Faculty Attitudes and Practices Regarding Students with Disabilities: Two Decades After Implementation of Section 504

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Self-Advocacy Training: Preparing Students with Disabilities to Request Classroom Accommodations


Richard. T. Roessler, Ph. D., Patricia L. Brown, M.S.
University of Arkansas

Phillip D. Rumrill, Ph.D.


Kent State Unviersity

Abstract

In a single subject multiple baseline (with replication) design, 3 college students with disabilities completed training to help them advocate for classroom accommodations with their instructors. Presented in terms of 17 target behaviors in seven lessons, self-advocacy training covered the basic elements of an accommodation request (e.g., introducing oneself, disclosing disability, explaining the benefits of accommodations, describing how to implement accommodations, obtaining teacher agreement, reviewing the request, and closing by expressing appreciation). Instructional strategies included didactic teaching, modeling, role-playing, and feedback. Results indicated that the students acquired, maintained, and generalized the self-advocacy skills taught in the program

Lynch and Gussel (1996) stressed that self-advocacy is integral to the life-long success of college students with disabilities. Viewing self-advocacy training as a "critical element in services that assist students to make a smooth transition from high school to postsecondary education" (p. 354), Lynch and Gussel described both the content and style elements of self-advocacy. Content skills include such behavioral steps as disclosing disability related needs and limitations; suggesting alternative accommodative solutions (e.g., aids, procedural modifications, and technological devices), preferably under the student's control to implement; and describing how accommodations will enhance the student's academic capabilities. Positive outcomes in request situations are also linked to the manner in which the request is made (i.e., style dimensions of self-advocacy). Important style elements include (a) appropriate timing, such as before the class begins rather than the day before the first test, (b) orientation which focuses on explaining instead of demanding, (c) body language which is a characterized by open posture and pleasant facial expressions, and (d) reinforcement for the instructor's attention and assistance.

A multi-faceted and compelling rationale exists for teaching students with disabilities self-advocacy skills. For example, in the United States, college students with disabilities have a legal right to an accommodated educational experience to the extent that accommodations are needed and appropriate, but they must request such consideration. Protection of their civil rights in this matter is provided by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Titles II (U.S. public colleges and universities) or III (U.S. private colleges and universities) of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA; Pitman & Slate, 1994). If they are to enjoy the full protections of Section 504 and the ADA, students with disabilities must learn to act on their rights, rather than remain passive recipients of services (Carroll & Johnson Bown, 1996). Unless they become more assertive, many students will not receive the accommodations they need. For example, in discussing the needs of students with visual impairments, Senge and Dote-Kwan (1995) noted that postsecondary institutions are slow to provide alternative formats for information on admission and registration procedures, class schedules, location of campus buildings, career development and counseling services, and campus news. Heyward, Lawton, and Associates (1995) went so far as to say that "battles are being waged" on some campuses over accommodation issues. They called for a cooperative climate in which administrators and faculty are more proactive regarding accommodation of students with disabilities. But, even in a cooperative environment, students need self-advocacy skills to initiate accommodation requests.

Referring to self-advocacy as a life skill, Carroll and Johnson Bown (1996) proposed that training in self-advocacy skills enables students to become more autonomous adults. They also stressed that enhanced self-advocacy skills provide an excellent "antidote" to the social isolation and immaturity that may cause a significant number of students with disabilities to drop out of school. Furthermore, self-advocacy training during the college years may help students become more successful in the transition from postsecondary education to employment. In that regard, Satcher (1995) described the long-term career benefits of being able to accommodate one's needs during the college years. He noted that college graduates with learning disabilities who had the best career outcomes were those individuals who were aware of their strengths and limitations, could describe how those characteristics affect their performance, and could request from their employers services and accommodations that enhance their productivity on the job.

Recent survey data (Norton, 1997) indicate that many postsecondary students lack confidence in their abilities to request classroom accommodations from an instructor. In the same survey, instructors noted that students were "shy about asking" or "reluctant" (p. 65). As a result, Norton concluded that student personnel professionals should "teach students ways to approach professors so that students feel more comfortable discussing and requesting accommodations"(p. 67). In this approach, students should explain why they qualify for an accommodation and how it will enhance their classroom performance.

