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How Students with Disabilities Can Save for Expenses and Prepare for College

Host Jonathan Hughes is joined by Mary Rubenis, Outreach Manager of Attainable at MEFA, who explains how individuals with disabilities can save for qualified expenses in an Attainable account, and Sarah Lazare, Director of the Banacos Academic Center at Westfield State University, who explains how students with disabilities can prepare for college success.

On this episode of the MEFA Podcast, MEFA's Associate Director of College Planning and Content Creation Jonathan Hughes is joined by Mary Rubenis, Outreach Manager of Attainable at MEFA, Sarah Lazare, Director of the Banacos Academic Center at Westfield State University, and Julie Shields-Rutyna, Director of College Planning, Education, and Training at MEFA. Mary explains how individuals with disabilities can save for qualified expenses in an Attainable account and all the benefits the account provides. Sarah explains how students with disabilities can prepare for college success and what specific programs Westfield State University offers to help students with disabilities navigate college. Jonathan and Julie answer listeners’ questions about what happens to a 529 plan and an Attainable account when the owner moves to another state.

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Resources Mentioned in this Episode

Open an Attainable Account

Learn about the Attainable Savings Plan

Banacos Academic Center

Preparing High School Students with Disabilities for College Success webinar





Transcript

Jonathan Hughes: Hi everyone. And welcome to the podcast. I am Jonathan here. Hello, Julie, how are you? Well, August is ABLE to save month, and we've got a very exciting show today because we have not one, but two special guests on our show to talk about that.
Later on in the show, you'll hear my conversation with Sarah Lazare, who's the Director of the Banacos Academic Center at Westfield State University. So I can't wait for you to learn all about that with us, but first, we get to welcome a MEFA colleague of ours on the show for the very first time. So I'm very happy today to welcome Mary Rubenis. She's the Outreach Manager for MEFA’s Attainable program. And she'll be here to tell you all about it. Mary, welcome to the show.
Mary Rubenis: Thank you, Jonathan. Hi, Julie. Nice to be here. [00:01:00]
[00:01:01] Jonathan Hughes: Thank you. I feel like we've been waiting for this for a long time. I know we've been waiting for a long time to talk about Attainable and this is ABLE to save month.
So for those of our listeners who don't know what we're talking about at all, when we say it's ABLE to save month, what is it? What are we promoting?
[00:01:19] Mary Rubenis: So August is always ABLE to save month yearly. So this is the perfect time to talk about Attainable and ABLE accounts. And so ABLE to save is this yearly promotion in August where all the ABLE plans get together and just really work to heighten awareness about ABLE accounts and about the benefits, you know, the financial benefits and the ability to save in these accounts. And so all the programs work, you know, a concerted effort to push social media and just spread awareness about ABLE and the benefits to have one.
So it occurs every August. So I guess a good place to start to share some information today would be [00:02:00] the ABLE Act and what that acronym stands for. So the legislation that passed these ABLE accounts is called Achieving a Better Life Experience, or ABLE act. And that legislation was passed back in 2014 and it added the section 529A to the tax code and established these able accounts, which are a tax exempt account for an eligible individual with a qualified disability to save for qualified expenses without it affecting federal benefits, if they received them. So a huge, huge deal for this to come about.
[00:02:38] Julie Shields-Rutyna: So Mary, Jonathan introduced you as the Outreach Director for the Attainable program. So can you talk a little bit about that?
[00:02:44] Mary Rubenis: Absolutely. Yeah. So attainable is the ABLE savings plan that's managed by Fidelity Investments. They are a program manager. So if you want to learn more or open one of these accounts, you do it through Fidelity.
MEFA is actually the state sponsor. And so [00:03:00] that's our role in this ABLE program and Fidelity is the program manager. So they manage the investments. That's where you go to open an account. Currently earnings in Attainable are federal income tax free. And in our program, you can save up to $500,000 in the account.
