Requesting Classroom Accommodations: Self-Advocacy and Conflict Resolution Training for College Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

In 1996, approximately six percent of the students enrolled in postsecondary educational institutions had disabilities (National Clearinghouse on Postsecondary Education for Individuals with Disabilities, 1998). According to the National Center for Education Statistics (1999), college students with disabilities have traditionally reported sensory (visual or hearing loss) or orthopedic conditions. But the National Center (1999) also noted that, given advances in medical, educational, and environmental technologies, students with a variety of other types of disabilities including learning and neuromuscular impairments have enrolled in and successfully completed higher education programs.

In studying the ways in which a wide variety of impairments are dealt with in postsecondary institutions, Brinckerhoff, Shaw, and McGuire (1993) identified multiple accommodations ranging from special housing and equipment to notetakers, tape recorded lectures, readers, scribes, and interpreters. Moreover, the legal requirement to provide academic accommodations challenges student services professionals to generate an ever increasing range of accommodations for students with disabilities. Unfortunately, research indicates that young adults with disabilities enrolled in postsecondary education have little understanding of accommodations or of effective ways to implement their civil rights (Carroll & Johnson-Bown, 1996). In a study of college students with disabilities at fifteen colleges across eight states, Thompson (1993) found significant deficits in the knowledge of disability rights in a majority of the participating students. Other researchers have reported that many college students with disabilities need assistance in dealing with complex social interactions such as the `request and negotiate' demands in the accommodation situation (Chavez, 1984; Evenson & Evenson, 1983; Wall & Culhane, 1991.

Knowledge and skill deficiencies are not the only factors limiting students' success in requesting accommodations. Institutional resistance is a critical environmental condition making it more difficult for students with disabilities to request accommodations. Although more than 20 years have passed since the publication of Section 504 regulations and nine years have passed since the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), higher education, like many other social systems, continues to struggle with implementing policies for providing reasonable accommodations (Tucker & Goldstein, 1995). Heyward, Lawton and Associates (1995) stated that a struggle is underway between service providers and institutions of higher education over compliance with federal regulations and proper implementation of accommodations for students. Unfortunately, students with disabilities are frequently the casualties of this conflict (Heyward et al., 1995). Therefore, self-advocacy and conflict resolution training is an important intervention to offer college students with disabilities.

Recently developed educational materials and instructional programs define reasonable accommodations and the procedures for requesting them (Rumrill, Roessler, & Brown, 1994; Thompson & Bethea, 1996). Unfortunately, few, if any, training programs are available that delineate the sequence and timing of conflict resolution behaviors when disputes occur. The student with a disability must not only be educated in the procedures of requesting accommodations, but must also be provided the tools to resolve the inevitable differences of opinion that occur in the absence of clear accommodation policies.

The intervention evaluated in this study, Self-Advocacy and Conflict Resolution Training (SACR), addressed both the communication (self-advocacy) and negotiation (conflict resolution) skills that students need to implement their rights to accommodation in the educational process. In the SACR training program, students received information about academic barriers and reasonable accommodations; they were provided information detailing the protection they can expect from civil rights laws as well as the responsibilities expected of them; they received training in social competence skills for self-assertion and self-advocacy; and they practiced situational conflict resolution strategies. …