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The Great Equalizer: How Colleges are Stepping Up for Students with Learning Disabilities

Learning Disabilities College Scholarships

Thirteen years ago, the movie Taare Zameen Par (2007) familiarized Indian audiences with the phenomenon of ‘dyslexia’ – a common disorder that results in the misinterpretation of words, letters, numbers and symbols.

The movie, and the much-needed exposure it provided only scratches at the surface of what learning disabilities are, their types, and their impact on academic progress and achievement. However, our biggest concern is to ensure that the children of this spectrum get equal opportunities for higher education.

As opposed to popular belief, learning disabilities (LDs) are lifelong afflictions and cannot be cured; nonetheless, with the right environment and support, these students can perform and even excel in their areas of expertise. In this regard, opportunities from colleges and universities are highly motivating.

How are Indian universities accommodating students with learning disabilities?

High schools across the country are taking active steps towards incorporating measures in the educational structure for students with LDs. School boards like the CBSE, ICSE and SSC even allot extra time in examinations for them.

Among universities, Delhi University, in accordance with a mandate by the Delhi High Court, grants admission to dyslexic students under a 3% quota (Vellaiappan, 2019). However, with a limited number of hospitals listed with the authority to issue disability certificates, applicants have faced a lot of difficulties on numerous occasions in the past.

Private institutions like Ashoka University have gone a step further by installing an Office of Learning Support for catering to their students who are diagnosed with Specific Learning Disorders (SLDs). Their initiative allows for curriculum and attendance modifications, extensions in assignment submissions, priority registrations, examination-related support, and so on.

Although we seem to have some provisions in place where individual education boards and state governments are considered, there is still a long way to go for India. SLDs are yet to be recognized in the PWD (Persons with Disabilities) Act of 1995 (Unni, 2012).

On the other side of the spectrum…

Comparatively, developed countries like the US, UK and Canada among others, recognize students with LDs as “having special education needs” (Unni, 2012). As the number of Indian students applying for foreign universities has increased dramatically in the past decade, a cursory glance at their provisions are necessary for parents of children with learning disabilities.

In he US, many universities provide support services and programs specifically for those that fall on the SLD spectrum (Madaus, 2013). Notable among these are –

  • University of Arizona, where students with special education needs get assisted through the Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques or SALT Center.
  • Stanford University’s Schwab Learning Center that works on eradicating the stigma associated with learning disabilities
  • University of Santa Cruz provides students with notes, tape recorders, assistance in writing, and computers for personal use.

UK universities are legally obligated to provide equal opportunities to students with disabilities. Additionally, every university has a specific office that also caters to students with SLDs. While local students are awarded government funds, international students can also avail particular loans or scholarships.

In Canada, there are “no specific federal or provincial governmental standards”, which means provisions and the degree to which they are practised vary by individual colleges or universities. Hence, it is important to understand how universities are preparing accommodations for students with LDs before applying for admission.

It is also advisable for international students to get in touch with government offices or local NGOs that can help them acquire the necessary documentation. The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health has been working actively in this regard.

International Scholarships for students with learning disabilities:

  • BMO Capital Markets Lime Connect Equity Through Education Scholarships (USA and Canada)
  • Disability Care Center Scholarships (USA)
  • Fred J. Epstein Youth Achievement Award (USA)
  • Google Lime Scholarships (USA and Canada)
  • Joseph James Morelli Scholarships (USA)
  • British Council Scholarships* (UK)

covers special education needs among others.

What does the future hold?

 The movement for awareness and accomodation for Specific Learning Disorders has been a steep uphill climb for societies around the world. Often deemed ‘invisible disabilities’ due to the lack of physical symptoms, learning disabilities and the children who are affected by them have been deeply misunderstood.

Students with LDs, therefore, need to feel respected such that they are comfortable opening up. Continued doubts over authenticity continue the process of structural exclusion, preventing higher education from being more accessible (Eichhorn, 2015).

As the Government of India initiates the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan with the dream of universalized access to education, the lack of mobility for students with SLDs continues to be a sore spot. In this regard, it is not surprising that students with the right means look to destinations like the US, UK and Canada that are stepping up to offer better accommodations.

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