Tag Archives: disabled students

Recommended Reading for November 17, 2010

Your friendly neighbourhood Anna is out of town at the moment. Please enjoy this recommended reading post from the future.

Lindsay at Autist’s Corner: Doubly Deviant: On Being Queer and Autistic

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This is a very long, rambly autobiographical post about being bisexual and being autistic: it compares my experiences coming to terms with both of these facts (always knowing about the autism, vs. having to figure out the sexual orientation; and also, doubting the possibility that I could *have* a sexual orientation because I thought autistic people didn’t date or have sex, or even want to do either of those things) with those of Amanda Forest Vivian, who is a lesbian, and autistic, and has written about those things at some length at her own blog. I also discuss the ways being autistic has complicated being gay for me — besides my initial difficulty realizing that what I felt about girls was, in fact, sexual desire, there was also a profound isolation from the larger Gay Community, which I never felt like I could (or would want to) join.

Have we linked to High Functioning yet?

A list of different ways people use the word “high-functioning” about people with developmental disabilities; an attempt to figure out what it actually is supposed to mean.

Interested humans–people with disabilities, staff, family members, allies, and people who are more than one of those things–are invited to share different ways they have heard the term “high-functioning” be used.

Amanda Forest Vivian at I’m Somewhere Else: 12. Bird Brains

The classic example of impaired “social skills” in people with “Asperger’s” is a person who constantly talks about their favorite subject, and doesn’t notice other people’s boredom or discomfort. I will explore this by presenting two people who like to talk differently.

Shiva at Biodiverse Resistance: Call for Papers – * Critical Autism Seminar Day * Tuesday, 18th January 2011 (UK)

Keynote speaker: Anne McGuire* (Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, Canada). Anne’s doctoral research analyses the social significance and productive effects of cultural representations of autism produced and circulated by individuals and collectives engaged in autism advocacy in the contemporary West.

Our aim is for this conference to be as inclusive as possible. We welcome activists, undergraduate and postgraduate students, practitioners and academics to join us.

Melissa Mitchell at Service Dogs: A Way of Life: Book Review: MAKING THE MOVE TO MANAGING YOUR OWN PERSONAL ASSISTANCE SERVICES (PAS): A Toolkit for Youth With Disabilities Transitioning to Adulthood

(includes PDF link to download of book)

This in-depth 69 page guide covers this ins and outs of personal assistants for youth with disabilities utilizing the stories of youth with disabilities to illustrate topics related to utilizing, hiring, and selecting personal assistants. Pages 10-12 talk about Service Dogs and an option for meeting personal care and assistant needs. The section is clear, honest and bringsup many good points people who are new to dogs often don’t realize.

US: National Federation of the Blind: Penn State Discriminates Against Blind Students and Faculty

Baltimore, Maryland (November 12, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, announced today that it has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, requesting an investigation of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) for violating the civil rights of blind students and faculty. The NFB filed the complaint because a variety of computer- and technology-based services and Web sites at Penn State are inaccessible to blind students and faculty. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public state universities to offer equal access to their programs and services.

This is being discussed as well at the Chronicle of Higher Education: Penn State Accused of Discriminating Against Blind Students. Please be aware that the comments are… Well, they’re internet comments in a place that isn’t exactly disability-friendly, although there are many people pointing out that blind students would like to be able to get classroom material as well.

Anyway, I have just realised that I am actually writing this from the past – I always get confused when I travel if I’ve gone forward or backward in time.

Action Alert: United States: Support The Keeping All Students Safe Act

On September 29th, 2010, Senators Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Burr (R-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation to establish federal minimum standards to limit the use of restraint and seclusion in schools.

The Keeping All Students Safe Act (S. 3895) is the Senate companion to H.R. 4247, passed with overwhelming support by the House of Representatives on March 3, 2010, and is a modified version of the previously-introduced Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act (S. 2860).  This bipartisan bill contains strong protections against the use of restraint and seclusion in schools, as well as a number of investments in preventive techniques and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.  There is still a chance this bill could passage in the lame duck session if it receives more bipartisan support.

At the link, a letter you can send your Senators!

Inappropriate seclusion and restraint are weaponised against students across the United States every day in a variety of settings. It’s time for tougher regulations on handling of disabled students, with a focus on preventing escalation of situations to the point where educators think restraint is ‘necessary.’

Today in Journalism: You Used the Wrong Lede

In Houston, an autistic student is being denied accommodations and his parents took the school district to court to fight. However, they ran out of money and were forced to drop the suit. The student, Chapuka Chibuogwu, remains at home, not receiving an education, because his parents didn’t have the financial clout to pursue his legal rights. This is a story that plays out in communities across the United States every day, with school districts pouring money into fighting suits filed by people who are only asking for the accommodations they are entitled to under the law.