And then for those folks that are getting federal benefits, like SSI, you can save up to 100K, with no impact on your SSI. And then I'll just mention here. It's probably a good place to add is that there are over 40 ABLE programs nationwide.
[00:03:38] Julie Shields-Rutyna: So this is just, that's just tremendous. Can you talk, you've told me this and I really enjoy hearing the background on this. Can you talk about what was the driving force to get this ABLE legislation passed?
[00:03:51] Mary Rubenis: Yeah. So this is a great story. So it was actually kind of the effort to get this passed was started by a group of Virginia parents [00:04:00] who wanted to save for their child with a disability, like they could perhaps in a 529 college savings. And so they, along with some national organization, lke National Down Syndrome Society, banded together and lobbied to get this legislation passed. So it took almost a decade to get the legislation passed. It was that long.
And then the real push to get this legislation passed as well was this asset cap that exists. So currently, if you get federal benefits, you can't save over $2,000 without it impacting those benefits. So with an ABLE account, it allows you to do that. So essentially the money in the account is protected. So, you know, currently unless you have an ABLE account or a special needs trust, those are the only two vehicles that will allow you to save over $2000, if you're getting those benefits.
So huge, huge benefit for those individuals that get those benefits. And then how, I guess I should say here too, how it [00:05:00] works, essentially, when you do want to pay expenses, the funds say an Attainable, you can transfer them electronically to your personal checking account, and then you would pay your bills.
Also, the great thing about these accounts that you can set it up yourself, and you have access to the money directly. You don't have to pay someone to do it. It's very easy to set one of these up in. You can do it yourself.
[00:05:23] Jonathan Hughes: Hmm. Now I know that in the world of college 529, there are some unique features to each state's 529 plans.
So the Massachusetts 529 plan might have a different sort of contribution limit or might have different options than the New Jersey 529 plan. And you said that there are 40 ABLE programs throughout the country. So I imagine it's pretty similar. So I was wondering, you know, could you talk about some of the features specific to the Massachusetts ABLE plan, which is Attainable.
[00:05:58] Mary Rubenis: Yeah, so, yep. That's [00:06:00] right. There's currently over 40 plans nationwide. I guess they all function the same way in terms of functionality. You know, so in terms of how much you can put in yearly into the account, which is currently $15,000 if the individual is working, they can put in a little bit more, but really the differences between the programs are the program manager who manages it.
The fees like for our program, there's no annual fee. There are fees on the investment portfolios. Those are really the differences. I tell people Fidelity has great free digital, online tools to take advantage of, which is a huge benefit. And a couple of those are. Well, they offer this cash management account, which is a free checking account, but it allows you to link to something that they have called full view, which allows you to track and categorize your expenses, which is super helpful for someone with an ABLE account.
So, they offer these free tools and they're fantastic. So take advantage of it.
[00:06:59] Jonathan Hughes: And can you just go over briefly who's eligible to participate in Attainable?
[00:07:06] Mary Rubenis: Sure. So eligibility. So again, the same for all the plans, the disability has to have occurred prior to the age of 26. And then if you're getting SSI or SSD, you're automatically eligible to open an ABLE account, or if you meet the age requirement and then you meet something that social security calls a list of compassionate allowances, a disability that falls within that, you'd be eligible.
Lastly, you meet the age requirement and you essentially self-certify that you have some type of physical, mental health, intellectual, developmental disability. Then you're going to be eligible to open an ABLE account. You're essentially saying I have this disability.
[00:07:49] Julie Shields-Rutyna: And Mary I'd love to talk a little bit about, I know at MEFA we work a lot with 529 plans for saving for college.
And, in order to take advantage of the tax benefits [00:08:00] on those 529 plans, families have to use them for qualified disability expenses, like tuition, fees, room and board, books, required expenses. So for Attainable or ABLE plans, what are the qualified expenses to allow people to take advantage of those tax benefits?
