Extra Homework for PWDs

I’ve recently gone back to school and today had my first class session. This week has consisted of various orientation activities, meeting the faculty, sessions on academic integrity and what constitutes plagarism, learning about the library and the career services office, all that kind of thing. I’ve finished each day exhausted and unable to do anything more than flop on the couch – as has everyone else in the incoming class.

The first thing the professor did today was say that this was her return to teaching after serving for several years in a university position to increase diversity. The second thing she did was announce her rules for the 3 hour class – no laptops, no cell phones, and no eating. And I cringed. My disabilities don’t really require accommodations for any of those policies. I have the hand strength and fine motor control to take notes by hand, although in the past when I’ve had more problems with muscle tremors, I’m not sure that I would have. I also don’t need a cell phone alarm to remind me to take meds at specific times, or to record the lecture or discussion for me to refer to later. One of the meds I take requires me to keep my blood sugar and salt levels fairly stable, so I sometimes find myself in a crisis and needing to eat something immediately, but I could make sure to eat right before class and keep something in my bag to eat during the 10 minute break if I needed to.

So I’ll be ok – which is good, because just imagining what I would have to go through to get an accommodation made me even more exhausted than I already was. My first step would have been to talk to the professor about the policies and ask for an accommodation. Frankly, I found her somewhat intimidating and not super approachable based on her initial lecture and the idea of disclosing my disability status to her was not exceptionally appealing. If I’d needed the accommodations during the first class session, I would have had to interrupt the entire class to ask to speak with her outside, alerting everyone there to my special needs. She explained to the class that the exclusion of laptops and cell phones was designed to facilitate and encourage class discussion and minimize distractions during the class session, so I can imagine that she might have made an exception to that policy for accommodation needs. But she explained her exclusion of food was because she “didn’t want to hear you chomping on a sandwich,” which would still be a problem if I were eating for disability reasons.

In either case, it would have been immediately and obviously apparent to the other students in class that I had gotten permission to violate the stated policy. Given that the laptop and cellphone ban was not enthusiastically received by any of the students, I am sure I would be questioned about why I got to have a laptop, or why I was special, and why couldn’t they have one too.

But imagine that the professor did not agree to provide an accommodation, or that I needed the support of the Students with Disabilities office to make the request or document my need for such an accommodation. I identified myself as a student with a disability on my application materials, but I believe that information was simply for diversity purposes, rather than identifying me to professors or to the Students with Disabilities office. I would have to call the disability office to schedule an in-person intake appointment. I have no idea if they require documentation of my disability – I don’t have any medical records documenting my diagnosis and so would have to request those from my psychiatrist.

The mere thought of going through all this made me weary.

How could this have been avoided? I think if the professor had announced the policies and then added “if anyone needs disability accommodations regarding any of this, please talk to me during the break or after class.” Signaling awareness of the possibility that students may need accommodations and willingness to discuss and provide those accommodations would have eliminated a lot of my potential concerns in less than 10 seconds of extra time.

As it turns out, I’m dropping the class for other reasons, so I don’t need to follow up on the eating issue. Which relieves me greatly.

36 thoughts on “Extra Homework for PWDs

  1. The no-eating rule would have made me exceptionally anxious. It does on public transport, too (in Singapore it’s a $500 fine, can’t drink either), and anywhere else food is forbidden. I really wish this lecturer had spared a thought for the people who might need what she’d forbidden, before she opened her mouth.

  2. Thanks for sharing the story!
    That sounds a lot like the stuff I have to go trough at my school. There are disability accommodations at place at my school, but to get them would mean outing myself to my teachers to a certain degree.

    Which is something I don’t feel really comfortable about.

    *english is not my first language, hopefully my writing is not to weird*

  3. I want to write a longer comment about this when I have time, but I just find the whole anti-laptop thing really frustrating. It really reduces anxiety/proto-meltdown for me if I can just check Facebook or something in the middle of class. And I think this is actually the case for normal people too. If someone wants to spend all of class on Facebook and pay no attention, they can find a way to pay no attention even if they’re not allowed to have a computer. But some people can use a little carrot like Facebook or email to help themselves stay focused and calm in class.

    I feel like the whole forbidding computers thing doesn’t actually make class better and is just a way for a teacher to exert control.

  4. The stories I am hearing about post-secondary and accommodations make me wary. I am hoping to go back to school sometime soon, and I have a list of the accommodations I need (most of which will require professor approval but won’t really put them out all that much), but I start to worry about whether or not they will be given. I’ve already done school without accommodations (I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was long out of school), and I really want to try it with them.

