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Advocacy and You:

Advocacy for Persons with Learning Disabilities in Higher Education

By Nakeisha Ferguson, M.A., Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services

While organizations like Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services, UMKC-Institute for Human Development-UCEDD, and the Missouri Planning Council offer helpful resources and services, advocacy really begins with you. In the last issue, we focused on Special Education concerning children; however education for individuals with special needs does not end at childhood. Therefore, this article is directed to adults with learning disabilities in higher education.

Learning to become an effective self-advocate, especially for individuals with disabilities that are less obvious, such as learning disabilities, is all about educating the people around you. Consequently, successful self-advocacy can be achieved by:

  • Knowing yourself and what you need
  • Developing a support team
  • Being professional
  • Offering suggestions

( and Dr. Linda G. Tessler, a licensed psychologist who specializes in helping individuals struggling with learning disabilities and related emotional difficulties, and a member of the International Dyslexia Association)

To be an effective self-advocate, you should understand your disability and its effect. Being able to answer questions such as: ”How do you process information? What strategies work for you?” allows you to successfully assess your strengths and weaknesses. recommends diagnostic testing as a method of identifying your educational needs. A good evaluation should consist of an aptitude, achievement, memory and a phenological processing test. Formal testing and diagnosis and lots of personal research and evaluation is the beginning of truly knowing yourself and knowing your needs.

Dr. Linda Tessler suggests that you develop a strong support team. This team can include officials in your schools Office for Students with Disabilities, professors, and classmates. Developing good relationships with all of these people can offer both emotional and educational support. However, when meeting with staff or faculty, be sure to be professional.

This is especially important when you are meeting with your course instructors. Remember to schedule an appointment and bring some documentation describing your disability. In your meeting you should explain what kind of disability you have and what accommodations you need. Offering proactive solutions definitely helps further the process. For example, if you are an individual with ADD, you may request a quiet room to complete tests or assignments. The main goal of this meeting is to develop a working and respectful relationship between you and the professor.

In short, remember that increasing these communications skills helps develop your emotional intelligence, which is one of the most important accommodating techniques for conquering a learning disability. For more information about advocating for yourself, contact MO P&A at 1-800-392-8667, TDD 1-800-735-2966 or visit us on the web at


**Reprinted with permission from the May 2004 issue of Missouri Disability Network Newsletter. 



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