[00:08:18] Mary Rubenis: Sure. Yeah. So it's going to be things, like the great thing about ABLE is, if the individual does have a disability and perhaps they might use it for education, which is a qualified expense, it also offers them the ability to use it for these other expenses that I'm going to tell you. So it gives you more flexibility.
So it's things like education. You can use them for tuition, obviously, books, other things associated with that, transportation. So even if you had to buy a car. For Uber or Lyft services, you can also use it for that as well. Housing, pay your rent, pay your mortgage, employment, training, personal support services.
So if somebody needed a PCA, they could use it for that as well. [00:09:00] Healthcare expenses, basic living expenses, so things like food or clothing, and then lastly, assistive technology. So if somebody needs an iPad to communicate, they can use it to purchase that as well.
[00:09:13] Jonathan Hughes: You know, we were of course thrilled to have the Attainable program at MEFA, to start working with it.
And it's been a really new and exciting field for us, but I know it's something that you were always actually really excited about. I was just wondering, how has it been and can you tell me what your experience has been doing outreach for Attainable and what you've learned and what are some of the things that you've enjoyed the most.
[00:09:40] Mary Rubenis: I think the most rewarding thing for me personally, is getting to meet individuals that have opened these accounts, and getting to see how much it's impacted their lives and that they're able to save and it's made them, you know, it's just increased their financial security and financial wellness.[00:10:00]
So that's super rewarding for me. We've actually been able to feature, you know, some individuals that have opened accounts and hear their story. So Brian Gray is one of those who has an Attainable account and his mom, she's also done some webinars with me. So that's been great.
But then I think also as a parent, just, who has definitely, you know, experienced the challenges of trying to navigate when you have a child with a disability and try to find resources. So I think I have a special affinity for parents also trying to help them, you know, just in any way I can just to help them to find resources or even if it's outside of ABLE, just to connect them with the right person.
[00:10:43] Jonathan Hughes: Well, thank you so much, Mary. And how can someone who is interested in Attainable get more information?
[00:10:50] Mary Rubenis: Sure. So if people want to learn more or to open an account, you're going to go to fidelity.com/attainable. And you can go there and learn more about the [00:11:00] program and also actually open up the account as well.
And I'll also give you, I just realized there's a 800 number that people can also call over the phone and the reps can answer any questions or, you know, walk you through as you're opening the account. And that number is 844-458-2253.
[00:11:19] Jonathan Hughes: It was a pleasure to have you finally on the show and I'm sure we'll be having you again on the show sometimes.
[00:11:26] Mary Rubenis: Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you both.
[00:11:28] Jonathan Hughes: This was fun. Do you want to stick around for the MEFA mailbag? I would love to. All right, so now we'll head over to the MEFA mailbag. These are questions that have come in from customers over the past two weeks and answered by our college guidance experts.
Remember if you have any questions, you can please reach out to us at collegeplanning@mefa.org or you can call us at one 1-800-449-MEFA. You can also reach us on social media on Facebook MEFAMA or on Twitter at MEFAtweets. [00:12:00] This week's question came to us from Stephanie.
I think there was a Stephanie last week, too. She writes, hello, what happens to a U.Fund Massachusetts 529 plan if you move outside of Massachusetts. Julie?
[00:12:17] Julie Shields-Rutyna: Yes. Well, it's fine. So here's how 529 plans work. They are not, you know, families can save in whichever 529 plan they want. So you don't have to save in your own state's 529 plan. Although many times you will want to, because sometimes your own state will have specific benefits.
In Massachusetts, in addition to the federal tax benefits, there's also a state tax deduction if you're a Massachusetts resident and you save in the Massachusetts savings plan. So there's good reason to choose your own state sometimes, but you don't have to.
So then if [00:13:00] you move in and out of different states, you can always keep your money in whatever 529 plan you are saving in. And then you can always use that money in the same way that you would, no matter what.
[00:13:14] Jonathan Hughes: Now, Mary I'll ask you. What about somebody who has an Attainable plan? What happens to that if that person moves outside of Massachusetts?