    And then there’s the paperwork I’ll probably have to fill out in order to access those accommodations. Forms aren’t always my friend. It can take ages to get them done. Not because I have trouble answering the questions, but because of the whole executive functioning aspect.

    I have friends who haven’t been able to get their accommodations met appropriately because school policy violates the country’s human rights policies, and they don’t know how to fight the policy or are worried that fighting it might make it more difficult for them to finish their degrees. I’m not afraid of fighting for my rights if I have to, partly because I know it will make it easier for other students with disabilities, but I really hope I don’t have to, and I really wish NOBODY had to fight for them.

    Accommodations shouldn’t be a question. We should be able to go to Disability Services with our assessment reports (and get an assessment report without having to pay through the nose), and the recommendations in the reports should be applied without question. Oh, and people with executive dysfunction should automatically have help filling out the forms.

  5. Thank you for this post. I remember the first time I encountered a ‘no laptop’ policy in college. I need a laptop- my dysgraphia seriously impacts my ability to take notes. So I spoke to the teacher, who said I had to go to the office of disability accommodation. The office was hidden- all the way across campus, in a building and no one could give me directions. When I made it, they said they needed all this documentation that I didn’t have- I would have had to re-contact the people who did my testing in middle school. So I said forget it, dropped the class and took it online. Shortly after, I transferred to a smaller college, with professors who were accommodating and nice and a disability office that was easy to find. And I have a policy now- if a teacher says ‘no laptops,” I drop. Laptops are the way of the future and most kids take notes on them today. If the teacher dislikes technology that much, they are the type to judge you on your handwriting, a test I never pass.

  6. Interesting. My province has recently made it mandatory for college instructors (like me) to undergo training for accommodating persons with disabilities in the classroom. The training was pretty minimal—I had to page through a website until I got to the end, at which point the website generated a certificate for me to send to HR and my department head—but it specifically stated that instructors should let the entire class know that individuals should approach the instructor personally if they need accommodations.

    Also? While I wholly support an embargo on texting or taking cellphone calls in class (it is both disruptive and disrespectful), I can’t get behind “I don’t want to hear you chewing” during a 3-hour class. I just can’t. I can get behind “If you need to munch on something or have a drink, please be sure to do so as quietly as you can, and please don’t leave any of your snack or its wrappers behind for me to clean up.”

    Interestingly, the aforementioned training also instructed me to make myself available to students during office hours in order to discuss accommodations. Alas, I’m a part-time, sessional, night-school instructor. I have neither office nor office hours. I generally invite students to e-mail me with any questions or concerns, and then arrange to meet before class if it’s something that needs an in-person discussion, but I recognize this may be daunting to some students. Hurm. What to do? Must consider.

  7. “I am hoping to go back to school sometime soon, and I have a list of the accommodations I need (most of which will require professor approval but won’t really put them out all that much), but I start to worry about whether or not they will be given.”

    In my experience, both as a student and as a professor, in three different universities (all in the US), the best bet is almost always to make an appointment with disability services at the beginning of the semester and talk to them before you talk to anybody else. They’ll know how things are usually done at your university, so that you don’t need to start from scratch with figuring out what’s needed and how to get it. Also, at both universities where I’ve taught, professors are told that Disability Services is the authority on students with disabilities, so they’ll just about always provide an accomodation once they’ve got the documentation from disability services. At the last place where I taught, I was directly told that I had to provide any accomodation listed on the disability services form, unless I had some really good reason not to and felt this reason was important enough to go through a zillion levels of university bureaucracy, and I was also told that I WAS NOT allowed to discuss anything disability-related with a student until I had seen that form. If you’ve got some time before you’re going to be starting, I’d strongly recommend contacting the disability services office well in advance and finding out what you’d need, so that you won’t be scrambling to get things at the beginning of the semester when you’ve got a ton of other things to do.

  8. I find it increasingly painful, energy-depleting and motor-skills destroying to write by hand, because of arthritis, and so I save my hands for where I need them to be as strong as possible, like driving the car. If I couldn’t take lecture notes on a laptop, I wouldn’t be able to take notes at all.

    It seems a little bit silly and a hell of a lot of offensive to me that I would have to go through a (spoons-depleting) rigmarole to prove my disability to the satisfaction of some college administrative bureaucrat and out myself as “different” to a professor simply in order to take notes.

    Fear of running into this sort of problem is a big reason why I’m pursuing my degree online.

  9. This is interesting, because my school requires that any accommodations go through the disability offices. Granted, I think most faculty expect that any requested accommodations will be in the form of extended testing times and/or a more lenient attendance policy (a lot of faculty have policies regarding the number of absences you’re allowed and the ways they can be excused) — but that in itself raises important questions about what accommodations are and why some are seen as more valid or standard than others. Great post.

