When asked to evaluate the academic rigor of their high school program, 3 of the 4 younger participants rated their overall level of academic competitiveness (in comparison to peers) as "very competitive," while one reported being "somewhat competitive." One of the older participants, Larry, reported being "competitive." His experience was substantially different from those of the other two older students. The other two, who were out of high school age before the passage of The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (PL 94-142), reported less positive experiences. One person wrote, "did not go to high school." A second person, Judy, noted being very successful in a noncompetitive classroom that was below her capabilities. She described high school by writing:
The school was a special school for handicapped people. One room class limited to person with least potential. Teacher had divergent students had to cater to the lowest denomunator (sic).
Participants reported communication exchanges involving face to face communication, written communication and distance communications technologies (telephone, e-mail).
All participants reported having to answer questions in class, as well as participate in small group discussions (e.g., during class the student had to meet in a group and discuss a topic, the student had to participate in a group project for class). Six of the seven reported a need to make speeches and presentations. Five of seven were required to start, maintain, or develop discussion with classmates (e.g., the student had to lead a discussion on an assigned reading the entire class completed). Interestingly, one person reported being required to complete a final oral examination using face-to-face communication.
Hence, the experiences of the participants in this study appear to reflect the experiences of non-disabled students. In today's colleges and universities, instructors frequently implement educational methods that rely on small group discussion (Steams, 1994), and expect that students will be able to both answer questions as raised by the instructor, and initiate the asking of questions on any material or assignment that is unclear (Carson, Chase, Gibons, & Hargrove, 1992).
As well as participating in classroom interactions with peers and instructors, participants reported a variety of reasons for initiating contact with instructors (see Table 2). Six of seven students in this study reported a need to establish contact with instructors at the start of a course, ask for accommodations, schedule and appointment, inform instructors about the impact of a disability on coursework, and discuss solutions to problems. The current findings suggest that college students who use AAC should be prepared to initiate contact with college or university professors to communicate academic consideration and various accommodations.