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Students with special needs get a boost with college academics

Photo from Accessible Academics webpage

Students with special needs are receiving a boost as they seek higher education or a post-secondary program. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the program is called Accessible Academics

"I have a learning disability, on top of having Asperger’s Syndrome,” said George Rodriguez, from the Bronx and majoring Arts & Letters at SUNY Buffalo State.

Rodriguez is receiving assistance from Accessible Academics to support his college learning. The agency provides a transitional program for young adults to navigate college after high school.

“A lot of times they’re use to a whole committee of people there to help them. They’re told what they need to do and when and when you’re an adult and you’re in college – it’s all about your decision,” stated Anne Showers, CEO and founder of Accessible Academics.

Showers explains, like Rodriguez, students in the program have an array of learning or development disabilities, a mental illness, traumatic brain injury or cognitive behavioral difficulties.

“But once they go from a traditional k-12 to higher education, now it’s ADA – where now it’s about reasonable accommodations where they have to be eligible and they have to only get a certain number of services that will level the playing field, so it’s a very different form of support and it’s not the same level that they are used to,” Showers noted.

Students receive support in academics and learn about life skills.  It is also an approved program through Medicaid Self-Direction.

“We qualify as a transitional program through Self-Direction and so students that get a Self-Directed budget can request from there,” Showers explained.

Showers tells WBFO News some of the biggest challenges their students experience is "understanding their disability" and the impact it will have in their adult hood.

“What happens is they develop this pattern of getting through school and it works really well in high school and a lot of students see success in high school because they have all that support and they are used to doing things a particular way – for example they’ll say ‘oh, I was able to do my homework last minute because there’s not a lot of homework’ or ‘I was able to just memorize everything’ because that’s all that was required of them. When they get to college they think that the same rules will apply,” said Showers.

Credit Photo provioded by Accessible Academics
George Rodriguez, from the Bronx and majoring Arts & Letters at SUNY Buffalo State.

“Keeping up on everything – depending on the subject matter, for example – I would say in the past math – that was something I definitely needed assistance with,” Rodriguez  responded.

For Rodriguez, he explains gaining the right guidance for his college course load.               

“I feel without their assistance, I probably wouldn’t be at the point I am right now in college,” replied Rodriguez.

“And this is a student that started out – taking one or two classes at time to going and taking classes full time,” Showers explained.

Not only has this program help students with special needs graduate from college, but it also assists students seeking internships toward successful employment.

“And we’ve helped students with all different types of needs, so for example we had a student who just needed help with getting an internship and navigating what that is like with the college level internship in his first, real job and since working with us – he was able to complete that successfully and now he’s working full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT,” Showers remarked.

The program reached one of its first milestones last year as it was awarded a two-year, $80,000 grant from The Peter and Elizabeth Tower Foundation as a start-up fund.   

Accessible Academics will be presenting a fundraising event, Comedy for a Cause, March 31st, to help continue to provide college and independent living support for students with special needs.