The self-advocacy training developed for this study follows Norton's recommendations regarding ways to help students explain the appropriateness and need for an accommodation. Self-advocacy skill clusters in the intervention such as "introduction" and "disclosure" help the student provide a rationale for an accommodation. Other skill clusters such as "solution," "resources," "agreement,"'summary," and "closure" pertain both to the need for accommodations and to the specific type of accommodation that best addresses the student's limitations. Each skill cluster is broken down into a series of component behaviors. For example, the "solution" component consists of the following target behaviors: describe previous classroom accommodations used, explain how they improve performance in the classroom, and request accommodations for the specific situation in a statement form ("I would like to use a tape recorder and a notetaker in your class").



As documented in the research, development of self-advocacy skills is a high priority service for college students with disabilities. In response to that priority, this study evaluated the effectiveness of a social skill training program to prepare college students with disabilities to advocate for their accommodation needs. The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the instructional program, "Self-advocacy Training" (Rumrill, Roessler, & Brown, 1994), resulted in acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of accommodation request behaviors. The focus of the study was to investigate whether students used more of the advocacy skills after training than before and whether higher levels of skill usage occurred across different (a) types of assessments, (b) people, and (c) time periods.

Method


The authors used a single subject, multiple baseline design to evaluate a self-advocacy training program for 3 college students with disabilities (Barlow & Hersen, 1984; Baron, 1990; Kelly, 1982). The purpose of the training was to increase participants, proficiency in requesting classroom accommodations from their professors. The single subject multiple baseline (with replication) design is an appropriate strategy for determining whether participants acquire and maintain skills consistent with their introduction and reinforcement in the training schedule. Because of the number of target behaviors involved (17), the authors decided to portray the outcomes in terms of percentage of the 17 skills acquired and maintained over time. Hence, charted results indicate more about overall effectiveness of the program than about fluctuations in specific target behaviors over training.

Participants


In conducting a 3-year transition grant (Project Career) from the Office of Special Education Programs, the authors worked closely with the three students in this study. Each of the students elected to complete the classroom self-advocacy training program as part of a continuum of grant services. Project Career staff and student personnel professionals viewed each student as a good candidate for the training. Each individual needed classroom accommodations and expressed a desire to learn the skills in the program. Enrolled full-time at a large 4-year state university, the students had registered for services from the disability service office on campus. The participants were a single female with a visual impairment majoring in elementary education, a married female with a learning disability majoring in social work, and a single male with severe rheumatoid arthritis majoring in journalism. Due to illness, the male student dropped out of the study for three weeks; however, the training continued with the other two students. Later, when his health improved, this student returned to the training which was provided on an individual basis following the same schedule and format utilized with the other 2 students.

Target Behaviors


A behavioral self-advocacy skills training format was developed for this study that included an orientation lesson and seven lessons presenting the 17 target behaviors of the accommodation request process (Rumrill, Roessler, & Brown, 1994). The seven skill lessons included the following target behaviors:

  1. Introduction: greeting, name, and reference to the class they were taking

  2. Disclosure: statement of disability, presented in functional terms

  3. Solution: previous accommodation(s) used, benefit, and statement of desire to use similar accommodations in this class

  4. Resources: explanation of sources for accommodations and what the student will do to implement them

  5. Agreement: a question as to the acceptability of accommodations and arrangements and a statement of affirmation

  6. Summary: restatement of accommodations, what the student will do, and what the professor's role of responsibility will be

  7. Closure: general positive statement and expression of appreciation

Procedures for conducting self-advocacy training are explained in detail in the trainer's manual. For example, the lesson plan on stating "resources" explains that the student must describe the campus personnel who can assist in the implementation of accommodations and what the student's responsibility is in that process. Component behaviors are described in detail, followed by procedural steps regarding modeling, participant role-playing, and assessing the lesson's impact. Practice during each lesson involves not only the target behavior for that lesson but all previously learned behaviors as well.

