Learning Disabilities and ADA Accommodations
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz identifies “Learning issues” as one of the top ten risk factors for going Off the Derech ([Horowitz, 2010]). A study done in 2010 tested a total of 20,780 adolescents, and 1,301 were identified as having a learning disability ([Svetaz, Ireland, and Blum, 2010]). The study found that adolescents with learning disabilities had twice the risk of emotional distress, and females were at twice the risk of attempting suicide and for violence involvement than their peers.
There is little help in identifying when a yeshiva student is struggling because of actual learning disabilities. Special education is a taboo, and anyone participating in tutoring is labeled as a nebach (pity case) rather than a motivated learner. In the real world, learning differences are recognized, valued, and mainstreamed to benefit every human being’s academic potential.
Your college program is legally required to accommodate your learning needs. However, as an adult, you are no longer eligible for free assessments from your local school district. You will have to find a neuropsychologist who specializes in learning disabilities to evaluate you. Oftentimes, it is hard to find someone experienced within the insurance network, and out-of-pocket evaluations range from $1,000-$5,000.
When you meet up with the psychologist, tell them upfront that you are in need of this testing for the purpose of accommodations in college and the workplace. It is critical that you mention it. The reason is, there are specific tests that must be done for legal accommodations. On the last page of the report, the psychologist will write a list of “recommendations”. On that list, you will find suggestions such as “extended time on tests” “distraction free testing center” and “tests on word processor on computer”.
The assessment testing is very comprehensive and will several hours. It might be broken up into several appointments. An experienced psychologists will also set up a follow-up appointment with you after the report is completed. At the appointment, she will take the time to go over the results with you, explain the diagnosis, and discuss the recommendations. She might make recommendations for treatment from other professionals such as psychiatry or speech therapy.
Once you are in possession of the report, you will now have a legal right under ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) to request accommodations in the workplace or college. If you have an emotional or mobility impairment, then you might even be able to use the report to request an accommodation from your landlord (for a service dog, or a ramp to your apartment). Accommodations are a wonderful thing that you become entitled to, but you must understand the process for them to be deemed “reasonable”.
Your college is allowed to refuse your requests by saying that they are not reasonable. They cannot refuse a request that is listed under the recommendations section of your report. If you run into problems with accommodations, know that you are protected under the law. You can get legal assistance from your local Disability Advocates office. By law, they must help people with their legal problems related to their disability, and they are not allowed to charge money. You must somehow find a way to prove to them that your case is disability-related, and you must also get lucky that they recognize an urgency and take your case. They get thousands of requests but will consider yours if you are in a circumstance where worse illegalities can happen to you if you don’t get the help right now. For example, if your college refuses to put in a ramp to the cafeteria, and you cannot get there to eat lunch. You will go hungry and the college is causing you pain along with physical and emotional distress.
Disability Rights New York (DRNY) is the Protection & Advocacy System and Client Assistance Program (P&A/CAP) for persons with disabilities in New York. As the P&A/CAP for New York, DRNY advocates for the civil and legal rights for New Yorkers with disabilities. You may call them toll free at (800) 993-8982. They are located at 25 Chapel Street, Suite 1005, Brooklyn, New York 11201.
The County of Rockland Human Rights Commission is located at Building G, Sanatorium Road , Pomona, NY 10970. Their phone number is (845) 364-3886.
Disability Rights New Jersey is located at 210 South Broad Street, 3rd Floor, Trenton, New Jersey 08608. Their phone number is toll-free (800) 922-7233
People who have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and related anxiety and panic issues can benefit from having extra time to concentrate on tests. This is your legal right. You may ask for exams to be given in a silent “distraction-free” room, away from the classroom where everyone else is taking their exam. You may also request for extra time. Some schools put a specific time limit, such as “Time and a half” or “double time”.
People who have ADHD can benefit from having extra time accommodations on assignments in addition to tests. Also, you may request that all directions and assignments be send to you electronically. This ensures that you have everything available to you with the click of a button, rather than hunting down the assignment instructions in just the right folder. You might also benefit from the school’s counselor who can guide you on using Google calendar for entering assignment due dates, and a general schedule of when to remember to eat. The app will give you a ten-minute pop-up reminder to help you stay on track.