3 expert insights on supporting working adult students with learning disabilities

Learning disabilities are common. According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, roughly one in five Americans has a learning disability (LD) or attention difference. This diverse community is composed of smart, hardworking, and creative people whose talents too often go underutilized due to stigma, misconception, and lack of appropriate academic and corporate services and resources that would help empower higher education attainment and economic mobility.  As employers and higher education institutions work to strengthen diversity, equity, and inclusion outcomes, considering supports for people with what are often referred to as “invisible” disabilities is critical. 

In partnership with the Association for Higher Education and Disabilities (AHEAD), Guild Education moderated a webinar focused on fostering greater economic mobility opportunities for working adult students with LD. Below are key insights from our panel discussion:

1. Be intentional about how to personalize opportunities for people with LD, and design so they can learn best.

—  Sheldon Horowitz, Ed.D., Senior Advisor, Strategic Innovation, Research, & Insights, National Center for Learning Disabilities

The learning disability community is not a heterogeneous group. Everyone feels and deals with learning disabilities differently, just as learning needs are unique. From a design standpoint, this makes equitable design frameworks, such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), particularly effective. The versatility afforded by these frameworks allows educators to consider multiple ways to engage students, represent information, and leverage tools and assistive technology. The end result is delivery that is adaptable to students’ preferred ways of learning — a critical key to success for students with learning disabilities. Being mindful of the bureaucracy that students seeking accommodation have to navigate, and working to lessen the burden of that process at the institutional level, is also essential. 

2. Create a safe place to share stories and enable people to foster connections and find allies. 

Alishea Johnson, Director of Diversity & Inclusion, Centene Corporation

Disclosure is the most direct way that working adult students with LD can access the support they need. However, stigma can cause employees and students to cover up parts of their identity that they think may hinder progression. This means it’s essential to create an environment in which people know they can share and disclose without the fear it will be detrimental to them. There are many ways to do this, and effective strategies both tackle stigma through unconscious bias trainings, as well as create opportunities for employees and students to build and engage in community, such as affinity groups. 

3. Empower working adult students with LD to self advocate. 

— Gabrielle Miller, Ed.D., Executive Director, the SALT Center at the University of Arizona

Working adult students with LD are tenacious and independent. Providing the support needed to achieve academic success should never be confused with diminished academic rigor or employee contribution — no one wants that. Instead, learning institutions should focus on giving working adult students with LD the tools and tactics they need to step up, show up, and speak up. This can include practicing making requests for reasonable accommodation and best practices for navigating the disclosure / accommodation process.

Underpinning any best practice is a deep understanding of the barriers that students with learning disabilities face. To learn about what that looks like for America’s working adult students with LD, and to hear the full discussion, you can view the webinar in full here (no sign-up required).

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