Training Procedures


Instructors presented eight self-advocacy training sessions. Each session lasted 90 minutes, and two sessions were held each week for 4 weeks. The first session included pre-testing and an orientation to self-advocacy. The seven sessions that followed addressed each of the seven self-advocacy lessons. At the end of each session, the trainers completed the evaluation procedures explained in the section to follow. The advocacy training lessons followed a standard format which defined the topic for the lesson, explained the importance of self-advocacy, presented examples of the target behaviors, provided a student modeling the target behaviors on videotape, allowed for practice of the skill with the instructor and in role plays with the other participants, and ended with a summary of the targeted skills. Students received feedback during the training and practiced the target behaviors in role plays, until they were confident in their ability to use the skills in an advocacy setting. Instructors conducted evaluations of skill acquisition immediately following each lesson.

Evaluation Procedures


To evaluate students' acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of self-advocacy skills (the purpose of the study), the instructors administered a series of direct (DT), minimal generalization (MG), extended generalization (EG), and pre/posttests which were audio taped and transcribed. All evaluations consisted of the student advocating for accommodations in specific academic courses. The self-advocacy lessons introduced the use of the 17 target behaviors through seven instructional lessons set in English and algebra classes. Hence, role play assessments referred to as direct test (DT), done with the advocacy instructors twice before training started, immediately after each lesson, and twice after the training program, required the students to request accommodations in those two classes. Instead of the courses used in the lessons, minimal generalization (MG) role play assessments (conducted on the same schedule as the direct tests) required students to advocate with the trainers for accommodations in two different courses, a physical science and communications class.

In extended generalization (EG) role plays, the students advocated for accommodations in a subject not previously used in training or evaluation (a social science class). A student service staff member, unknown to the students, played the role of a classroom instructor. Thus, EG tests more closely approximated the actual advocacy situation than did direct or minimal generalization tests. To simulate a classroom situation, faculty members, again unknown to the students, assisted with the pre and post tests. These faculty members played the role of a U.S. history instructor, and no student had the same faculty member for the pre and posttests. Participants completed the pre and posttest in faculty offices under conditions similar to those they would experience in requesting accommodations with other instructors.

Before receiving an orientation to the self-advocacy training program, students completed the baseline pretest, direct test, and minimal generalization test. At the second meeting, prior to the beginning of the first skill lesson, additional baseline data were obtained from a direct test, a minimal generalization test, and an extended generalization test. Each subsequent session involved training in only one advocacy lesson. Following each lesson, students participated in a direct and a minimal generalization test. Extended generalization tests were conducted after lessons 2, 4, and 6. Upon completion of the training, skill maintenance was evaluated after 7 to 10 days using direct and minimal generalizations test. Ina second follow-up 14 to 20 days after completion of training, skill maintenance and generalization were assessed using direct test, a minimal generalization test, an extended generalization test, and a posttest.

The lack of any in-vivo assessments of self-advocacy skill use by the 3 participants is a limitation of the current research. At the same time, assessments did extend to two types of situations very much like the ones the students would encounter in their college education, namely the extended generalization test with an unfamiliar adult and the pretest/posttest with an actual faculty member playing the role of a U.S. history professor.


Rating Procedures


Following a model provided by Kelly (1982), researchers developed a rating form for assessing the participants' performance of the target behaviors. Listing the lessons and their component target behaviors, the rating form called for rate determination of the presence or absence of specific target behaviors (e.g., did the student refer to the class by title, day of week, and time). After training, two graduate students in rehabilitation rated the transcripts of the role plays in random order.

Two of the investigators developed training for the raters that included an orientation to self-advocacy, the accommodation request process, and important target behaviors to be evaluated. The same investigators provided the training. The raters then listened to several practice tapes and identified the presence or absence of target behaviors with the instructor's help. Following the orientation, the two raters evaluated a random sample of direct and minimal generalization audiotapes (9 transcripts for each of the 3 participants). The training enabled the two raters to achieve a high level of agreement in their evaluations of the transcripts (92% agreement rate). Following training, the raters reliably evaluated the remaining transcripts. The Kappa coefficient of inter-rater agreement for all participant transcripts was .91 (Cohen, 1960).