  10. The Student Accessibility Services at my university not only refuses to contact professors on your behalf, not only refuses to define what the “reasonable amount of self-advocating” a student is expected to do is (while strictly defining the accommodations that students will receive on an exam or assignment without any wiggle room), not only refuses to assist professors who contact them about students with temporary disabilities (illegally), they require students with print disabilities to fill out their own paperwork, which leads to situations in which they can’t contact a student who came in for a note taker because that student’s print disability made their email address illegible, and for some reason they either cannot or will not check a student’s official email address.

    And students who I talk to about this get all wide-eyed at my anger because they don’t think it should be better than this.

  11. At least one school in Canada has a policy that states that, while Disability Services can recommend accommodations, the professors have final say over whether or not those accommodations will be provided. This includes things like extended assignment due dates and alternative test-taking (e.g., different location, time-and-a-half). Of course, this is in direct violation of Canada’s human rights act, but students don’t know how to fight this discrimination and are afraid to rock the boat.

    The accommodations that have been recommended for me are: time-and-a-half on exams in a distraction-free environment, recording lectures, and having a note-taker. These are primarily to help me deal with my slow processing speed, which makes it difficult for me to take adequate notes (even when I’m able to fully pay attention to the lecture) and complete long-answer questions in a timely manner (I have to figure out what the question is asking, then I have to find the answer somewhere in my brain, and then I have to figure out how to say it correctly). Other things that have been suggested are that I sit at the front of the class (I have poor auditory attention) and study in a distraction-free environment. The big one I’m concerned about for myself is the recording of lectures, because I have had professors who wouldn’t allow students to record their lectures. Granted, that was ten years ago, but attitudes don’t really change. I also “just” have ADHD, and I’ve already completed two undergraduate degrees without accommodations. (The fact that my GPA is much lower than it probably would have been had I been diagnosed and adequately treated and accommodated is one of those things that people happily ignore when they’re hell-bent on discriminating.)

    So, while I’m a little worried that I won’t get all of my accommodations without a fight, I’m more concerned that people who need more than I do aren’t getting what they need in order to be successful. I’ll have to see what my chosen schools are like when it comes time (and I do intend to register with Disability Services before I start taking any courses), but I’ve been waiting to feel confident enough to go back to school, and I’m not going to let other people’s prejudices stop me. (It helps that my husband is also a fighter and has a strong interest in the law, so I know I will have his help and support if I need it.)

  12. Apologies for double-posting, but I wanted to address something in the comments above. Cassandra mentioned not wanting to out herself, and Janna mentioned feeling daunted by the work to request accommodations and the fear that they won’t be given.

    As an instructor (and I don’t speak for all instructors), it’s difficult. I really want to make sure that my teaching style, my classroom setup, and my assessments work for all students. There are some things I can control easily: I can make sure to vary my instructional style and class activities, so that I’m accommodating different learning styles; I can provide handouts electronically, and I can try to get my teaching stuff into PowerPoint or Notebook or some other electronic format, so that students can download the files, and not have to listen to me, read the blackboard, and take notes at the same time (I say try because I’m not paid for prep, and I have a full-time occupation on top of my teaching gig, and putting things in PowerPoint takes time. Also because having the class on a series of slides locks me into one instructional mode and makes it more difficult to take the class into different directions).

    Other accommodations are not within my direct control: I can’t do much about the lighting in the classroom, or the location of the classroom—I can apply for a room change, and I have done so to accommodate students who couldn’t get to the room, but I can’t just say “Okay guys, this classroom sucks; let’s move.” I can change the seating arrangement in the classroom for my class, but I have to put all the desks back into their original formation after class.

    And here’s the thing: if a student needs me to change the seating plan, I’m happy to do that, but if nobody needs me to, I really would prefer not to spend those extra minutes before and after class moving furniture around. Similarly, if I know a student has anxiety about being called on in class, I can discreetly refrain from doing so, or change the way I teach for the more Socratic parts of the class, but if I don’t know someone is there, I can’t accommodate them. If someone has public speaking anxiety, I need to know that so that I can find an alternative assessment to the wee presentations I ask students to give. If someone needs me to always look at the class so that they can read my lips, I need to know so that I can spend the extra time on those stupid PowerPoints, and I need to meet with the College to find a way to have enough lights on for students to see me, while having the lights low enough for the screen to be visible. This last may require filing for a room change.