[00:13:26] Mary Rubenis: So, yeah, I mean, you can still keep it. You can only have one ABLE account, you know, per account owner or beneficiary, but yes, you could still keep it and still, you know, make contributions obviously to it.
[00:13:39] Julie Shields-Rutyna: And Mary, that's a good point because actually you can have more than one 529 savings plan for college. So that's a good distinction there.
[00:13:51] Jonathan Hughes: Excellent. Well, all right, well, I'm glad you were here to tell us that Mary, thanks for sticking around. Thank you. But if you have any [00:14:00] questions you can call us up once again at 1-800-449-MEFA or email us at collegeplanning@mefa.org. We have a bench of college guidance experts waiting to answer your question.
Now let's go to my talk with Director of the Banacos Academic Center, Sarah. Sarah has been supporting students academics since 1990 in various capacities, residential life, tutoring, mentoring, disability services, academic advising, and academic strategies programs. She's worked in higher education with students with disabilities for over 16 of those years, and since 2012 is the Director of the Banacos Academic Center at Westfield State University, which is the university tutoring program, academic strategies, disability services, and learning disabilities program. Sarah, thank you very much for being here with me. Now we just a little bit on, and I have to apologize for [00:15:00] earlier in the show, I mispronounced Banacos Academic, but the Banacos Academic Center. Why don't I let you explain exactly what it is and what you do there?
[00:15:12] Sarah Lazare: Great. So the Banacos Academic Center is a center for the entire university, Westfield State University. We have over half of the students come and use the center for whatever purpose, whether it be they come and study, whether it be, they are a tutor, they're being tutored.
They come to an academic strategy program, or they're part of one of our disability support programs, but it's, they might even just come and print out a paper, but at least half of the campus, the students on campus use that service. So there are four programs in the Banacos Academic Center.
We have the university tutoring program and the university tutoring program is for all undergraduate students on campus. They [00:16:00] receive services free. They request their tutors and get to set up their own appointments with tutors. Tutoring is really a place for students to ask questions, to learn how to study for that particular course.
It's not a session where the students are taught the information. So it really is a student led service. We have our academic strategies program and our academic strategies program is also for all students on campus. It's also a free service. And what we do is we try to, you know, fill in the gaps where students who are, it actually could be a new student, but I find that first year, as in juniors are usually the people who come to our sessions.
And these sessions are to ensure that students know how to do academics and college, how to plan for it, how to prepare for it, how to read for remembering and understanding how to create their own study [00:17:00] guide, how to create effective and useful notes, prepare for exams and quizzes, how to take tests, how to stay on top of their assignments.
We try to be flexible in our sessions. Do what students are looking for. And then we also have our experience in what students need to know in order to be an effective college student and to be most successful. We do have some individualized support for academic strategies, but that is fairly limited.
So, we strongly recommend that students go to the sessions first and then they might follow up with me or somebody else on individualized needs. We have disability services. And we have a learning disabilities program. So those two programs work with students who have disabilities. We have about a quarter or more of the students on campus have identified as having a disability, which is a [00:18:00] pretty large number.
Which also means though that the campus is very supportive, the campus has been, they've just learned. They ask questions. The faculty asks questions. It is probably one of the less stigmatizing places for a student to go to college because it is seen as so normal at Westfield State University, for someone to have a disability.
So disability services works with any student at any point in time in their academic career, whether it's undergraduate, graduate, if they're auditing a class to make sure that they have accommodations, if they have a documented disability, if someone's disability is not documented and that disability is that condition that significantly limits a major life activity or substantially limits a major life activity.
It could be anything, it could be breathing. It could be their gastrointestinal system. It could be [00:19:00] a mental health condition. It also includes learning disabilities and ADHD. So it could be anything. So we, you know, work with students who don't have documentation to try to help them find the appropriate place to get documentation.
We do not do testing at our campus. So that's something just to know there are schools that do that. And when they have that documentation, we sit down and we talk with them about how their condition affects them and talk about either how it affects their academics or their dining or their housing and work with them to try to find some accommodations that will help them be able to perform for the best.
