The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 30 years old this July, and as a member of NCLD’s Young Adult Leadership Council, I am fortunate that the ADA has been in effect my entire life. The ADA is a civil rights law that protects individuals with all types of disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) was passed 12 years ago in 2008, and it clarified what the ADA defines as a disability under federal law. ADAAA expanded its definition to include learning disabilities, and identified that reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating are protected under the ADA.
I have a non verbal learning disability (NVLD). NVLD impacts me by lowering my processing speed and limiting my understanding of abstract language. However, my learning disability (LD) does not define my success. After taking several diagnostic assessments in my junior year of high school, my school determined that I no longer needed the accommodations laid out in my Individual Education Plan (IEP); I thought my learning disability was a thing of the past and would no longer impact me. My PK-12 educators had taught me tools to compensate for my LD which supported my success in my academics. During my undergraduate career, as I was pursuing my bachelors in middle school education and history, which consisted of primarily projects and papers, I did not use accommodations.
However, during my first year of graduate school, I was enrolled in a higher education law course where my professor only lectured verbally and our only assessment was the final exam. I am a visual learner and it is easier for me to understand concepts in a thematic way than remember specific details. I decided to submit paperwork to receive accommodations and received extended time on my final exam. This was possible because of the ADA. Due to having slower processing speed, the extended time allowed me to take my time on the final exam to ensure that I was including all of the important information from the law concepts. Towards the end of my graduate studies, I took an advanced statistics course that many first year doctoral students take, as I believed it would be beneficial to me when I pursue my doctorate in the future. Again, I used my extended time accommodation on my final exam and my professor allowed me to have crib sheets with equations.
The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Amendments Act of 2008 ensured my right to receive accommodations that help me succeed in the graduate school environment. ADA is a critical civil rights law that protects individuals with all types of disabilities and I believe that without the ADA as well as the other disability education laws I would not have been able to thrive in the college environment.
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