When Raleigh Smith first attended Salt Lake Community College more than a decade ago, he struggled to keep up with classes.
Smith, who was diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit disorder (ADD) in elementary school, received help from his school district, but only up until the sixth grade. When his family moved out of state, he lost that assistance. Upon returning to Utah, Smith did not receive an Individual Education Plan, or IEP, which allows the state to aid students with learning disabilities.
While he was able to graduate with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis in computer science and design, Smith said it took him longer than his peers to complete work. He said this was the main reason why he left college originally and returned almost 10 years later.
“I saw it took me twice as long to complete assignments or understand a topic, and I was working, too,” Smith said.
When a student has an IEP in high school, those accommodations can be used in college. In Utah, 13 percent of students receive special education services, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities. IEPs aid students during pre-college education, but that changes after high school graduation.
“[IEPs] follow your kid throughout their education,” said Kendra Hansen, intermediate school lead teacher for Spectrum Academy, an institution that specializes in working with children who have disabilities in North Salt Lake. “If you have one in place, it can make a difference when they are older.”
SLCC’s Disability Resource Center, or DRC, is responsible for assisting students with disabilities, but applying for assistance without an IEP already in place can be difficult.
“The process was long and tough, and I wasn’t sure if I would get approved,” Smith said.
If students do not have an IEP in place, like Smith, they are required to provide proof of a disability and must know what accommodations will need to be put in place.
“They brushed me off at first because I didn’t need help in high school. I did not already have accommodations,” Smith said.
Smith noted the process has been streamlined since he first applied in 2004.
“I found out a few years later that if I had records from middle school or elementary, they would have been able to help me more,” he said.
Other students have expressed similar struggles when they show up without an IEP.
“I had to ask for an evaluation because I didn’t have a doctor at the time,” explained Karla Fackrell, an SLCC student majoring in social work. “They set me up with one in the medical clinic and then I was all set, but I did have to ask for the service to get approved.”
Fackrell is an evening student trying to work full time while earning a degree. She said being an evening student was the biggest hurdle in applying for assistance. The DRC is only open during the day.
“I had to make special arrangements in order to talk with who I needed to and to apply properly,” Fackrell said.
As a single mom, Fackrell struggles with mental illness. She explained her biggest fear is that she might relapse and wouldn’t be capable of completing a semester. With accommodations, she can easily get extensions from her instructors if needed.
All accommodations are written into a student’s file, and there is training and procedures for professors and instructors to evaluate this information and execute it in their classrooms.
Fackrell suggests to students applying for assistance to know beforehand what accommodations they have already received or may need.
“When I was approved, they asked me what assistance I needed, and I didn’t have any idea. It almost made me lose my access to accommodations,” Fackrell said.
The DRC offers a variety of services, including coordination of accommodations with professors and instructors, extended assignment and test-taking times, special classes to remediate skills, mobility assistance, translators and note takers and specialized tutors. The center strives to accommodate every student who qualifies in the ways that will best assist the student.
“I had to learn how to study and succeed in college. The DRC helped with that,” Smith said.
Students who are not approved can utilize an appeals process. Additional steps are also available to help students seek assistance.
“As long as I have been up front and communicate with my instructors, most have been willing to work with me despite not having some specific accommodations in place,” Fackrell said.
For more information about the Disability Resource Center and its services, visit their SLCC webpage. The center’s services are available to anyone who qualifies.