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When Worlds Collide'99: Choices and Challenges for People with Disabilities

New York---Linda Hickson, Professor of Education and the Director of the Center for Outcomes and Opportunities for People with Disabilities at Teachers College, says the conference on February 26-27 "will provide a forum for voices from a variety of perspectives and disciplines to focus on the pressing issues affecting the lives of people with disabilities."

The conference will consist of three sessions, each featuring expert speakers and panelists who will pose challenging problems and controversial issues aimed at generating promising strategies and solutions.

Who is Really Disabled?
The opening session, "Who is Really Learning Disabled?" will examine assessment processes and the criteria used to label students as disabled. The conflict between those students who are rightly entitled to those accommodations and those seeking a competitive advantage will be at the center of the discussion.

The hardships that result for students with disabilities as they try to prove their disability within an increasingly specific description will be presented by Christopher Chapman, a law student from the University of South Carolina. Nationally recognized experts in this field, Teachers College Professors Marla Brassard and Steven Peverly will provide an insider's view to this dilemma.

Peverly says, "We have plenty of data to suggest that, what people believe to be a cause of a reading disability or writing disability is not correct. So we need a much better educated population of evaluators and psychologists. If not, we will end up a group of individuals who might be ‘over identified' as disabled and other who are ‘under identified' as not."

Hickson adds, "We're attempting to bring together a number of perspectives on the controversy. We are concerned about making sure that students with learning disabilities have access to the services they need. But at the same time, there is a growing feeling that people are taking advantage of this classification to get an edge on being admitted to colleges and graduate schools and taking tests with special accommodations."

Understanding Substance Abuse Issues in Individuals with Disabilities

With the increasing independence of people with mental retardation, they are open to the same community risks that other people encounter. As Hickson relates, "They are especially prone to getting involved in substance abuse situations because of their limited judgment and limited ability to resist peer pressure." According to Hickson, people with disabilities have many risk factors associated with substance abuse: among them are peer rejection and academic failure. In addition, early 40 percent report having low self-esteem.

Once people with mental retardation get into substance abuse situations, it also adds to their limitations and their ability to function well in the community. While some say that alcohol impacts the lives of two thirds of the students in special education programs, there is very little research on the difficulties they face in dealing with the problems that lead to substance abuse. In the conference's second session, "Understanding Substance Abuse Issues in Individuals with Disabilities," Dr. Harriet Golden, Associate Director of Adult Day Services at the Association for the Help of Retarded Children in New York City, will highlight the impact of substance abuse on the community coping skills of adults with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

Nancy Ferreyra, Executive Director of the Pacific Research and Training alliance in Oakland, California will describe and share her insights from "Living Out loud," a substance abuse prevention program with female adolescents with learning and physical disabilities.

Distance Learning: the Future of Special Education?
Many people are enthusiastic about the use of technology to reach beyond the walls of the University to train people and prepare them to work with people with disabilities. But others are worried that "quality control" will be very hard to maintain with distance learning.

As Professor Hickson says, "There are a lot of people that are really worried that if programs become accessible over the Internet, it will be really hard to provide the proper supervision of people who are being trained in the field."

Therefore, final session of the conference will explore the role of modern technology in the dissemination of information for educators and students with special needs. Dr. Kay Alicyn Ferrell, Professor and Division Director of Special Education, University of northern Colorado will discuss her newly funded federal grant that utilizes a variety of distance learning strategies to meet the national, critical shortage of teachers of learners with visual impairments.

For more information about the conference, please call the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation at 212-678-3987.
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