Learning with a disability: Students share their experience with the EAC

As of 2017, more than 200,000 students entering the college setting were or previously had been diagnosed with a learning disability, according to data from College Guide for Students with Learning Disabilities 

This means that many students at Boise State are likely to have a learning disability, which makes it more difficult to learn than their peers who do not have one. 

Though a student may have a learning disability, this does not mean that they are any less of a student. Many students with a learning disability want to break down the stigmas surrounding their condition, as these stigmas are harmful and not true. 

For a student with a learning disability, there are many ways to receive support in order to learn in a typical classroom setting. 

What is a Learning Disability? 

A learning disability is a type of disability that makes it more difficult for students to retain information, such as written and spoken word and mathematical calculations, or coordinate movement and focus attention, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Though a difficult situation for many, learning disabilities can be helped through support and treatment.

According to Mike Gibson, who works at Boise State’s Educational Access Center (EAC), the EAC provides accommodations for approximately 600 students at Boise State with some form of a disability, including learning disabilities. 

“Census data tells us that 10 to 12% of the population has some form of a disability,” Gibson said. “We’re not capturing everybody with a disability, as students do have to identify themselves to us, otherwise it would be considered discriminatory if we were to ask the student themselves.” 

Gibson works to keep the campus community educated about learning disabilities, doing things like ensuring all syllabi have the EAC’s information included, and making the general community aware of learning disabilities and where students can receive support for it. 

“One thing about learning disabilities is that they cross class and race boundaries,” Gibson said. “[Learning disabilities] can affect anybody at any time. It’s very broad and can affect a diverse range of students, but we have lots of tools to help people out.” 

Graphic by Alieha Dryden | The Arbiter

Student Perspectives

One student at Boise State with a learning disability is Claire Tester, a junior english writing, rhetoric and technical communication (WRTC) major. 

Tester was diagnosed with a processing disorder at age 12 that affects how she thinks, especially in dealing with the subject of math. 

“I didn’t know,” Tester said. “Throughout elementary school I thought, ‘is school supposed to be this hard?’” 

Brain therapy helped Tester essentially relearn how to learn, and when she found out she had a processing disorder, all of her previous struggles started to make more sense. 

“It doesn’t make me any less human,” Tester said. “I really care about my academics. I’m not broken and my learning disability isn’t a bad thing.” 

Tester remembers being embarrassed about her struggles with learning and feels that stigmas and stereotypes surround those with learning disabilities. She wants to break down these stigmas and stereotypes because she knows her learning disability does not define who she is. She is a human beyond her disability. 

“I am going to school to become a counselor. I’m learning to see a person past their diagnosis,” Tester said. “I know that it doesn’t define me, but I understand that everything is part of who I am. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and now I think I’m in a place where I think it’s normal.” 

Another Boise State student, a junior studying K-12 physical education, has been diagnosed with a processing and short-term memory problem. 

Though they were diagnosed their freshman year of high school, they noticed that school was becoming increasingly difficult around fourth grade. 

“My friends would always be in the advanced classes or clubs while I was stuck behind not understanding the information being taught,” they said. 

The student feels that their peers think disabilities are something one can see, while for many students, it is an invisible disability that they are handling on their own, or with support from teachers, friends and the EAC. 

With help from the EAC, this student receives accommodations that help them learn more like their peers without a learning disability. 

“At Boise State, I don’t feel like there is much of a community for people with learning disabilities,” they said. “I feel like everything is kept confidential, which is great, but I don’t know a lot of people like me unless I’m friends with them, though I am pretty open about my disability.” 

This student’s learning disability not only affects their academics, but their life outside of the classroom as well. Oftentimes, it is difficult for this student to process what people are saying to them. However, it is important to remain positive, according to this student.  

“I would definitely tell other students like me to embrace their differences!” they said. 

Boise State Academics with a Learning Disability

According to Gibson, the EAC works with each student who approaches them to understand their individual needs, strengths, and challenges. The EAC works to get to know each student as a person beyond their disability. 

As the EAC comes to know the individual student and what challenges they face, they work with the student to show them what accommodations are available. 

Accommodations available to students include extended time on tests, alternate formatted books, specialized apps, a pen that records lectures and other helpful tools. 

“It’s hard to pin down a specific accommodation,” Gibson said. “It’s a custom, individualized experience. No two people are the same, so it’s not a cut and dry process.” 

Gibson stresses that there are other ways to help students with a learning disability that goes beyond what the EAC can do. 

“The biggest thing that other students can do is talk,” Gibson said. “Interact and communicate with one another. Don’t freak out when you learn that the student has a disability, but actually get to know them. Ask questions so you can be a more informed person and provide the right kind of support to help them.” 

Gibson feels that there are often preconceived notions on how to help and support someone with a learning disability, which creates more conflict and barriers than is necessary. By making real human connections, students can work together to provide support for one another. 

Though the EAC is a great place to begin if a student feels they may have a disability and need support, professors are able to provide help as well. 

Andrew Giacomazzi, the interim dean of school of public service and professor of criminal justice, often works with students with learning disabilities to ensure they receive the right kind of support while they are taking his courses. 

“I am an individual who wants to help students achieve their academic goals in any way possible,” Giacomazzi said. “It’s a philosophical thing. I realize every student is different and that the one-size-fits-all approach will not work for every student.” 

In his undergraduate classes, Giacomazzi provides a menu of options for assessment, which allows him to work with the individual student to best meet their needs. 

“For example, if a student does better with a multiple choice test or a short answer test, I allow them to take the test that best suits them,” Giacomazzi said. “It creates a little bit more work on my part, but it helps my students.” 

Giacomazzi encourages students to reach out to their professors because the professors at Boise State are here to help their students. 
To get started with the Educational Access Center, a student can visit their website, email them at eacinfo@boisestate.edu or call them at (208) 426-1583.

[Map of the Educational Access Center on Boise State campus.]
Graphic by Jordan Barno | The Arbiter

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