That is the primary service of disability service. Our access advisor will also talk with people about other resources on campus. She in and of herself is not someone who a student would come in and sit down and talk about time management with, but she would point you in the right direction for that.
[00:20:00] We also have our learning disabilities program, which has been around since 1979. It is basically the, of the Banacos Academic Center, how we came about the learning disabilities program. It’s an admissions based program, which means that when students apply to the university, they also apply to the learning disabilities program.
And that is the only way of getting into the learning disabilities program as well. So as a student, you have to show up in their sophomore year and say, I want to be part of this program. It's too late. It's an admissions based program. It starts when it starts and students have one chance to get in. So for the learning disabilities program, we are looking for college ready students.
That means students who have demonstrated that they can be successful in college. The admissions process is the student applied [00:21:00] to Westfield State University, they will send in documentation that demonstrates the student has a learning disability and or ADHD. We prefer to have a copy of an IEP or 504 as well to see what accommodations you received in the past or modifications.
It also helps us determine whether a student is college ready. So if a student has been working with someone in class alongside them the entire time, then whether or not the student is actively using that person will help us determine whether they're college ready. So if you are a student or a parent of a student or a guidance counselor, or somebody related to someone who might be eligible for the learning disabilities program, making sure that in college, I mean in high school, the student starts learning how to be a called student, how to be independent, how to learn independently, how to do their work independently.
That is a sort of thing that we are [00:22:00] looking for when we're reviewing applications for the learning disabilities program. Okay. And you can call me or anybody else at any time and say, this is what we do. And I'll say, well, he might want to stop doing and start doing something else. Start, you know, giving the student a little bit more autonomy.
Putting more responsibility on the student, those sorts of things. So what we do in the learning disabilities program is when the student gets to us, we work with them to help develop some of those navigational skills through college. We work with them to help create their academic schedule. So we do academic advising for them in their first and second year, they get early course registration.
And when we take into account what the learning disability is or what the ADHD is, doing things like making sure that they have time between classes to study or to review their information because they have slow processing or [00:23:00] they have memory deficits. So they need to, you know, really work at learning that information, doing it regularly.
We talk with them about those strategies. So we create their course schedule with them. We work with them once or twice a week. And this is at the student's own volition. So the student, it's an elective program, a student must make the appointment with us and show up, which is often a challenge for some students.
However, so when they sit down and they work with us every week, once or twice a week, or even every other week, we'll figure out the need as we go along. They're more likely to be successful, the more likely to be successful, they can share what's going on with us. And when they share what's going on with us, we can tell them whether they're on point or not.
We will know for the most part, if they're missing something, we can help them review their assignments, arrange how they're going to study. And when they're going to [00:24:00] study what they're going to study that week, and how they're going to do it. So we get to do that academic advisor with the academic strategies and knowing the student's disabilities, we can tell them much more individually towards them. We work with students from when they matriculate, when they start school during orientation through when they graduate in with their undergraduate.
[00:24:26] Jonathan Hughes: Can you tell me what services you can offer students who use the disability services program? We did talk a little bit about the learning disabilities program, but we use the disability services program versus those who may be in the learning disability or ADHD track.
[00:24:45] Sarah Lazare: Okay. So I'm actually, I'm going to start with this abreast as a frequent misconception. That the students who, well, first of all, track is a term that's used in high school and we're so [00:25:00] different than high school. Students come in, they're expected to be a student. Like every other student, they come in, they have to meet the same requirements, the academic requirements.
They have to have taken the same classes. There are some exemptions out there. But few, so it's not really a trick. Okay. So students will, in the mission space program, the learning disabilities program, it includes people only who have ADHD and or a learning disability. They might have it, the disability, too.
