ToFIE: the injustices faced by people with learning disorders

A female student, with her head in her hands, looking discouraged.

It comes as no surprise that people with learning disorders (SDLs) will have a more challenging time when it comes to studying at university. It is pretty simple: SDLs have difficulties in learning, so studying becomes more difficult for them. However, this statement is worth taking a closer look at: it is inaccurate. Indeed, as the name suggests, people with learning disorders have difficulties in the learning process. However, why should it be accepted that those students have a more challenging time in their studies than others?

Firstly, it is helpful to take a closer look at facts and figures to understand the overall issue better: three times as many students with learning disabilities are dropping out of their studies compared with regular students (Ravipati, 2017). And if they finish them, they take significantly longer to graduate. While only 27% of students with learning disorders graduate after six years, 59% of students without learning disorders finish their degrees in the same period (Knight, 2016).

Nevertheless, there is also good news: the number of students with learning disorders enrolled in university is steadily increasing. It has nearly tripled in the last few decades, which signifies that more and more people disabled in learning are encouraged to pursue an academic path (Kirsten, 2012). However, precisely for this reason, we must be aware of the needs and specifics around learning disorders, take them seriously and provide wide-ranging assistance. Everyone should have the same opportunities in life; an academic degree has become a more and more important part of someone’s career.

A concerning aspect is that many students do not speak openly about their learning disabilities. This can be due to various reasons: some believe they do not need to disclose their weaknesses because they have supposedly learned to deal with them alone. Furthermore, many do not dare to talk about their difficulties out of fear of rejection or incomprehension. In addition, some think that they will not receive support anyway and therefore avoid talking about their learning disorders.

To take up the initial question of whether people with SDLs face more difficulties in their studies than others, we should perhaps ask another question: if people with learning disorders already face so many inequities and difficulties in learning, shouldn’t we make studying as easy as possible for them? SDLs do not mean a lack of intelligence. Many students simply need alternative methods and professional support to study and be successful, and these are precisely the opportunities we need to provide them.

As we can see, this issue is not being given the attention it deserves, which is why the ToFIE project was created. The project aims to support higher education teachers to adapt the content and methods of teaching to make it even more appealing and adapted to people with learning disorders. ToFIE is reaching its last stages, so it is worth checking the website to get access to all the resources that will be available soon.

References:

Knight, S.A. (2016). Why Smart Students with Learning Disabilities Drop Out of College. Available at: https://www.beaconcollege.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Recruitment-and-Retention-LD-Article.pdf

Kirsten, L.L. et al. (2012). Reasons University Students with a Learning Disability Wait to Seek Disability Services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25(2), pp.145-159.

Ravipati, S. (2017). Report: Students with Learning and Attention Issues Three Times More Likely to Drop Out. Available at: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2017/05/17/Students-with-Learning-and-Attention-Issues-Three-Times-More-Likely-to-Drop-Out.aspx?p=1

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