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The percentage of college freshmen with disabilities has tripled in the past seven years, according to a new national survey.

And, in what the survey's researchers said may be a comment on special education in the public schools, the disabled freshmen were more likely to rate themselves lower than their non-disabled peers in mathematical, writing, and other academic abilities.

The Higher Education And Training for people with Handicaps Resource Center of the American Council on Education and the President's committee on employment of the handicapped conducted the survey. The researchers polled some 300,000 freshmen at 546 colleges and universities in 1985.

According to the survey results, the percentage of freshmen with learning disabilities increased from 2.6 percent in 1978 to 7.4 percent in 1985. That increase, said Harold Russell of the President's committee, is "a tribute to the higher-education community's response to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.''

The survey also found that the disabled freshmen tended to be white, older than their non-disabled counterparts, and more likely to have earned lower grades in high school.

The report concludes, "We must develop better precollege programs and more support services'' for disabled students.

A Wisconsin company has introduced the "Fast Food Passport,'' a set of 40 picture cards designed for those who cannot read or speak clearly enough to order a fast-food meal.

Available at a cost of $14.95, the "passport'' is the most recent product developed by Ruth Leff, a speech/language pathologist in Milwaukee.

Ms. Leff, who worked in the public schools for three years and in private practice for an additional 15, said she began developing toys, communication aids, and other products for the handicapped after her sister became severely ill with multiple sclerosis. Eight years ago, Ms. Leff founded her own firm, the Crestwood Company, to market her designs.

A free catalog, listing more than 90 products for handicapped children and adults, is available by writing the company at P.O. Box 04606, Milwaukee, Wis. 53204-0606 or by calling (414) 461-9876.

The Council for Exceptional Children has developed a training program to help educators, advocates of the handicapped, and social-service workers learn about the new federal law to serve handicapped infants and toddlers.

The program includes a 23-minute videotape, an annotated script, 21 overhead transparencies, a fact sheet, a users' guide, and copies of the new law, which is formally known as P.L. 99-457, the Education of the Handicapped Amendments Act of 1986.

The program can be obtained for $125 for C.E.C. members or $147 for non-members, prepaid, by writing the Council for Exceptional Children, 1920 Association Drive, Department 9945B, Reston, Va. 22091 or by calling (703) 620-3660. The product number is 317.--D.V.

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