So we have deaf and hard of hearing people in learning disabilities program. We have people with mental health conditions in our learning disabilities program. So one of the major differences is that with disability services, a student can register at any time. Anytime in their academic career. A major misconception is if I don't get into the learning disabilities program, I'm not going to get any accommodations.
That is not true. [00:26:00] That is false. We must provide accommodations for students under the law. We want to provide accommodations for students so you can be successful. We want successful students. We want students to not have to have that cognitive load of having to read a book when they haven't been able to get the words from the paper, into their eyes and into their head.
If you need to listen to the book we want you to do that, we want you to be successful. So let's work at that. And that's for any student. What's different with the disability services program is that students are referred out for those types of services that we do in the learning disabilities program.
One of the major differences is that a student does not automatically get early course registration. However, they might have a disability for which they need an accommodation of early course registration. Another difference would be that [00:27:00] one-on-one sit down with an advisor. We would talk with them about finding that other person on campus, but it would not be the access advisor for disability services.
But we have other programs on campus. So trio student support services is a fabulous program to apply to if a student has any sort of disability. And that would get confirmed through at our space, would get confirmed through disability services. And we tell trio student support services. Yes, they're eligible for this program because they have a documented disability.
So if they have a disability, if they are low income, which is a very low bar, so to speak, because you have to be receiving financial aid and that then you're considered low income for the trio student support services or your first-generation college. And the first-generation college student is someone whose parents did not graduate from a four [00:28:00] year with a four-year degree.
So they might've gone to community college and gotten their associate's degree. They're still considered a first generation called student and I strongly recommend that students go get the service. What I often see happening. And this might lead onto another question a little bit too, but what I often see happening is that students who are the first generation or who've been on an IEP or 504, and sometimes low income.
They're just different issues that come along with that. But I think one of the common ones is that they're not taught how to navigate college academia. Some students with disabilities, however often the parents or the teachers are, you know, guiding them around the school. This is what you do next.
This is what you do. You have this condition, so you must use this accommodation. So they're not really taught how to do this on their own necessarily. Some are, I don't want to, you know, no blanket statements [00:29:00] here. It's a general statement. It's something that I'll ask students about instead of it. So trio student support services, great space.
You meet with an advisor once a week. They have professional tutors. They have, you know, sessions, they work on financial literacy. It's another great program for any student at any university to apply to. It's also free and the learning disabilities program is also free and disability services. No one should be paying for any of their accommodations if they're reasonable accommodations.
So students in disability services have access to all the support systems that anybody else on campus has. In addition to trio student support services, they can use a tutoring program, they can use the academic strategies. They can use a reading and writing center that we have on campus. There are lots of different supports and it's beneficial that [00:30:00] disability services works with the learning disabilities program because we have, you know, six, seven people working together who all have long experience with people with disabilities and the types of resources that are helpful, and we're able to brainstorm and you get support for that one student.
[00:30:18] Jonathan Hughes: I listened to the webinar that you did with MEFA and some other students with disability programs from other colleges.
And I was really interested in that and I was also really interested in, yeah. You've had some good advice, I think, for parents whose students might use the center. And I was wondering if you could go over that a little bit.
[00:30:43] Sarah Lazare: Okay. I would say for parents and guardians of students who have disabilities, if they have been in a position where they've had to direct everything, where they've had to fight to get the accommodations in the school, [00:31:00] if they have a student who is not quite so self-motivated or is very distractible.
We often see this for students who have either ADHD or have some sort of mental health condition that will prevent them from getting up out of bed. In these situations, where the parent can be most helpful during the high school years is working with a student to be as independent as possible, is figuring out where those limitations are, is letting go.
Just like Frozen says, let it go, let it go. Whether it be little by little or maybe it's just a task. Maybe it's, you know, setting up some outside or external incentives or boundaries. But [00:32:00] helping the student develop their own autonomy, helping students become more self-determined so they recognize their desire to do something, or they recognize they don't have a desire to sweep the kitchen floor, but they still must.
So how can the student develop the determination basically to get that done? Where is it going to come from and being frank with your students, sitting down and asking those questions? There is plenty of help out there to figure out how to ask in an effective way.
