College fair for disabled acts to broaden horizons

March 07, 2007|By Caryn Grant | Caryn Grant,sun reporter

Bryan Fletcher, 34, thought that he would never go anywhere in life. His father told him to get a job with his hands because his dyslexia would prevent him from doing anything more as a career.

He sat at a table marked "entrepreneur" as he spoke to students with disabilities at the 10th Annual Project Access College Fair at Howard Community College. Project Access is a program designed to help students with disabilities make the transition through post-secondary education.

"I'm here to prove to new students that this program works," said Fletcher, who owns a landscaping business in Laurel and was one of the first members of Project Access. "I never thought in a million years that I would have been an English major and gotten a degree," said the University of Maryland, College Park graduate.

Saturday's job fair featured representatives from 27 schools and organizations, who spoke with students and parents about services for individuals with disabilities.

Sandy Johnson of Columbia toured the fair with her son Bobby, a sophomore at Oakland Mills High School who has Asperger syndrome. "I think we're going to need some extra help along the way," she said.

Information about what services are offered at different schools was readily available. Unlike most college fairs, which host admissions representatives from colleges, the Project Access fair instead hosts special-services representatives from universities.

"Usually [the college representatives] will tell you who you can contact for more information," said Pam Hosimer of Damascus who attended the fair with her daughter, Erin Maddox, 16, who has a learning disability and uses a wheelchair. "It cuts our search time in half at least."

"It's not just your traditional college fair," said Dr. Linda Schnapp, assistant director of Project Access. "We put an emphasis on having representatives from the Disability Support Services at these schools. The law doesn't specify what accommodations these schools must have, so the parents and students need to know what is offered."

Gerry Amato stopped at booths with his daughter Kelsey, a junior at Seton Keough High School in Catonsville. He said the representatives with whom they had spoken had been helpful. "This is our first [college fair], but I don't think it'll be the last."

"We're preparing in advance, because it takes her a long time to decide things," he said of Kelsey, who has dyslexia.

Janice Marks, director of academic support, counseling and career services at Howard Community College, listed starting early as one of her college-search tips at an afternoon workshop. She also stressed looking at how the college fits a student's personality and needs and to ask specific questions when visiting the school's department of disability services.

Representatives from local schools spoke at length to families about the services available to students on their campuses. Trelaunda Beckett, a counselor at the University of the District of Columbia, said this was her first off-campus college fair, and she was impressed with it.

"It takes the stigma off of students that have disabilities," she said. "Oftentimes, they think they can't succeed, but when you create events to show them that they can continue their education, get a degree, and live a fulfilling life, it's great."

With her daughter, Sarita Bradford of Columbia collected pamphlets from the booths after the fair ended. Marie Bradford-Savage, 17, has a Pervasive Developmental Disorder.

"It helps to make the transition to college that much more easy and makes you more comfortable," the Reservoir High School senior said.

Information about Project Access: Linda Schnapp, 410 772-4625.

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