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Higher expectations of higher education for adults with hidden disabilities

by Rob Crawford, of the Life Development Institute

There are now many more adults with disabilities under the age of 35 (comprehensive special education was created through P.L. 94-142 in 1975) who are better prepared for inclusion into higher education, postsecondary, and employment settings. They also have higher expectations of themselves and their chances for success as a result of being the recipients of support they received for their various conditions.

Within overall global education reform strategies, how is the U.S. addressing their prospects-both during the educational journey and in finding fulfilling careers afterwards?

This post takes a quick look at what can start being done to facilitate greater inclusion and successful outcomes for adults with hidden disabilities in higher education and postsecondary settings.

Getting organized: Interagency & Intergovernmental coordination

A recent report from the GAO found that while higher education participation among students identified as having a disability is up to 11% of total enrollment, there is a lack of coordination among the federal agencies, knowledge among college faculty of best practices, uncertainty of the legal obligations to offer reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities, and the consequences for everyone if accommodations are denied.

Of particular concern, according to this report is how to appropriately assist, teach, and support students who are veterans with TBI/PTSD, have Autism Spectrum Disorders, or those who disclose disability after they are in academic trouble.

Consistent regulatory language for disability determination

The issue of fulfilling both reasonable accommodation practices and legal considerations of who is considered a person with a disability is being discussed through the EEOC and Justice Department as part of the regulatory updates for the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act (ADAA).

At the time of this post, people with learning disabilities are not being included in Tier I recognition as automatically being considered a person who has significant impacts to major life functions (such as learning in traditional academic settings).

Adults with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, mood, and anxiety disorders are included as Tier I conditions. This is confusing since public school students with learning disabilities make up nearly 5 out of 10 special education placements. Why would they not be given the same consideration for accommodations in the higher education arena?

Reconciling documentation disconnect

A 2009 NCLD report highlights some difficulties to be resolved concerning the reconciling of different legal frameworks, documentation for eligibility between the public secondary special education system-which typically uses educational psychological testing for categorical placement purposes- and the requirements of higher education which have a higher bar to reach to nail down the specific nature, manner, and duration of the disabling condition as it relates to being a barrier to performing class competencies.

However, the need for this level of comprehensive documentation and formal testing can create an unnecessary and unintended consequence by costing out students unable to afford this testing or for those lacking access to professional clinicians with expertise in adult diagnosis that meet higher education requirements.

What is clear is that these assessments and regulations have accomplished little to actually measure things right in relationship to intellectual capacity or measure the right things about the performance potential of adults with hidden disabilities in higher education.

Rob Crawford Rob is the co-founder of the Life Development Institute, starting it out of his home in 1982. He has authored numerous books and articles on topics such as career planning, employment issues, and adult advocacy as well as speaking at many conferences and workshops on these areas. He can be reached at: or by phone in Glendale, AZ at:623.773.2774

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.


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