Results


Consistent with the objectives of the investigation, results demonstrated the utility of the "self-advocacy" training package. Figures 1-3 indicate the extent to which the three participants acquired, maintained, and generalized the target behaviors over the course of the investigation. Data are reported in terms of each student's demonstration of the 17 target behaviors in the series of direct, minimal generalization, extended generalization, and pre/posttests. For efficiency in reporting, results regarding the percentage of the 17 target behaviors acquired are charted across time and assessments rather than presented in 17 multiple baseline charts for each target behavior. Multiple baseline graphs for each target behavior, available from the senior author, indicate that the behaviors were acquired primarily after their introduction in a lesson and that previously acquired targets were maintained over time. Because several of the target behaviors were common sense (i.e., naturally occurring), participants occasionally demonstrated some behaviors before they were taught. For example, participants used about 35% of the 17 request behaviors after lesson one rather than just the three taught in that lesson (18%). Examples of behaviors that occurred out of the training sequence included thanking the instructor and mentioning that the student needed a classroom accommodation.

Direct and Minimal Generalization Tests


Each of the 11 points in Figures 1 and 2 presents the results of either direct or minimal generalization tests pertinent to the percentage of the 17 target behaviors that the student manifested. Sessions indicated on the abscissa include the two pretests, the seven advocacy lessons (introduction, disclosure, solution, restatement, agreement, summary, and closure), and the two posttests.

In the pre-training direct tests, participants demonstrated from 12% to 41% of the 17 advocacy behaviors. Gradual increments in use of the 17 target skills are documented in Figure 1, to the point of 80% to 100% demonstration during the two posttest assessments. Person C was the only participant, who deviated slightly from a consistent increase in use of the skills across the lessons (e.g., note decrease in use of skills from lessons six to seven). Clearly, participants were acquiring and maintaining the target behaviors over time and were able to use them tin advocating for classroom accommodations in familiar situations (i.e., the English and algebra courses used in the role plays in each of the seven lessons).

Representing the results of the minimal generalization test, Figure 2 presents a similar pattern of increased use of the self-advocacy skills across time. Again, in the pretests, participants used about 18% to 35% of the target behaviors. Following each of the seven lessons, the percentage of target self-advocacy behaviors used in role plays in unfamiliar academic courses steadily grew to 77% to 100% implementation during the posttest. Person C was somewhat less proficient in self-advocacy in the closing phases of the training, but he still demonstrated 77% to 82% mastery of the 17 skills in the last three measurements. As a result of the training during the lessons, participants learned how to advocate for their classroom needs in unfamiliar course settings (e.g., in a physical science or communications class with the trainer playing the role of a faculty member).

Presenting results from the extended generalization test., Figure 3 shows convincing evidence of the participants' ability to self-advocate. Their ability to request classroom accommodations from an unfamiliar person for a different academic course steadily grew from 25% to 40% in the first measure taken before training (Time 1) to 80% to 90% at Times 4 and 5 (i.e., after lesson 6 and 14 to 20 days after training which suggests that students maintained the skills for at least a 2 to 3 week period). Significantly, all 3 of the participants implemented the skills in a steady ascent, with Person C's extended generalization performance comparing favorably with the performance of the other two students. Hence, results in Figure 3 are indicative of both acquisition and maintenance of the skills, as well as of generalization to new situations comparable to the actual behavior setting in which the participants are expected to perform.

Based on pretest/posttest assessments, the students made significant improvements in their performance of the 17 target self-advocacy behaviors. Prior to introduction of the seven advocacy lessons, participants spontaneously used from less than 10% to about 35% of the target behaviors in requesting classroom accommodations in a U.S. history class from an actual faculty member. Use of the skills increased to a range of 70% to 90% on the posttests in a behavior setting closely mirroring the demands in an actual academic situation. Again, the results suggest that the students have the ability to generalize the advocacy skills to a veridical situation, that is, in an interchange involving a person they knew to be a faculty member.