Enter the media, which decides to frame this case in a number of, shall we say, interesting ways. Chibuogwu’s parents are immigrants, and there’s a heavy focus on the ‘broken dreams’ narrative going on here, with a side of ‘all immigrants can succeed if they try hard enough’:

Dreams brought Kenneth Chibuogwu to America and in time determination brought many of those aspirations within reach.

“I worked hard. I came to this country with nothing,” says Kenneth.

This is a common element I see in stories about problems immigrants encounter in the United States. There’s a myth here that this country welcomes ‘the right kind’ of immigrants, people who work hard and keep quiet, and these stories frame problems as simply personally unfair, rather than as evidence of more systemic issues. They remind immigrants that they just need to try and they will succeed in the United States, since obviously things like racism don’t present any obstacles at all to members of the immigrant community. These stories present the United States as a fundamentally fair, free place, as the pinnacle of human achievement, and makes sure to grab pull quotes to reinforce this:

“There was nothing I could do but cry because I was so shocked that such a thing could go on in this country,” added Neka [Chibuogwu’s mother] of the repeated conferences with Alief administrators ending in stalemate.

In this case, the school district turned around to sue the parents to demand repayment of the legal expenses it incurred fighting the original suit, and when it lost, it appealed. This isn’t personally unfair. This isn’t about broken dreams. This is evidence of a systemic problem. When a school district is so opposed to accommodating students that it retaliates with countersuits when people attempt to get the district to comply with the law, that’s indicative of deep, sustained ableism.

And, of course, this article includes lines like ‘…a child who will spend each and every day of his life challenged with autism.’ Never is Chpauka Chibuogwu himself represented, except as a shadowy figure at the fringes of the story. Interviews with both parents are present, but he is firmly relegated to the sidelines.

This quote is illuminating:

“What they are trying to do is send a chill down parent’s spine about advocating for their children,” says Louis Geigerman, president of the Texas Organization of Parents, Attorneys and Advocates.

Note that Geigerman doesn’t say ‘this case is being used to threaten disabled students who need accommodations.’ Not ‘this case is designed to send a clear message that disabled students are not deserving of accommodations,’ not ‘the fact that this school district is fighting this hard to deny accommodations is illustrative of some serious problems with our education system.’ No. It’s about the parents.

Now, obviously, a child being denied accommodations in school is probably going to have trouble self-advocating, for a variety of reasons, ranging from ageist attitudes to perhaps not having access to information about self-advocacy to being around people who refuse to communicate on the student’s terms. So, clearly, parents play an important role in securing accommodations for disabled children and in forcing school districts to comply with the law. However, the complete erasure of the student in this case, and in most cases like it, is really frustrating. It’s a reminder that people with disabilities are defined by the people around them, rather than existing as individuals.

The only direct reference to the student is this editorial line thrown in at the end of the story:

As for Chuka, he’s now fourteen, attends no school and for five years hasn’t received a single minute of the free and appropriate public education that is his right.

That should be the centre of the story. The denial of education to the student should be the focus. The fact that the school district is violating the law should be the focus. Persecuting his parents with lawsuits is definitely part of the story, and it’s an important part, since the decision to attack his parents for fighting for accommodations is illustrative of the way the district views disabled students, but the story isn’t framed that way. The story is framed as a hardship for the parents, with the student as an afterthought. ‘As for…’ is the line you use when you are making a throwaway comment. This student is not a throwaway.

Dear Imprudence: Creating Space, Retaining Support

A recent Ask Amy column featured a letter from a college student with a common problem; parents who want to exert a high level of control. Here in the US, school’s been in session for a little over a month now, and the winter is coming on, and I suspect that the number of students struggling with the adjustment to college will be increasing, judging from my own experiences in college. The newness has worn off, it’s getting dark and cold, and, well:

Dear Amy: I love my parents, but even though I got straight A’s in high school without their assistance and have never gotten in trouble, they constantly nag me about homework and grades.

I thought this would end when I went to college, but I was wrong.

When I admitted I save my homework for Sunday afternoon, my mom chastised me.

She gets upset that I shield my personal life from her, but when I do share, she finds something to criticize, nag and/or make snide comments about.

When I ask my mom to stop, she either gets defensive or tells me it’s her job as my mother.

I am still recovering from depression, so I need more support and acceptance from my parents and less passive-aggressive criticism and nagging.

Any suggestions?

