Previous Article / Next Article


Providing Intensive Educational Supports at Virginia Commonwealth University

By Shannon McManus, Elizabeth Evans Getzel, and Lori W. Briel

The Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (VCU-RRTC) supported education program is designed to provide intensive educational supports to students with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders within existing service delivery structures on campus. The VCU program uses the principles of supported education, which is a consumer-driven, individualized support system utilizing community and university resources (Pettella, Tarnoczy, & Geller, 1996; Unger, 1998). The program is implemented through the VCU Disability Support Services (DSS) Office on both the academic and medical campuses as part of the range of services offered by these offices.

Utilization of Technology

A key component of the VCU-RRTC supported education program is the exploration and utilization of technology to assist students with their academic coursework. Very few students with disabilities who enter our program have knowledge of or exposure to the variety of technology available. Such technology includes text-to-speech software for reading, writing, and test taking; speech recognition software for writing; electronic organizers for time management and organization; and electronic graphic organizers for reading comprehension, writing, and studying. These types of technology are used in a myriad of ways depending on each student's needs, strengths, weaknesses, and familiarity with technology.

During the development of an individualized academic support plan, students meet with an academic specialist (VCU-RRTC staff) to determine the most appropriate and effective methods for meeting their needs. If the academic specialist and student decide that technology use is the option that would be most suitable and effective, technology options are explored. Background information on the technology is given, such as the purpose, possible uses within their academic area, and how the technology works. The academic specialist demonstrates the technology and customizes the demonstration to meet the student's unique needs. Following the demonstration, the student then tries the technology with the assistance of the academic specialist. This enables a student to learn how to correctly use the technology and to determine if the technology is suitable to meet his or her needs. This is an important step in the process to ensure that the student continues to use the technology and does not abandon it because of incorrect use.

If students decide that they would like to continue to explore the technology independently, and in relation to their academic coursework, they receive a demo disk or sample of the technology, if available. Additionally, students receive information about the location of technology on campus as well as what financial assistance is available for purchase. If students find the technology beneficial, the program can loan it to students on a temporary basis. Students are able to use the technology throughout their participation in the VCU supported education program and receive technical assistance on an ongoing basis. Once a student leaves the program, the technology is returned in order to make it available for other students to use.

Success Story

The Disability Support Services Office referred Tim (a student with a learning disability) to the VCU supported education program after he failed a take-home exam. Following an assessment of Tim's situation and the challenges he faced, it was determined that he was experiencing difficulty with reading comprehension and fully completing essay questions with multiple parts. A type of text-to-speech software with study skill features was explored to determine if it would enable Tim to compensate for his reading disability. The academic specialist demonstrated the software and modeled how to use it. Tim then tried the software to determine "adequacy of fit" and to be able to ask the academic specialist any questions pertaining to the software. Additionally, Tim and the academic specialist explored how to individualize the software to meet his needs such as slowing down the speech, enlarging the text, highlighting the print, using the electronic dictionary, and separating multiple part essay questions. Tim also used the software to read his typed answers, helping him to proofread his test answers for content mistakes as well as grammatical and spelling errors. This multi-modal approach to completing his take home exams significantly improved Tim's grade, enabling him to pass the course.


VCU students with disabilities have reported that the supported education program enabled them to gain a better understanding about themselves and how they learn. Increased exposure to technology and software coupled with training and follow-up were also extremely beneficial in assisting students to progress in their programs of study. It is critical for students with disabilities transitioning to postsecondary education to be knowledgeable about technology and how it can be incorporated into their academic studies. All too often students with disabilities enter postsecondary education with a limited understanding of technology devices and software, and their benefits. We have seen tremendous academic progress made by students with disabilities who entered our program either on academic probation, failing in one or two courses, or falling behind in their coursework.



Pettella, C., Tarnoczy, D. L., & Geller, D. (1996). Supported education: Functional techniques for success. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 20 (1), 37-41.

Unger, K.V. (1998). Handbook on supported education: Providing services for students with psychiatric disabilities. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

Note: The development of this article was supported in part by a subcontract with the National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. This is a Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC) funded by grant # H133B980043 from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR). Opinions and views are those of the authors and no endorsement is implied by the funding agent.

Shannon McManus is the Academic Specialist with the Academic Strategies for Achievement Program, Elizabeth Evans Getzel is the Program Director, and Lori Briel is the Career Specialist, all at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. For further information about the VCU-RRTC supported education program, contact Shannon McManus at 804/827-0745 or at


Previous Article / Next Article

Citation: Gaylord, V., Johnson, D.R., Lehr, C.A., Bremer, C.D. & Hasazi, S. (Eds.). (2004). Impact: Feature Issue on Achieving Secondary Education and Transition Results for Students with Disabilities, 16(3). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Available from


The print design version (PDF, 671 K, 36 pp.) of this issue of Impact is also available for free, complete with the color layout and photographs. This version looks the most like the newsletter as it was printed.

College of Education and Human Development at the University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.