LEARNING DIFFERENCES PROGRAM
Mercyhurst University Learning Differences Program (LDP) is committed to providing reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities as required by law and in compliance with standards set forth in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Any student needing academic accommodations must be approved by the ADA Committee to be eligible for the Learning Difference Program, which provides academic counseling and facilitates the student’s academic accommodations. The LDP’s mission is to identify and reduce physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers for students with disabilities and ensuring access to campus programs, services and facilities.
Qualifying disabilities can include, for example, learning disabilities, psychological or neurological conditions, visual, hearing or mobility impairments, and chronic health or medical conditions, which substantially limit one or more of a person's major life activities and may necessitate modifications to the services, programs, or facilities of the university.
The qualified student who provides current documentation of a diagnosed disability will be eligible to receive, free of charge, academic adjustments and auxiliary aids. The LDP coordinates the following accommodations for students who have received approval through the ADA Committee: testing modifications (extended time in an alternate location), auxiliary aids (note takers, readers, scribes), course substitution and/or reduction, assistive technology (reading and voice recognition, listening devices), etc. The LDP facilitates collaboration between students, faculty and staff to ensure that the students’ needs for equitable access to the academic program are being met while upholding academic integrity.
Students may choose to enroll in a more structured Academic Advantage Program (AAP), which includes intensive academic support and is designed to help with the transition and adjustment to college life. One-on-one personalized assistance will be provided to help students clarify their educational needs, goals and potential. Through this individualized plan, students learn how to acquire more effective and efficient study skills necessary for academic success. These sessions also promote self-awareness and foster independence to increase academic achievement.
The AAP includes a scheduled weekly meeting with a trained academic counselor to develop an individualized academic action plan based on the student’s strengths, abilities and interests. Weekly sessions may include ensuring the timely and proper completion of assignments, fostering effective study skills, and monitoring academic progress. Services may include consultations with parents at mid-term and the end of a semester at the student’s request. There is an additional fee for the AAP, which includes services that go beyond those required by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The cost of AAP for the 2017-18 year is $2,590.
Another program created for students in the Learning Differences Program is our Summer PASS Program for incoming freshmen. Participation in the PASS Program involves living on campus for three weeks, earning three college credits, and developing a higher level of academic skills and abilities. Our PASS Program will create confidence and provide knowledge about the campus, allowing the student to adjust more smoothly into the academic year at Mercyhurst. Many of the friendships that are created during the Summer PASS Program last throughout the college years and beyond.
History of the Learning Differences Program
The Learning Differences Program (LDP) at Mercyhurst University was inaugurated nearly 30 years ago at the urging of Sister Maura Smith, RSM '48. Since service to students with educational and economic needs is integral to the Mercy tradition, helping students with special needs and tending to diverse learners was a natural outgrowth of the University Mission. At the time of its inception, the Mercyhurst Learning Differences Program was one of the smaller programs for the learning disabled nationwide and was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.
This program was truly visionary. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted seven years after Mercyhurst began providing help to students with special needs and diverse learning styles. Over the years, the LDP has evolved to provide accommodations to students with learning, physical, medical and/or sensory disability impairments that substantially limits major life activity.
Twelve students comprised the inaugural class in 1986 when the program began under the direction of Dr. Barbara Weigert, professor of education, and later assisted by Tina King. In 1998, Dianne Rogers served as Director of the Learning Differences Program at Mercyhurst. Rogers had worked with populations of individuals with special needs, including students with sensory disabilities, physical disabilities, social and emotional disturbances, and learning disabilities, in addition to her involvement with the Autism Spectrum population. In 2004, Elaine Ruggiero began serving as the Assistant Director of the Program. In 2014, she assumed the Director’s position.
The introduction of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM) in 2008, under the auspices of the Learning Difference Program, began providing social and academic support to individuals with Asperger Syndrome and high functional individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Three years later, Brad McGarry became the Coordinator of the AIM Program. The Program has been reorganized and is named Autism Initiative at Mercyhurst (AIM).
Since 1986, the LDP has guided more than 680 Level 2 students to achieve academic growth and success. These graduates are teachers, counselors, hotel administrators, business executives and professionals throughout the legal and criminal justice systems as well as many other professional careers. The LDP has been recognized by The K&W Guide and Peterson’s Guide for Students with Disabilities as an exemplary program for students with learning disabilities.
Our mission is to identify and reduce physical, programmatic and attitudinal barriers for students with disabilities. Collaboration with faculty, staff, and administrators addresses effective participation, learning needs, academic performance, and retention of students so that students’ opportunities for achievement may be equalized while supporting academic integrity.
In order to assure equal access for students with disabilities, the Learning Differences Program provides reasonable accommodations to qualified students in compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Academic Advantage Program extends those services mandated by law.
How to Access Services
In order to receive these services, qualified individuals must first meet the academic standards required for admission to Mercyhurst University. Any student who has been confirmed to attend must complete the Academic Accommodation Application and upload supporting documentation to be reviewed by the ADA Committee. Processing of accommodation requests begins after the accommodation request application and appropriate documentation information have been received. The Director of Equal Opportunity Programs (DEOP) and ADA Committee will then review the request and begin the interactive process to provide a reasonable accommodation(s).
The accompanying documentation generally must include information on the student’s diagnosis, specific functional limitations and demonstrate the need for specific accommodations. The following are considered appropriate documentation for academic accommodations:
- A written statement prepared by an objective educational professional qualified in the diagnosis of such conditions, such as a licensed psychologist, learning disabilities specialist or medical professional;
- When appropriate, include the student’s present level of intellectual functioning, processing information and achievement level related to the particular accommodations being sought, including adult IQ results (WAIS) and achievement testing results (Woodcock-Johnson), and a written evaluation/ interpretation of these results as they pertain to an educational environment and/or participation in the university's programs;
- Be appropriately recent and no more than three years old.
The High School IEP and 504 plans are NOT considered sufficient documentation.
While the college student is protected by Section 504, as well as the ADA, students choosing to go to college are not entitled to the same level of academic support they received in high school. Students entering college move from a high school environment that is structured to ensure student success to a college-level environment that is designed to allow equal access. The college ensures access, but success is up to the student who must seek out appropriate supports.
Once the student has confirmed with the university, it is recommended that a June date be selected for Freshman Orientation rather than an August date. In addition, while SAT or ACT scores are NOT required for admission to the university, it is recommended these scores be included in your LDP profile; use SAT school code 2410 or ACT school code 3629 to submit scores to Mercyhurst. These scores are useful for determining the student’s placement in appropriate fall semester courses and should be forwarded to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.
Admission to Mercyhurst University
Applicants should present appropriate documentation along with their college application directly to the Admissions Office. Apply to Mercyhurst University.