By REBECCA WASHNEY
WOODSTOCK, Ga. — With graduation season approaching fast, Kim Linek helped students and parents with disabilities prepare for the transition to college with a speech on the best ways to bridge the gap at the Woodstock Agency Information Fair.
The transition to college for students with disabilities can be difficult. There are new forms to fill out, new requirements to know and an exchange of accountability. Those responsibilities, in addition to the other challenges new college students face when entering college, are tough to handle, which is where disability specialist and career counselor Kim Linek comes in to help.
“Students in K-12 are entitled to a free appropriate education, partly based on their ability, and the goal is success,” Linek said. “Students with disabilities in post-secondary are entitled to equal access, nondiscrimination and reasonable accommodations. It’s a very different thing, isn’t it? Than success?”
That key difference changes how students need to prepare for the transition to higher education. Linek also spoke about the different governing bodies for education systems, which all tend to use different forms and qualifications for students with disabilities to receive accommodations.
In K-12 education systems, governed by the state Board of Education, students with disabilities have either a 504 Plan or an Individualized Educational Plan. When students get to college, which is governed by the USG Board of Regents, they need a current disability evaluation from a qualified professional.
“We don’t all do things the same way,” Linek said. “The rules of each system are not always the same, and so it makes the world challenging, sometimes, to navigate.”
Another struggle students with disabilities face is receiving accommodations for standardized testing such as the SAT and ACT. Some students don’t even realize they can receive accommodation for standardized tests because these tests require students with disability accommodation requests to go through the case managers at their high school.
“There’s a release that the school has,” said Terry Hopkins, a Special Education Facilitator at River Ridge High School. “It prompts the testing coordinator to go online to fill everything out using the documentation that schools have.”
Linek also discussed how, when headed to college, students need to take a more active role in their self-advocacy. She recommends students learn an elevator pitch about themselves to prepare for discussing accommodations with professors, and encourages parents to start students early on shifting responsibilities.
“Students have to specifically request accommodations. It can’t come from someone else because now the students are legal adults,” Linek said. “Helping them to understand that before they get to the college classroom is very helpful.”
Linek left the audience with the final piece of advice, encouraging them to keep trying, even if they do not feel prepared or do not have everything they need together yet.
“We don’t all get it right the first time,” she said, “But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it’s just an opportunity to learn.”