. Do you like math, science, people, Spanish, or auto mechanics? Do you want to be a doctor, a vet, a lawyer, a movie star? Get some feedback from your parents, friends, guidance counselors and others, to help you decide what you want to do. This is your goal, you can start working towards achieving it. Goals are not etched in stone; you can CHANGE your goal. In fact, I have changed my goal many times. I started going to school to become an early childhood educator, then I thought I wanted to be a psychologist, then a writer, and finally a literacy teacher. It is okay to change your goals.
Once you have decided on your educational goal, you should look into different schools, and find out if they have the courses that you want. At the same time, you should check to see if you have the correct pre-requisites for entrance into your chosen field. For example, if you want to be a rocket scientist, you need to have Math 12, Calculus 12 and some other funky math course. Of course, you can take those pre-requisites in post-secondary, but chances are they will be triple the workload. My advice is to take them at an easier time, in high school.
Every college or university lists their specific academic entrance requirements and these are found in their calendars and on their websites. Entrance requirements can be achieved through the regular K-12 coursework or through the Adult Basic Education – Provincial Diploma.
Service providers would ideally like to have four months (a semester) notice of a student attending their college even if the student is undecided. A simple “heads up” allows the service provider to be in a better position to get the needed accommodations for the student, especially given the current interpreter shortage. When you have decided where you want to go, you need to make an appointment with the Disabled Student Services department at the post-secondary institution of your choice, because you need to tell them about yourself.
Often times, students think that the college or university is aware of their disability and knows they are coming. However, the post-secondary system works on the philosophy that students are adults and need to request service. If the student has a bona fide disability, accommodation is provided to remove barriers and provide opportunities that enable access to the institution’s services, programs and facilities.
Definition of a Disability
Here is the definition of a person with a disability, from the UBC Student Services, Disability Resource Centre’s website. Persons with disabilities are persons who:
a) have a significant and persistent mobility, sensory, learning, or other physical or mental health impairment which may be permanent or temporary; AND
b) experience functional restrictions or limitations of their ability to perform the range of life’s activities; AND
c) may experience attitudinal and/or environmental barriers which hamper their full and self-directed participation in life.
To be eligible to receive academic accommodation, students must self-identify and provide appropriate documentation of the disability.
How to Self-Identify
Self-identification means you need to tell the school that you are deaf-blind and that you need/require specific supports or services. If you do not tell them in advance about your deaf-blindness, it may be too late to arrange services for the term start. You may not even get interpreters or intervenors! Working without supports can be overwhelming or impossible for someone who cannot hear or see all that well. You may find yourself struggling, with no idea of how to cope.
If you do self-identify, you will be eligible for services and supports, thus making your school life easier and less stressful. It pays to self-identify! How do you self-identify? Most colleges and universities have a person you can contact who will help you out.
Service providers would ideally like to have four months (a semester) notice of a student attending their college even if the student is undecided. A simple “heads up” allows the service provider to be in a better position to get the needed accommodations for the student, especially given the current interpreter shortage. Remember, without us, the coordinators cannot do their job.
Joe’s Profile: Transition to College
I am deaf-blind and I decided to go to college last year. I went to see them in the spring to tell them I thought I might come to that college. In the summer I went traveling across Canada, my parents did my telephone registration and I arrived back in time for the start of school.
Entering my first class, I was shocked that there was no interpreter or other services ready. I went to see the disability coordinator and was really upset things were not ready. The coordinator was surprised to see me as he said that I had never confirmed I was coming, the registrar’s office had not been notified that a student with a disability was registering and the college was not aware a student who was deaf-blind was enrolled. Thus, I lost out on several weeks of classes while services were setup. I was lucky, I was in an urban college that had more resources available than a rural college and services could be found.
Colleges, wherever they are, sometimes do not have readily available personnel or supports, and students need to withdraw. It is really important not only to give advance notice, but also to confirm you are coming to the college as soon as you are registered. As well, you need to be clear about your needs and which supports would work best for you so that your college experience is successful.
Explaining your Disability
You need to explain your disability so the people you meet and work with in post-secondary understand who you are. This may seem to be really basic to you, but others need to know these things to best provide you with the supports you require. After all, students in post-secondary who are deaf-blind are rare, and the coordinator, most likely, has never worked with a deaf-blind person before.
Telling them what it is like being deaf-blind helps them understand the services and supports that you need. You have to be honest, and tell them what you need and why. If you need a tactile interpreter, tell the coordinator. You will need to explain that you cannot see an interpreter who sits too far away.
If you need other services, be sure to explain what they are and why you need them. I have listed some adaptations that you may or may not need in the adaptive technologies section. Go have a look. You will need to explain to instructors what you need and even what your equipment/service needs may look like. The coordinator is there for you to provide further information to your instructors if necessary. Remember that you are an adult and you, the coordinator, the instructors and service providers need to work as a team.