So not the right way, but each person is different. What is giving more effective for maybe, or not the person to sit down and talk with that student about that with your adult child or almost adult child. But recognizing that your child is going to become an adult soon [00:33:00] is really important. Thinking about what they're going to need to do on the little things.
Like, can you do your own laundry? Can you crack an egg? Can you boil some water? Can you cook? Can you clean? Do you know that you have to clean and that somebody else is not going to do it for you? So if you're the type of parent who's just used to, you know, picking up after everybody, stop. Tell yourself, stop, and maybe incrementally put that responsibility on your soon to be adult child.
As soon as I walked them there, my door, they're in it. And I'm going to treat and expect that I'm going to know they're young adults and I'm going to treat them that way too, and try to help them build. But parents can help with at this point, simple things like sitting down, writing a schedule that is a shared schedule for the family.
So, you know, don't you dare try to text me during this time, Annie, because I am in a meeting every [00:34:00] week at this time, don't text me. Because I feel like I have to respond to you immediately. Same with the student. They often feel like they have to respond to their parents immediately. So boundaries and structure so that there's routine, there are habits, there are expectations of professionalism, even from your soon to be adult child, because they need to do that in school.
It's not, hey Joe, I slept through class. Give me the syllabus. It's dear Professor Smith. I apologize for missing class today. I'm wondering if you can help me with this information or where I could find this. So those would be some things. Another important thing would be making sure that students documentation is up to date and having them involved in it.
So we just, my access advisor just spoke with somebody yesterday or today. Who's she, she asked the student to ride. The mom was in the picture, in the [00:35:00] frame with her. She asked the student directly. So have you read this document, the IEP? Do you understand what we're talking about here? And the students said, my mother never let me read it.
And I think parents are often afraid that when a student sees something that says directly you’re not as good as, or needs to improve on this, that it is just going to hurt the person. But if the student does not know where their limitations are and assumes things, then that also could be hurtful. So I think it's more about coming to an understanding that having some sort of condition, which substantially limits a major life activity is normal.
It is normal. Most people have something going on with them. It might be a disability, it might be they're [00:36:00] homeless. It might be they have other hardships. Everybody has something going on that makes them work a little differently and makes them approach life a little differently. A lot of students with learning disabilities or ADHD or other disabilities report that they have something fabulous about themselves because something else doesn't work or it doesn't work as well, whether it's compensation or whether it's somebody with ADHD is extremely creative, extremely scattered.
And so, yeah, I'm trying to find the positive parts of a person, regardless of whether they have a disability or not is, is what is going to help a student or a person just, you know, be able to express themselves, to be able to succeed academically, be able to feel more confident, be [00:37:00] able to feel like it's okay to have dreams. And it's okay to know that I might have to alter my dream because I cannot do that because of this. But, you know, working with the student to build up their self-confidence their sense of self, their self-worth is important.
But also doing that in recognition of whatever limitations are is also, you know, telling someone they can be whatever they want to be. That's not true for everybody. I want to be a trial lawyer. Oh no, I couldn't do that. But I also wanted to work with students who were traditionally excluded from higher education. So I've been able to do that and that is fabulous.
So yeah, so those are some of the things, making sure documentation is up to date. Making sure the student is coming from a place, I can do it, but you know, making sure they're realistic about it as well. I've heard too many students who are in college say I was told I would never go to college.
I was told I'd never graduate [00:38:00] high school and there they are going to get their masters. So not putting a limit, you know, pushing what limits others have put on them, just to make sure.
Having the student, like during the admissions process, let the student do as much as possible. Please don't press the buttons for them. Sit back. Maybe every Sunday and Wednesday you sit down and you talk about the progress that you've made for Sunday. You're sitting down and writing down a list. You're not writing it.
The student is writing down a list of everything that needs to be. Let the student take charge as much as possible, create an Excel spreadsheet. They don't know how to use Excel. We got paper and pen. Right? So start with the student does as much as possible when they're in college. Or, I'm sorry, between college and high school and college.