    I’m not saying “But it’s so haaaaard to accommodate people with disabilities.” I totally don’t mind changing how I teach so that my students can benefit from my class. I’m there to help them learn something, and if something I do makes it more difficult for a student, then I’m not doing my job. But identifying yourself, does let me know where and how to focus my energies and my time, because these are finite resources, and I’d prefer not to spend hours making PowerPoints if what my students really need is extra time on quizzes or not to have me calling on them to answer questions.

    Finally, as a point of difference between me and Ruchama, at my College, if the Disability Services office says I have to provide an accommodation, then yes, I absolutely have to provide it. However, if a student approaches me privately and requests an accommodation, then it’s completely within my discretion whether I make the accommodation or not. Because I really want my students to get as much as they can from my class, I’ll usually make an effort (I can’t think of an instance where I haven’t), but there’s no administrative support for the request. There are certain things all instructors are asked to do, such as making course materials available early in the semester so that the Disability Services office can have them converted to whatever format students with disabilities might need, and making handouts and PowerPoints available to students before class. But there’s no real enforcement of these policies (indeed, in my department, they can’t enforce many of them. I don’t have a textbook for my course, and I rarely receive my teaching assignment until a couple of weeks before the course starts. It’s difficult to provide advance copies of course materials with that little lead-time.)

    And a student more or less has to go through Disability Services if they need a note-taker paid for by the College, or require a piece of assistive equipment, or if they need to take the exam in a different format or in a different setting—as an instructor, I have no administrative support unless the request comes through DS.

  13. I’ve just gone back to school myself, and this reminds me of an issue I’m currently having with one of my professors. The Disability Services office at my school is pretty good, they had a brief form I had to fill out and get my doctor to sign with my diagnosis and accommodation needs, I had to go to an in-take appointment, and now that I’m registered with DS general issues such as missing class or needing an extension on a deadline can be dealt with by copying the DS advisor in on an email to the professor. They automatically offer reserved accessible seating in each class (even if ‘accessible’ is just in the front row – so far I haven’t used this, I’ve managed to find not-outing-myself generic seating that works for me, but in some of the older classrooms and buildings I could definitely see needing it), and offer a note-taking service where essentially they ask for volunteers from each class that has a PWD registered to provide DS with a copy of their notes in case someone had to miss class or was having a bad day and couldn’t concentrate, etc.

    And this is where I’m having the issue. Though it’s not a big enough issue to make me talk to anyone, it’s definitely making me uncomfortable. One of my professors asked in the middle of the class for volunteers because ‘Disability Services says we have a PWD present’, which fair enough, that’s accurate, but then it turned into a little mini-lecture about how just having the notes won’t be any help and people need to actually be in the class in order to Not Fail. Which just… made me really uncomfortable, and now I feel that if I actually needed any specific accommodation from this professor it’s not going to go well. Unfortunately, I need to take this class eventually and he waited until after the no-penalty drop date to do this, else I’d seriously consider dropping this class and trying next term for a different professor.

    So… I’m afraid I don’t have any advice, but I’d be interested in the answer if anyone has any.

  14. The documentation thing is a huge thorn in my side. I am tenuously holding myself together these days, juggling full-time school, full-time work, and full-time depression. If I had to add therapy to that (you know, unpacking emotional wounds and laboriously sewing them together), even for the purposes of getting someone to sign off on a note, I would not be able to do the rest of the stuff I need to do. I do not have the spoons right now to start digging.

    The best I can do right now is to ignore what I can and cope with the rest. Asking me to go to a therapist to renew my diagnosis (yup, still depressed. Year eleven is the same as the previous ten) means that instead I just won’t bother getting accommodations and hence, won’t get accommodated.

  15. I’ve been working with the disability office since I applied at the university – because I took a year off between high school and college. (Sadly, no backpacking around Europe, just being in pain and volunteering at a crisis center.)

    So from the very beginning, they had to know. And I didn’t mind, I got my scholarships – the ones I deserved based on my high school work. (And I missed half of high school.) Unfortunately, I think the diagnosis still has something to do with my thyroid. Whoops.

    This semester, I was going to be proactive and I made an appointment with the disability office before school started, for the day after I moved in. Only to learn that I would be moving in on that day. D’oh! But I was able to get in on the first day, right after my first class.

    We have to meet with them at the beginning of each semester. I get a piece of paper for each professor saying that I’m registered with SDS. The accommodations are left blank, just saying that things may come up or something. I usually discuss that with the professors.