Without documentation, a student cannot be registered as a student with a disability, nor given supports connected to the disability. Documentation is simply evidence that such a disability is present and it has an impact on the your education. Remember that the people at the college have never met you before and your disability may be “invisible” to them. This means that you need to be able to back up what you say about yourself with statements from others as to what your disability is and how it affects your everyday life.
But, what exactly is appropriate documentation, who can provide it and how do you get it? Again, from the UBC website, here is a great definition as to what is needed.
“Documentation is obtained from medical doctors, psychologists and/or special education, rehabilitation personnel or other health professionals who have specific training, expertise, and experience in the diagnosis of conditions for which accommodation is being requested. All persons submitting documentation must be appropriately certified and/or licensed to practice their professions.
Documentation should outline the nature of the disability, along with a detailed explanation of the functional impact of the disability. A diagnosis alone is not sufficient to support a request for an accommodation.”
So, you need to go to your health care professional, doctor or therapist and ask for documentation that clearly outlines your disability and the effect that it has on you. Then, you need to go to the college and make sure that they are satisfied with what you have submitted.
Duty to Accommodate
For a student with a disability there are guidelines for service provision which are based on the Human Rights principle of “The Duty to Accommodate”. All the public post-secondary institutions in British Columbia are guided by this principle and it defines their responsibility to you as the student. But, what does it mean?
Colleges and universities are required to accept students and provide reasonable accommodation for the student’s disability (and I’m not talking about housing!). First let us examine the principle “duty to accommodate”.
A post-secondary institution has a duty to accommodate a person with a disability where the person can meet the essential requirements of a course or program. This means the college or university is required to explore the available learning and physical accommodations necessary for a student with a disability to access buildings, courses and programs. This does not mean requirements are lowered, but rather, that the student utilizes supports that ‘level the playing field ‘ so that the student can access information and demonstrate what they have learned.
This refers to adjusting an educational or employment situation so that no individual experiences reduced access to opportunity because of a disability. These can include alternate formats for materials such as taped books or Braille, using sign language interpreters or alternate methods of evaluation such as oral exams or extended time.
Now That You Have the Definitions - What is Next?
Four Steps to Accessing Accommodations
1) Do you have a disability?
The first thing the post-secondary institution will ask is “Do you have a disability?” In our case the answer would be YES. The definition of a disability is any physical, mental, psychological, learning or sensory impairment which involves functional limitations and/or activity restrictions. As students who are deaf-blind, we are sensory impaired because we either cannot hear or see all that well, or in some cases, not at all. Here is where we self identify.
2) Provide Documentation
The second thing the institution will want is current documentation that confirms the disability and the functional impact this has on our lives. This is a must and services cannot be provided without it. If you are unclear as to exactly what you need for documentation, ask the specific institution you plan on attending. The department that supports students with disabilities is there to help you navigate successfully.
3) Do you have the program/course pre-requisites?
Thirdly, the institution will determine if you are a qualified student. This means you need the prerequisites. For example, to be an engineer, you need Math 12. You may want to ask a teacher or counselor from high school to submit a letter on your behalf that describes the services you used in high school and how they helped you master the curricula.
4) What accommodations do you need?
If the institution feels that YES you are a qualified student, then they will consider which accommodations are required and reasonable. The accommodations will not give you an unfair advantage.
Attending post-secondary is an exciting and rewarding experience. Remember that you will get the most out of it when you are a member of a working team that includes you and the service providers at the college/university. Being deaf-blind should not stop you from reaching your goals.
Okay, I Am In, Now What? – 3 Steps
Sometimes students think that once they are registered, their responsibilities are over. Wrong! As adults, we need to stay connected and continue to work as a member of the team.
1) Staying Connected
Another responsibility you have is to work with the coordinator and tell him or her about any problems that arise. It is a joint process to find solutions to problems, be they small problems, such as extra lights for the classroom, to big problems, such as not being able to access the material if there is no interpreter or intervenor. A case in point; I was struggling in a class and did not inform my coordinator about the problem until it was too late. As a result, I failed the class. If you inform the coordinator, he or she can brainstorm ideas that may solve a potential problem, or prevent a future one.
The coordinators deal with a large volume of students and having a sense how the student is doing is very important, even if the student is perfectly happy. Coordinators love to listen, so don’t be shy!
2) Open Communication is Important
Your next responsibility is to keep the lines of communication open between yourself, your coordinator, and your instructor(s). This communication will help you secure the services you need and keep everyone up to date with how you are doing. You can give them a short “Everything is going A-OK”, send an email, or book an appointment. It does not matter, just keep everyone informed on your status.
3) Returning Borrowed Equipment
Another responsibility you need to be aware of is rather silly, but it is important. Suppose you borrow some equipment from the Coordinator, be it a laptop, a pen, a book or a magnifier, it is your responsibility to return it. Being a busy world we live in, it is easy to forget you borrowed it – don’t! Also, do not leave it with someone you do not know. Give it to the Coordinator, an assistant, or security. Probably the post-secondary institute has one or two pieces of equipment that are used by all disabled students. So, if you borrow it, return it.
Good luck with your studies!