Discussion


Self-advocacy skill training had positive effects on the acquisition, maintenance and generalization of the target behaviors. Of course, in vivo measures would also be of value to determine the extent to which students use the skills in discussing classroom accommodation needs with their actual instructors (Durlak, Rose, & Bursuck, 1994). Although promising for all participants, the results indicated that Person C did not always demonstrate skill acquisition and maintenance comparable to the other two participants. His performance, in part, depended on the severity of his arthritis symptoms that, at one point, became so severe that he needed to drop out of the program. Nevertheless, the self-advocacy training approach was flexible enough to allow him to resume instruction at a later date.

Throughout the training, the authors worked on a number of style considerations. One individual spoke in a very soft voice, which was, in part, a function of his disability. Instructors encouraged this participant to increase voice volume as much as possible. Pacing and timing in the use of the skills in relation to the conversational "give and take" with the instructor was another style dimension of concern. With modeling and practice, participants became more natural in the presentation of the 17 target behaviors. For example, early on, one participant actually counted the target behaviors out on her fingertips during her role plays and tests. This "counting off" helped her master the behaviors initially, and she eventually ceased to rely on this method. Future use of the self-advocacy training would be enhanced with the addition of videotape feedback to help individuals observe and improve on variable such as facial expression, posture, eye contact, and voice volume.

Participants indicated that they enjoyed the program and that they felt "as if" they were in the real situation when they completed the pre and posttests with the faculty member. They agreed that the target behaviors were easily understood, although they commented on the challenge of recalling all 17 behaviors in the proper order. Initially, they experienced some difficulty in describing their disabilities in functional terms and relating accommodations to those functional limitations.. They also needed to review the "approved" procedures for requesting an accommodation, particularly with respect to the responsibilities of the student and the faculty member. Nevertheless, they mastered both of these situational demands with the input and practice provided in the self-advocacy lessons.

Described in detail in an instructor's manual (Rumrill, Roessler, & Brown, 1994), the self-advocacy training approach is easily learned and taught by disability specialists and other student personnel professionals. The training manual includes an introduction to self-advocacy training, procedures for assessing the impact of the training using role play tests, and specific instructions for delivering the seven self-advocacy lessons. Since the completion of this study, other trainers have successfully offered the program in a variety of other settings, (e.g., three other universities, two community colleges, and a comprehensive rehabilitation center). In addition, a colleague has added conflict resolution skills to the package to help students cope with any resistance on the part of instructors to the student's requests for classroom accommodations.

One should also note that the self-advocacy training described in this study is easily modified to help students and employees with disabilities implement the process of requesting reasonable accommodation in the work place consistent with guidelines in Title I of the ADA (Roessler & Rumrill, 1995). Data indicate that students rarely receive such training during their college years (Roessler & Kirk, in press), and that they are concerned about having the requisite skills to handle the accommodations request process when they become employed (Altschul & Michaels, 1994; Thompson & Dooley Dickey, 1994).

Further research is needed to determine how advocacy training of this nature would generalize to other life situations such as employment, In addition, more research is needed to identify how different types of disabilities, particularly learning disabilities, affect training outcomes, with an emphasis on modifying instructional approaches to meet the needs of different students.


Conclusion


In the era of Section 504 and the ADA, college students with disabilities have the right to request and receive reasonable classroom accommodations that will increase their academic effectiveness. To invoke these protections, they must first request such consideration for accommodations from faculty members in a proper manner - a strong rationale for providing students with self-advocacy training. Moreover, they will encounter similar accommodation request situations later in life as employees in which they must self-advocate in an appropriate manner.

Results from this investigation indicate not only that students are deficient in self-advocacy skills but that they can learn these skills in a structured, behaviorally-oriented training program. In this study, convincing evidence in provided regarding the acquisition, maintenance, and generalization of advocacy skills for three participants with different types of disabilities. Attention to issues such as enhancing behavioral style in the use of skills and adding video feedback are suggested as improvements for future training efforts. Nevertheless, the findings are supportive of implementation of behavioral approaches to teach students with disabilities the self-advocacy skills they need to successfully request classroom accommodations. As the old saying goes, "you never get anything if you don't ask," and rehabilitation and student affairs professionals can teach students with disabilities how to request classroom accommodations in an appropriate manner using programs such as Self-Advocacy Training.



