Over the past decade, increasing numbers of students have sought accommodations for disabilities during undergraduate studies. The most recent estimates indicate that approximately 14% of students in undergraduate programs report having a disability. A smaller percentage of these students pursue graduate degrees, with around 2% of graduate students self-identifying as having a disability. However, official records estimate 7% of graduate students have a diagnosis indicative of a disability. The intersection of the increased complexity and rigor of graduate study with reduced willingness to self-identify and seek accommodations can create an environment less conducive to student success as evidenced by the finding that less than 3% of 25-64 year olds with a disability persisted with graduate studies in order to attain a graduate degree.
Law professors are at the forefront of seeing students struggle who may have an invisible disability impacting learning that the student may not have chosen to disclose. Law students may have been able to compensate without accommodations or a formal diagnosis in an undergraduate environment depending on the size of the classes, underlying strengths and relatively lower intellectual demands compared to the intensity of a graduate environment surrounded by high-performing peers. A cognitive shift may be needed on the part of the student to understand academic accommodations as an interactive process that “levels the playing field” based on a careful assessment of the impact of a disability on academic performance rather than an unfair advantage over other students. Faculty encouragement can be a critical piece towards this mental shift, since direct encouragement from a faculty member to seek help may be the impetus needed for a student struggling academically despite maximal effort to persist and thrive in a rigorous law school environment. Continue reading “Learning Law Differently: Accommodations and Support for Learning Disabilities in Law School”