    I still can’t believe how bold I was in my 2nd class. I can’t sit at the desks with the chairs attached, they’re too restrictive. I have to sit at a table or regular desk. Many classes have one, put in there for another student with disabilities at one point or another. I got there late for me, about 2 minutes before class began. I stood in the doorway and asked if I could sit at the table, because it was in an awkward place – right in front of the professor. She said yeah, these desks are uncomfortable for everyone, but didn’t say no. Later, I gave her the paper and explained about absences and such.

    As for the food, that is outrageous. I’ve taken a 3 hour class, and she had a 15-20 minute break halfway through (it was from 5 to 8pm) giving you enough time to grab something next door and/or pick through whatever the volunteer of the week brought. But sometimes students came in at 5 with food. And the 8 and 9am classes? Of course there was food. And I always have my water bottle out.

    The cell phone is a major issue for me, but I usually discuss it with the professor the day I need it on, the day I have to answer it, because who can predict when phone tag will take place? I needed to have access to it one day during a *test*, and offered to sit away from everyone, near the professor so it wouldn’t look bad (I don’t know), but he trusted me. Last semester was hilarious – it was in French, like 6 people in the class. “I know it’s presentation day, but…” And it went off right when I supposed to start mine! Also, by running out of the room to answer the phone, I’m breaking another rule.

    I don’t rely on SDS too often (I used them last semester to get a desk placed in a classroom so I could go), because when I did, I got “we’re getting ready for finals” and then a month later “it’s almost finals time.” So I e-mail my professors and meet with them if I have to.

    The laptop thing is more obvious than a cell phone or even food, but it is your right. I think.

    Of course, the most egregious thing I’ve done is turn sideways and put my feet up on the chair in the next aisle over. Along with the running out to answer a phone or because the pain got so bad I couldn’t think.

    But, for the most part, my professors have been pretty understanding about such disruptions. Especially my long-suffering French profs.

  16. AnneA,

    Wow, that prof doesn’t really understand the myriad reasons why someone might need a note-taker. Yes, it may be to cover necessary absences, but (as in my case) it could be to fill in the gaps in their notes. I know my notes from my undergrad years are really spotty, and it wasn’t because I skipped class or because I wasn’t paying attention. I went to all of my classes, and I listened and copied overheads and participated in class discussions and talked to the professors after class and even went to office hours once in a while. I still didn’t have all of the information I should have gotten from being at the lectures, and while I did okay, I could have done a lot better if I’d (a) been treated; and (b) had someone else’s notes to fill in the blanks.

  17. they require students with print disabilities to fill out their own paperwork

    …Wait, what? So someone who can’t even see still needs to fill out printed paperwork themselves? How? ::facepalm::

  18. Thanks for this post, and good luck with everything! I’ve just started at a new university, so this kind of thing has been at the front of my mind.

    I’ve been thinking I should notify my director of studies about my mental health issues now, rather than if/when they become a problem. But I’m not sure if I should do that through the disability office, which would be a problem as that requires proof of disability, which I don’t have. I somewhat doubt that wandering in and waving my medication at them would do.
    Kirstente´s last blog post ..D’you wanna go to the seaside

  19. Codeman38, I haven’t talked to any blind students about the paperwork aspects (we’ve talked about other things), but students who have other print-related disabilities and are specifically going to get accommodations relating to their print disabilities have been required to fill out their own paperwork. In the particular cases I’m thinking of, they included a student with dyslexia, another student whose hands shake too badly to hold a pen, and Don – one of the diagnostic criteria for Marfan’s is related to how terrible handwriting is due to the hypermobile joints and not being able to hold a pen or pencil “properly”. All of which was included in his paperwork, but they still required him to fill out their forms himself without assistance.

  20. I really relate to this. In fact, I’m having to see my disability services accommodation coordinator to add some accommodations because of rules like the above (especially the eating thing). Some professors are good about stating that if you have any issues then speak with them and things can be handled.

    In regards to getting accommodations- you almost always need documentation of said disabilities. Also, most of the disability services offices are merely lip service to the ADA so you have to seriously advocate for yourself. I wanted to cry today due to the run around I’m being given in regards to adding accommodations and the serious ignorance of the secretary I was dealing with. My coordinator doesn’t seem to understand how to do anything in a timely manner, including informing my professors. I’m always panicking that something is going to happen (i.e. medical absences) before I can get my accommodation form for the quarter signed by all of my professors. It’s certainly extra work for someone like me who needs help just to do the normal work.

  21. I had needs relating to where I lived at 2 of the colleges I went to so I had to get the documentation done way a head of time.

    At the university I went to, generally you had to get documentation of need from your doctor and then work through the disability coordinator (or whatever she was called). There were no real forms to fill out as a student, just a letter from your doctor/psychologist/medical professional saying what your problems were, how they effected you, and what accommodations you might need.