Figure 1

 

Person A

Person B

Person C

Pre 1

11.8

41.2

17.7

Pre 2

23.5

23.5

17.7

L1

41.2

29.4

35.3

L2

41.2

35.3

47.1

L3

58.8

47.1

64.7

L4

64.7

82.4

64.7

L5

64.7

76.5

64.7

L6

82.4

94.1

82.4

L7

100

100

64.7

Post 1

88.2

94.1

88.2

Post 2

82.4

100

76.5

Figure 2

 

Person A

Person B

Person C

Pre 1

35.3

35.3

23.5

Pre 2

23.5

17.7

23.5

L1

41.2

35.3

35.3

L2

47.1

35.3

58.8

L3

58.8

58.8

58.8

L4

70.6

64.7

64.7

L5

70.6

76.5

70.6

L6

82.4

88.2

94.1

L7

88.2

100

76.5

Post 1

94.1

100

76.5

Post 2

94.1

100

82.4

Figure 3

 

Person A

Person B

Person C

Time 1

35.3

41.2

23.5

Time 2

35.3

47.1

47.1

Time 3

64.7

64.7

64.7

Time 4

88.2

82.4

82.4

Time 5

82.4

94.1

82.4

References

Altschul, P., & Michaels, C. (1994). Access to employment for students with disabilities. Journal of Career Planning and Employment, 55 (1), 50-54.

Barlow, D., & Hersen, M. (1984). Single case experimental design: Strategies for studying behavior change (2nd ed.). New York: Pergamon Press.

Baron, A. (1990). Experimental designs. The Behavior Analyst, 13 (2), 167-171.

Carroll, A., & Johnson Bown, C. (1996). Disability support services in higher education: An extension of the rehabilitation process. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 27, (3), 54-59.

Cohen, J. (1960). A coefficient of agreement for nominal scales. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 20, 37-46.

Durlak, D., Rose, E., & Bursuck, W. (1994). Preparing high school students with learning disabilities for the transition to postsecondary education: Teaching the skills of self-determination. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27 (1), 51-59.

Heyward, Lawton & Associates. (1995). Faculty members and service providers: The unhappy alliance. Narragansett, RI: Author,

Kelly, J. (1982). Social skills training. New York: Springer.

Lynch, R.T., & Gussel, L. (1996). Disclosure and self-advocacy regarding disability related needs: Strategies to maximize integration in postsecondary education. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74, 352-357.

Norton, S. (1997). Examination accommodations for community college students with learning disabilities: How are they viewed by faculty and students? Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 21, 57-69.

Pitman, J., & Slate, J. (1994). Students' familiarity with and attitudes toward the rights of students who are disabled. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 25 (2), 38-40.

Roessler, R., & Kirk, M. (in press). Improving technology services in postsecondary education: Perspectives of recent college graduates with disabilities. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability.

Roessler, R., & Rumrill, P. (1995). Enhancing productivity on your job: The win-win approach to reasonable accommodations. New York: National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Rumrill, P., Roessler, R., & Brown, O. (1994). Self-advocacy: A training manual. Fayetteville, AR: Department of Rehabilitation.

Satcher, J. (1995). Bridges to career success: A model program serving students with learning disabilities. College Student Affairs Journal, 14 (2), 102-105.

Senge, J., & Dote-Kwan, J. (1995). Information accessibility in alternative formats in postsecondary education. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 89 (2), 120.

Thompson, A., & Dooley Dickey, K. (1994). Self-perceived job search skills of college students with disabilities. Rehabilitation Counseling Bulletin, 37, 358-370.



About the Authors

Richard T. Roessler is a university professor of rehabilitation with the Research and Training Center and the Department of Rehabilitation at the University of Arkansas. He is the principle investigator of Project APT which sponsored the evaluation of the advocacy training.

Phillip Rumrill, Ph. D., is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Special Services at Kent State University. A co-author of the advocacy program, Rumrill's research interests include the Americans with Disabilities Act, school-to-work transition, and chronic illness.

Patricia Brown, M.S., is the project director for Project APT. She is a co-author of Self-Advocacy Training and has experience in career counseling and school-to-work transition services for college students with disabilities.


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