— Frustrated Freshman

There are a couple of interesting things going on here, and I wanted to tease out one in particular because I was just talking about it with Anna: Policing of study habits. Many people seem to believe that there is a specific ‘right’ way to study and that if you don’t study that way, you’re doing it wrong. Staying up all night to study is wrong, even if your sleep schedule is actually better suited to studying at night. Studying with music on is wrong. Moving while studying is wrong. There’s a whole long list of things touted as ‘good study habits,’ like ‘don’t leave your work until the end of the weekend.’

To me, what makes a good study habit is what works for a given student. By all performance metrics generally recognised and accepted, this student is doing well. Studying at the end of the weekend hasn’t precluded making good marks and going well in school. Clearly, it’s a system that works for this student.

For this student, there’s an added dimension of depression and the need and desire for support. When talking about your personal life or your approach to school results in judgmental comments and nagging, you tend to shut down, which means that you can’t access that support. Nagging this student about study habits sets up two things: The student is being told ‘school, you’re doing it wrong’ and is being told that support isn’t available, even if it’s wanted, from family members. That has an extremely isolating effect.

What does Amy have to say?

Dear Frustrated: I hope you are working with someone at your college’s counseling center. Because of your depression, you should receive ongoing support.

A counselor at school will be familiar with the issue of hovering parents and will help you establish a healthy and mature distance from them.

Your mother’s behavior has consequences. You should continue to reassure her but not offer details about your life which she is likely to criticize.

Because your parents are having such a hard time letting go, you will need to establish the distance necessary to grow. If your mother starts to nag and criticize, you should say, “Mom, I don’t like this, and it’s not helpful, so I’m going to have to check in with you later.”

Do your best academically, and also join organizations that will bring you in contact with other students outside the classroom.

And don’t drink. Alcohol is woefully omnipresent on most campuses, and using it will aggravate your depression.

Ah, ok, a lecture.

This student seems to have it pretty together. Depression is recognised as an issue and it seems likely that the student, you know. Knows there is a college counseling centre, although it’s worth pondering how accessible that centre is. How easy is it to make an appointment? Is it possible to discreetly get information? Many students don’t seek mental health counseling because they are afraid of the associated stigma, or because they can’t figure out how to work the appointment system, or any number of things.

The advice with the script to the mother is pretty sound; after all, the student did write in for advice about dealing with parents. But the added lecturing seems a bit unnecessary to me; the student isn’t asking for advice on dealing with depression, but specifically for advice on navigating a relationship with parents. That’s a separate, although related, issue. The question here wasn’t ‘how can I deal with depression in college’ but ‘how do I set boundaries with my mother while also asking her for the support I need?’ And the student specifically mentions wanting more support from the parents, not just in general; this is a letter about a family relationship and how to make it work.

Readers who have dealt with dynamics like this, how did you deal with it? What advice would you give the student on addressing the dynamics of the relationship?

Recommended Reading for Thursday, 29 July 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

Marathon de Paris 2010:  A wheelchair user closes in on the finish line. The image is very dynamic and filled with motion.

Sandra Graf (SUI) nears the 20km mark during the 2010 Paris Marathon. Photo by Flickr User siobh.ie, Creative Commons License.

Alex Nesbitt at Digital Podcast: USA Network Uses Fake Blind Guy to Celebrate Americans With Disabilties Act (h/t Media dis&dat)

A sighted person is playing a blind person, and there are not any real blind actors on the show that I know of.

What does that say about their real respect for the ADA.

If they wanted to make this about people with disabilities why not extend the principles they claim and find a blind actor to play the part. After all, if the CIA can do it why not Hollywood.

ephemeralhope at If I was walking through a sad art gallery…: You Know You’re Blind When…

I am sixteen years old. Many people believe that I am too young to instruct my elders in how they should be treating people. However, I have lived all my life with a disability that has affected the way people perceive me, I know how it influences the way I feel about myself and choose to live my life. I will not judge you for your point of view towards me and my disability; I will only say that I respect those who see me before they see my disability more than the people that only see me as the blind girl. I do not deny my blindness, nor do I deny my independence and determination to prove that there is more to a person than their disability.

Remember this: if you ever became disabled you would still want to be treated as the person you are today, so do I.

Rhianon Elan Gutierrez at PGA Diversity: We Are the Audience Too: Responsibility as Creators

I am a filmmaker and I have a hearing loss. I understand both sides of the experience: as a creator and as an audience member.