    One issue at all the schools I went to was that there was no accommodation allowed really for attendance issues. I found that talking to teachers on a case-by-case basis they’d often allow me a extra flexibility on attendance, but I don’t know if they’d have done so if I hadn’t already had documentation of other issues to give them.

    I only had instructors ask about accommodations publicly twice when I was there. The first time, an instructor wanted to know if he could move the class to the room he normally taught it in (which is up 2 flights of stairs with no elevator and I can’t do stairs) and the second was regarding the laptop issue. I did notice on the 2nd one that although he claimed to only allow people with documented accommodations, he did allow a non-disabled friend with really bad handwriting to use her laptop after she talked to him. The first instructor I did talk to later about how he did make me feel like I needed to answer him publicly and that next time he might be better off saying “if anyone needs us to stay in this room please e-mail me or come talk to me” rather than “does anyone need us in this room due to a disability?” and he apologized.

  22. At the uni where I got my master’s degree, and the one where my husband teaches, professors are only permitted to accommodate disabilities that have been documented and registered through Disability Services. This is rigid on the one hand; but on the other hand, in both places they are also REQUIRED to accommodate those disabilities, plus Disability Services really makes an effort to get everyone diagnosed and documented who thinks they need to be, through on-campus testing and so on. Also syllabi are required to have a disability accommodation statement, and most professors go over that on the first day.

  23. This is a very important issue, and I wish more instructors were aware of how their strict classroom policies (which are designed to demand attention and respect) can make class very difficult for people who can’t just put off their personal needs until after class.

    When I was an undergrad, I was on medication that made me sick, and I had to get up and go to the restroom in the middle of a lecture class. My friend told me later that while I was out of the room, the professor stopped class and lectured everyone about how it was rude and unacceptable that I got up, and they should never do that. I was mortified, and very upset, especially since she had been one of my favorite professors.

    Now I’m in grad school and I work as an instructor. On the first day of class, I tell this story and I tell my students that they are free to eat, drink, or get up in the middle of class, and I won’t hold it against them. Even if they are in the back of the room, and it will be noisy and obvious, I would much rather they go to the restroom (or whatever) than be miserable and distracted for the rest of class. And we can all survive a three second distraction — it doesn’t negatively impact the class.

    Instructors, presenters, and bosses have a tendency to get angry and offended when people get up in the middle of a talk or meeting. It’s very ableist and makes life needlessly difficult for people who REALLY REALLY REALLY need to get up, but have to sit there suffering because they are so afraid of being judged and punished.

    Nobody enjoys drawing attention to themselves or missing part of class. Why can’t we just assume that if someone gets up and leaves the room, they have a good reason? Same with eating and laptops — I wish we could just give people the benefit of the doubt.

  24. There’s an interesting article here at Deeply Problematic about paperwork and how it causes problems for anyone with disabilities, or anxiety issues, in going about their usual business.

  25. I’m feeling incredibly privileged again, despite the problems I’m having. I’m currently in the process of deferring study, because I’ve been going through a bad patch with the depression lately, and haven’t been able to concentrate or remain motivated. I’ll be honest, though – I started the whole process by chasing around the various websites for the university’s Equity division (Equity covers disability services, is linked to the Indigenous Australian assistance institute, and also covers GLBTQI assistance) and finding the email addresses for the people I thought might be most helpful. I then sent them an email which laid out what I was looking for and asking whether they could assist (and if they couldn’t, whether they could tell me who could). I got an email back and arranged an appointment with the disabilities officer, and she’s helping me through the procedural maze of deferring (get a doctor’s certificate, write a personal statement – we have an appointment booked to work through this – and so forth). She also told me to get in contact with the disabilities office when I’m coming back to study next semester (ie beginning of next year) so they can get things set up so I’ve a better chance of avoiding a meltdown the next time around.

    I think there are a number of factors in the whole business which assist me, to be honest. First and foremost, I suspect, is I’m “out” about my depression and its effect on me. I’m not particularly worried about trying to pass as normal and neurotypical any more, which means I’m much less likely to feel guilty about asking for accommodations and assistance. Secondly, the university I’m attending is one which prides itself on a reputation as being friendly and “alternative” and creative and countercultural (think of it as one of the last holdouts of the hippy ideal, and you’ll have a good idea of what’s driving things) so the provision of accessibility services is something which is part of their public self-image. Thirdly, I have a friend who is also deferring (in his case it’s because his physical health was too poor to continue this semester), and I therefore had a vague idea of where to look for help.