So the summer, set down the [00:39:00] expectations. Uh, FERPA is a privacy tool there to protect the student from people getting their information. So the administrators do not tell parents what's going on. And so making sure that you sit down with a student in the summer and say, okay, I am paying for this. And since I'm paying for this, I do expect to get information right.
And asking the student, what information do you expect from me? What information do you want to share with me? So having a discussion and coming to some sort of agreement, instead of laying down the law is really important. So yeah, there is a carrot and a stick. Sometimes let's try to find the carrot, try to find the thing that's going to make them want to share information with you.
And then you will find some students just will not. And [00:40:00] that's another, that's every person makes their own determination about that.
[00:40:07] Jonathan Hughes: So you mentioned a few moments ago, resources for parents. So I wanted to say thinking of Banacos as a resource, if anybody out there is listening to this or watching this, and they're interested in Westfield State and the Banacos and the programs that you offer, what should they be doing? What should their next steps be?
[00:40:40] Sarah Lazare: I would say the fastest way to assure that someone's getting in touch with you is to write an email to either LDP, which stands for learning disabilities. So LDP or DS, which is disabilityservices@westfieldma.edu.
So write an email. If you go to our website, all those emails are listed. And there are several people attached to each email. So there is the better chance of you getting a faster response. You can also call us up at any time. And we'll answer during business hours, but we'll answer to in business hours, really I encourage my staff to share information, no proprietary over any information. We are fortunate to have enough staff so that you can contact us at any time during the day. There are some offices that need to minimize the amount of time they're talking with prospective students and families.
So they might say, okay, contact us during winter, come to one of our open houses. But it'll be a [00:42:00] quick reply come during these times, but I will say that all the universities, the Massachusetts State University Directors of Disability Services or Accessibility Services. That's another way to find a program.
They all want to help their students. You know, they want to work with students. They want you to be as prepared as possible. They want to make sure that you're coming in with documentation that the school has done. If you don't have money to go out and get a $3,000 or $6,000, if you're in the Boston area, you know, documentation, evaluation of a learning disability or ADHD to make sure.
But it gets done in the school system as much as possible. And some schools will evaluate for ADHD as well as learning disabilities. Not all in, they're not required to, but they must do the learning disability assessment. So making sure that you're as prepared as possible to go into college, and asking us what are your [00:43:00] requirements?
Most of the colleges on their websites can answer those questions. So go visit the website. And when you have a question or you want to, you know, solidify your understanding of it, call them up. Hey, yeah, just call, have your guidance counselors call, have your special education. If they're disagreeing with you about when your person should get tested, have them call and say, what are you looking for at the college?
If there's just like this little thing in the back we had sync. I don't know. Just ask, especially if you're at a session like this, just call up and ask.
[00:43:41] Jonathan Hughes: I can't tell you how much I enjoyed this conversation. So thank you very much for being here.
[00:43:44] Sarah Lazare: Thank you, Jonathan. So much. I enjoy talking about this topic and spreading the word.
[00:43:55] Jonathan Hughes: All right. Well, that is our show. Everyone. Julie, [00:44:00] thank you so much.
[00:44:00] Julie Shields-Rutyna: I'm so glad to participate in this with both you and Mary today.
[00:44:05] Mary Rubenis: Thank you for having me. This was fantastic. I loved it. I just wanted to give the site that people can go to learn more or to open an account, which is fidelity.com/attainable. And there's also an 800 number that'll give you now, which is 844-458-2253 And you can actually call that number and their reps can walk you through the online process.
[00:44:30] Jonathan Hughes: Perfect. And we'll link to those in the show notes as well. So remember if you liked the show, please follow us on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you're hearing this. And if you could do us an extra favor and give us a five-star rating, we would love that very much until next time. Thanks everybody.
[00:44:48] Sarah Lazare: Thank you.



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