I know how difficult it is to raise money to have the equipment you need, the actors you want, the location that’s beautiful, and the crew you know you need to feed and pay. I’m passionate about the process but what makes it challenging (and ultimately more rewarding) is the responsibilities that I have not only to my goals, my craft, and to my team, but to my audience. During the process of making my films and even afterwards, I make a commitment to be respectful of the access and communication needs and abilities of my cast and crew. I learn new things every day from them and about them. When it comes to my audience, I think about the one person of two hundred. It’s easy to forget this person, but I’ve been this person so I know that I must remind myself of those moments. I love the experience of making films and I especially love to see the impact that my films have on others and the difference that it makes when they can follow the story. I know I am not alone in sharing this sentiment.

Steve Kolowich at Inside Higher Ed: For One, for All

When advocates for students with disabilities asked Stephen Rehberg, an associate academic professional at Georgia Tech’s Center of Enhanced Teaching and Learning, to help create workshops to teach science and technology faculty members how better to accommodate disabled students, Rehberg’s answer was simple: “No.”

“Trying to teach faculty about accessibility is a dead end,” Rehberg said last week, during a session as Blackboard’s annual user conference here. “They’re not going to come to the workshops, and [if] they get there, they’re going to glaze over. I said, ‘I’m not going to waste my time or the grant money.’ ”

kissestokashmir at Your fucking culture alienates me: Something I have been thinking about a lot

And what a weird thing to care about. Who would mourn the loss of their birth defect? (Syndactyly is the official name of my condition.) I would most likely feel different about this if it was located on a more visible part of my body, such as the hands, or actually impeded my functioning. But it didn’t. It was just something unique about me, something that set me apart from everyone else I knew and I enjoyed having something that was unique to me and didn’t know that I enjoyed it until it was gone. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s no point in robbing people of what makes them different or unique and they may very well end up resenting you for the imposition into their lives. What you may consider a defect or an oddity, they may consider a vital characteristic of their personality. And you do not have the right to take it from them or to characterize what it means for them.

Astrid von Woerkom at Astrid’s Journal: Autistic Student Denied Education, Loses Court Battle

This is sad. What is sadder, is that quite a number of students with disabilities are left without education for reasons similar to A.’s. School distritcts excuse lack of education by the argument that they don’t have the resources to educate “difficult” students. Even in countries like the Netherlands, where school attendance is compulsory – I don’t know about the UK -, students are left behind to sit at home.

Bad Behaviour: Disabled Students and Discipline Disparities

I wrote recently here about the abuse of autistic students in Pennsylvania, and highlighted the fact that abusive ‘discipline’ is distressingly common for disabled students. In the interests of writing a post that for once does not need a content warning, I’m going to refrain from providing details of the kinds of actions that are considered ‘discipline’ in the schools, but I’m sure many of you have encountered stories in the media and some of you have probably experienced abuse in the classroom yourselves.

This is a reflection of a lot of problems with the way society views and treats people with disabilities, and of serious inadequacies in the education system. Teachers who abuse students clearly should not be in the classroom, yet they are, and they are sometimes allowed to remain even after abuse is reported. Teachers who have received no training in working with disabled students shouldn’t be assigned to classrooms with disabled students, yet they are.

But what about the flip side, when students are taken out of the classroom?

A study recently released in Delaware found that disabled students are more likely to be suspended for ‘behaviour problems.’ More specifically, while 20% of the students suspended1 were disabled, disabled students only make up 14% of the student body. The study questions this disparity, asking why it is that disabled students are at more risk of suspension although there is an established body of law that is designed to specifically provide protections for disabled students, and to limit the circumstances in which they can be suspended.

The article asks, not ‘why are students with disabilities more likely to be suspended,’ but ‘what makes disabled students behave badly?’ I personally think that’s the wrong question. What is ‘bad behaviour’? How is this being defined, and who is defining it? It’s good to see some mandatory accountability in the form of tracking discipline numbers and reporting them, but accountability is only one part of the equation. If districts are not taking action to address the disparities, reporting them doesn’t make that much of a difference.

And are schools adequately identifying disabled students? While there has been more of a push in recent years to identify and intervene when disabilities are observed in the classroom, there tend to be racial and class inequalities when it comes to diagnosis and treatment. Likewise, there are disparities in identification; a teacher may attribute differences in learning and communication styles to disability in a white child, and ‘bad attitude’ in a nonwhite child, for example.

The approach to this particular educational disparity seems to be focused on what ‘makes’ students ‘behave badly’ instead of asking whether teachers are being adequately trained to work with disabled students and asking what ‘bad behaviour’ is and who is defining it. It assumes that everyone should (and can) engage in specific patterns of behaviour and it suggests that ‘abnormal’ behaviour patterns should be punished.