    I’m planning to spend the rest of this year getting my head together and clearing out the cobwebs, and then I’ll get back into study (part-time) next year. This time around, I’ll contact the equity people first, and see whether I can get some arrangements in place to make sure I remain okay for the whole business.

    [Context note: Australian, white, middle-class, mature-age female]

  26. I had such mixed experiences with university as a part-time mature-aged student who became a mother part way through and then became disabled a little further along. I was registered with disability services (after a ridiculously spoon-sapping process including my physical attendance at THREE different locations). There were the professors who refused point blank to work with me: they would not use the lecture recording system already provided in all classrooms, because “that might encourage able bodied students to skip lectures” (Lectures! Where attendance was not compulsory!), and so forth. I could have fought these professors, I suppose, but I was firstly not up to the fight and secondly just plain did not want to try to learn from people so bigoted.

    Other teachers were just plain wonderful, from the ones who agreed to do the interactive tutorial component by email, to the ones who went out of their way to assure me, unprompted, that I could bring my baby/toddler to classes if I needed to, to the one who salvaged a decent unit pass mark from my ongoing weekly assignments when I completely crapped out at the end of one term.

  27. I have testing accommodations for my tourette syndrome but I think I’ve only actually USED my accommodations a couple times. It’s not because I don’t want or need my accommodations its just that actually receiving my accommodations is very difficult and, quite frankly, inaccessible. Asking someone with autism with pretty severe executive memory problems to remember to have a paper signed over a week before a test is given in order to reserve a room is RIDICULOUS. Remember, it requires me to 1) remember in time that there is a test coming up long before the test is being announced by the professor 2) remember to bring my papers to class to get signed 3) remember that I have brought my papers to class and to actually get them signed 4) remember to turn the papers in to the disability office.

    That’s four points each of which has to be executed at a time that I’m very much distracted and in auto-pilot such as in the morning or on my way to my next class/lunch/home. Basically, it means that I’ve very rarely been able to get a private room for my test taking.

    That means that while I’m taking a test where I ought to be concentrating on remembering material and forming complex thoughts I’m really being forced to concentrate on not making a large amount of noise. … which ironically makes not making noise harder and it quickly snowballs out of control. Oh yeah, and I still make noise which makes it hard on the other students (god, I’m so sorry unaccommodated ADHD peers, I really am).

    To top that it took me almost an entire semester to even get to the point where I technically could reserve a room. Seriously, a student with obvious tics sitting in a disability office isn’t good enough. They need a DOCTOR to verify that I have obvious tics that I can’t control. That means that I needed to get a current diagnosis. Oh, and the kind of doctor that diagnoses Tourettes? A specialist which requires a referral from a regular doctor who, in my system (the school’s system), was a psychiatrist which, in turn, had to be referred to by a psychologist. So, I had to see three different doctors (and work around THEIR schedules) in order to get a piece of paper that stated the obvious. Infuriating.

    Oh, and the only reason I got to see the psychiatrist that semester at ALL? My tics were so bad at home that I was at risk of suicide so they bumped me to the head of the cue.

    Right now I’m sitting at home realizing how much I actually need my autism accommodated which will be a real difficulty considering I have an unusual presentation (I’m very extroverted) and my diagnosis hasn’t been renewed for about 10 years… Oh yeah, and I have no money to pay for my own doctor which means that I need to go to the school’s psychiatrist who will clearly say 1) why didn’t I bring this up sooner 2) likely will be ignorant of the whole thing because of the stereotyping my people receive.

  28. @DiDi: I actually do have “breaks during class” as an accommodation on my disability services letter. So do some other people I know with my same condition, at several different schools. If that comes up for you again, you should be able to get it written into your letter if the disability office is remotely competent.

  29. @The Untoward Lady: That’s one of the things that’s always bugged me about the accommodation processes at both my undergrad and grad colleges: the process itself is very autie-unfriendly, between executive functioning and communication, and you’d assume that this is something the disability services department might be able to make accommodations for.

    The triple-referral thing is also infuriating, particularly when it intersects with transportation issues and/or with an already defined class schedule.

  30. The idea of disability student services is kind of intoxicating.

    My first year of a bachelor’s degree was riddled with stairs, exhaustion, intermittent limping and, halfway through the year, the internet being turned off for half my classes. I had to grapple with the idea that a full class load was incompatible with caring for my basic needs, and once had to confront a lecturer about not being able to stand for longer than ten minutes.

    Although my goal for the last was achieved, it left me with a persistent anxiety about that lecturer, and the university in general. It did not help that the student union’s involvement in accessibility issues was met with resistance and verbal aggression.

