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Singapore Officials Get Tips on Accommodating Students with Special Needs

July 29, 2013
Contact: University Relations
Phone: 410.837.5739

A group of education officials from Singapore recently visited with University of Baltimore officials to discuss the institution's multiple successes in establishing reasonable accommodations for students with special needs. The group of nine officials, who were visiting Baltimore for an international Association on Higher Education and Disability conference, spent time in UB's Center for Educational Access, which works with students, faculty and staff to ensure that access to the means for education is equally available to all.

Delegation leader Wen Xiu, the senior head of policy for Singapore's Higher Education Division of the Ministry of Education, said the Southeast Asian island nation, with a population of 5.3 million, does not have a federal law that requires public institutions to provide accommodations for people with disabilities. Although accommodations are currently provided at the elementary and secondary levels of education, they do not continue into the postsecondary school years. Xiu told UB officials that her group hoped to gain insights into how U.S. colleges and universities handle accommodation issues—notetaking, testing, interpreter requests, alternative textbook requests and so on—under state and federal law, especially the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

"Even with the lack of a legal framework like ADA in which you can set up a system for accommodating students for purposes of testing, classroom access and other related areas, they are working hard to establish the right set of policies so that they can achieve a standard of reasonable accommodations in many of their schools and universities," said Karyn Schulz, director of the Center for Educational Access. "I admire their determination, and we were happy to share ideas and approaches with them."

During the July 10 gathering at UB, Schulz and Theresa Mina, coordinator of disability support, offered ideas on how accommodations are determined and provided in the United States, and in turn gained insights into how Singapore's education system and its method of ensuring that students with disabilties are served. Copies of UB's policies and procedures for principal accommodations were provided, along with demographic data (based on the most-recent academic year) of UB students and the accommodations used. The group also toured the center's facilities, which include dedicated space and equipment for students to take exams.

"They seemed impressed that we are the ones, in our center, to determine reasonable and appropriate accommodations," Schulz said.

The group and their UB hosts agreed that staying in touch as Singapore makes progress in this area could be beneficial to all.

"We talked about someday visiting their country to help them move their ideas ahead, and to establish recognition of the need for a structured system of support," Schulz noted. "It was a great experience for all of us."