Are students suspended for not using modes of communication familiar to teachers? For needing to stand or pace while learning? For needing a quiet environment for learning, and for becoming upset when one is not provided? For needing orderly and precise schedules? For not completing assignments they don’t understand or find impossible to finish? For attempting to create and maintain personal space? For expressing any number of needs and needing a space where they are accommodated? For tics in the classroom?

When nondisabled people are the ones defining ‘normal’ behaviour and deciding what is bad and worthy of suspension, inevitably you are going to end up with disparities in student discipline. When teachers are not provided with adequate training, when they are dealing with classrooms that have too many students in them, when they are being burdened with a lot of additional work outside the classroom, a tinderbox of circumstances is created and disabled students tend to lose.

Suspension is a serious punishment. Students missing a month or more of school is a serious problem. Until we reframe the way that we talk about classroom behaviour, we’re going to continue missing the heart of the problem.

  1. School suspension, for those not familiar with the concept, is a form of discipline where students are ordered to stay out of school for a set period of time. Students may or may not be allowed to do schoolwork at home.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Warning: Offsite links are not safe spaces. Articles and comments in the links may contain ableist, sexist, and other -ist language and ideas of varying intensity. Opinions expressed in the articles may not reflect the opinions held by the compiler of the post and links are provided as topics of interest and exploration only. I attempt to provide extra warnings for material like extreme violence/rape; however, your triggers/issues may vary, so please read with care.

A wheelchair in a rocky, grassy landscape on a mountain. He is leaning forward to unzip a tent and camping equipment is stacked next to the tent's entry.

‘4WheelBob Coomber climbs Mt. White in a wheelchair’ by Flickr user Rick McCharles, Creative Commons License.

Stitch Kingdom: Disneyland Resort Begins Broad Sign Language Interpretation Program Across Parks

Disneyland Resort this week began offering regularly-scheduled sign language interpretation at numerous shows and attractions at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks. As part of the Resort’s ongoing commitment to guests with disabilities, individuals have access to a schedule of offerings where interpretation is provided without having to make prior arrangements.

“The Disneyland Resort is dedicated to making the Disney tradition of rich storytelling available to all of our guests,” said Betty Appleton, who oversees the Resort’s guests with disabilities program. “Our new sign language service enables guests with hearing disabilities [ed note-indeed] to engage with our shows and attractions in a whole new way.”

Jeff Baenen at the San Francisco Chronicle: Theatre mixes disabled, nondisabled actors (warning, the framing of this article is along some familiar ‘overcoming disability’ and ‘they are just like normal people!’ lines)

Dozens of theater companies use disabled actors, including troupes in Cincinnati, Washington and New York. But there still are too few roles for them, said Ike Schambelan, founder and artistic director of New York’s off-Broadway Theater Breaking Through Barriers.

Casting directors are “perfectly willing to put an able-bodied person in a disabled role when I cannot believe they could not find a person for the role who uses a wheelchair,” he said.

isabelthespy at very filled with dreams: don’t you think mental health issues should be taught as part of high school health class?

and while i do think you can’t understand it if you haven’t been there, i feel like it might not be a total waste of time to introduce people, early, to that fact. to be like: “depression is a thing. a real thing, even. if you don’t have it and never have, you don’t know what the fuck it’s like. so if you ever feel like giving a depressed person some helpful advice based on that time you were sad, or if you feel like maybe it would be helpful for everyone involved if you gave the depressed person a good talking-to about how they should just try harder to get their shit together already, please remember that time you were sixteen and your health teacher told you, preemptively, to SHUT THE FUCK UP.” and thus we spare thousands of future depressed people the agony of not so much having their friends not understand them as having their friends THINK they understand them when, actually, they don’t and can’t.

Afua Hirsch and Alice Lagnado at The Guardian: Study shows more disabled students are dropping out of university

Although when she began her anthropology degree course at Durham University Watson was assessed and given the help of a note-taker and a laptop, she says tutors and lecturers humiliated her and failed to take her needs into account. When she raised the issue, she was offered counselling to help her adjust to university life.

“[One tutor] tapped on the loop [of her hearing aid system] and shouted down it “Rosie can you hear me, Rosie” and I was made to feel humiliated, especially when other students laughed at this,” Watson says. “I asked the tutor if she realised just how upsetting that had been for me; her reaction was to say that she always shouted ‘because her grandmother is old’.

BBC News: Disability support evidence to help inquiry

The EHRC is using its legal powers to hold the inquiry into the ways local authorities, the police, social services, schools, public transport operators and other bodies tackle – or don’t tackle – disability harassment.

Research carried out by the EHRC last year revealed that disabled people are four times more likely than non-disabled people to be victims of crime.