  31. @The Untoward Lady, oh my gosh I’m so sorry, that sounds like a completely terrible experience/demand. This stuff just makes me really angry.

    The whole setup (the ASD and other brain-disability-unfriendly requirements, as codeman38 pointed out) seems to imply that disability is just some imaginary or theoretical thing that doesn’t affect a person’s actual mind. That a person becomes different when they’re taking a test–that the person who is actually applying for accommodations and getting their documentation together and bringing in papers to be signed isn’t actually disabled right then when they’re doing all those things. No. Even if they prove they’re disabled, they’re still Responsible For All That. If they can’t do those things, they’re just being irresponsible. The level of bureaucracy around these things is intense it almost feels intentionally sadistic and nasty to people with executive function, communication, or social problems.

    At my school, and apparently at yours and maybe most, disabled students are required to get accommodation for every individual test. I can think of no actual reason for this to be the case and it just makes me feel like the school wants to punish people for getting accommodations. If anyone can explain these rules to me, please go ahead, but it just baffles me. I understand that people need current blah blah blah documentation–that sucks but it may not be a policy that can be easily changed–but there are some more specific and apparently meaningless policies where I just don’t get how they came into being in the first place.

  32. Lea – on one day, I went into the building and saw the one and only elevator was broken. There was no other way to get to any floor but the 2nd. (By a ramp outside, the 2nd was the “ground” level one.)

    I asked a passing professor what we were supposed to do. “If you’re in a wheelchair, your class has been moved down here.” My class was on the 4th floor. I’m not in a wheelchair.

    I promptly left the building. And last year, another elevator (the only one, bien sur!) broke. I didn’t go to class until it was fixed. Also last year, the only elevator in 3 story building broke. This semester, I had a class on the 3rd floor. The elevator worked, but it was iffy the 2 times I used it.

    Does anyone know the laws about elevators (in the US with the ADA)? I think they only have to have one, which leads to being… idunno… stranded.

  33. One bit of extra homework summed up in one conversation:

    Scholarship lady: “You need to relax for your health, stay at home, etc. Here are the forms to fill out and we need a doctor’s note by next week. But you just relax!” (pretend it’s an American Southern accent)

    The sicker you are, the more paperwork you have to do. Give me an illness with physical symptoms any day! (You throw up in Middle School, you go home. Your head hurts so much you can’t see? You’re whining.)

  34. Through most of my college experience, I had no issues regarding accommodation. As long as I had a place to park myself inside the classroom, I was fine. However, as my fine motor skills began to decline, I chose to purchase a laptop for use in class. I purchased it about 18 months prior to finishing my Bachelor’s degree. For most of my classes during that time (20 in all), my professors had no problem allowing students to use a laptop to take notes during class. However, in one class in my final quarter, I had a very strict professor who did not allow much of anything. Electronics were particularly forbidden. Since the school’s Office for Students with Disabilities assumed that all professors allowed laptops, I could not get a waiver from them to allow me to use the laptop. Instead, I had to confront the professor and ask her to allow me to use it. The classroom was designed in such a way that I could not maneuver my wheelchair to the front of the room to talk to her after class, so I had to email her instead. I explained to her that, if I did not use the laptop, I would likely be forced to drop the class. Since this was the last class I needed to finish my degree, I would then be forced to put off graduation. Fortunately, she emailed me back quickly and gave me permission to use my laptop. She stated that she had not considered PWDs when designing her class rules. She was a new professor, and she was still getting used to the variety of students she would encounter. Ultimately, she turned out to be far less intimidating than she initially appeared, and she actually thanked me for bringing this issue to her attention. She even asked my opinion for changing her rules to accommodate PWDs. I don’t know for sure, but I hope she took my advice to heart.

  35. No eating/drinking rules always make me nervous, because sometimes I have to take pills suddenly, or eat something to prevent problems happening later.

    When I was at school, there wasn’t room for all the year groups to have lockers, but I wasn’t coping with carrying an entire school day’s work of books around constantly. I used to have to hoist my bag from the floor to the desk and then back into the straps, rather than hoist it straight to my back; that’s how bad it was. So I was given permission to have a locker, which was great.

    But the problem was that, while people in my class knew I had health problems, the other hundred-and-something people in our year didn’t, and would make comments. Luckily it never got to be a serious problem, but there was a real stigma attached to being the only one in 150 people to be getting that particular accommodation… I imagine that being a problem for a lot of people, so I can see why you were so relieved to be dropping that class. It’s hard to have to constantly justify stuff like that to people…

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