Tag Archives: post-secondary education

University Kicks Student With Down Syndrome Out Of Classroom; Other Students Protest And Are Ignored

I cannot imagine being told, 3/4s of the way into my first academic term, that my mere presence in the classroom “resulted in a disruption of curriculum delivery and interfered with the teaching and learning environment for the instructor and other students.” Especially with no prior warning, and especially when all 19 of my fellow classmates insisted that this was untrue.

Meet Eliza Schaaf, a 20 year old university student with Down Syndrome. In September she began taking a ceramics class at Souther Oregon University, with the support of her family. She was signed up as a full student, and registered with her university’s disability office. (Part way through the year she was required to be re-registered as auditing rather than a full student.) According to the blog the Schaaf family has set up:

Out of curiosity went to the SOU Disability Resources Office and made appointment to learn what accommodations are available to student with disabilities. None seemed relevant or needed. Did discuss the personal assistant option.

From what I’ve been able to gather from various news reports, Eliza’s mother, Deb Evans, was her personal assistant in the classroom, having signed a contract. This newspaper report at the Mail Tribune points out that the one-size-fits-all model of providing accessibility accommodations didn’t really work in this situation: personal assistants in the classroom were presumed to be for people with physical disabilities, so Deb was limited to setting up Eliza’s workspace for her. In the timeline of events, the Schaff family acknowledges that Deb was asked to not speak to Eliza or the other students during class time, and describes Deb as leaving the room and letting Eliza get any assistance she needed from another student who also signed a personal assistant contract.

Without any warning whatsoever, Eliza received a registered letter from the university informing her:

“At this time, Southern Oregon University does not offer a program specifically designed to provide specialized learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. We have determined that even with the support of the accommodation(s) available at the post-secondary level, you are currently not otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in this course.”

And, you know, I get that. I think it’s shitty, but I can understand that. Except for one minor problem:

Eliza didn’t develop Down Syndrome spontaneously half-way through October. She had Down Syndrome when the university agreed to accept her as a student, and when the Disability Accommodations Office agreed they really had no assistance they could offer her, and when the university agreed that her mother could be Eliza’s personal assistant, and when they told Deb Evans that she could sit in another room during the class.

The other problem is this: According to the letter Eliza received from university administration (You can read it here (PDF) transcription.):

Based upon our interactive process and classroom observation, we have conluded that there are no appropriate accommodations that would allow you to engage with the course material at the cognitive level necessary and required of university-level students. Specifically, we have made the following observations during your participation in the course….

Except, according to students actually in the class, no one observed. According to Mollie Mustoe, a student in Eliza’s class and one of the people behind the very vocal outcry about this situation::

She said what bothered her most was that the administration used students in the class as a reason to withdraw Schaaf without consulting those students.

“No one from the administration observed the class, and the administration never had a dialogue with the students about what we felt,” she said.


“She worked almost as independently as me,” Mustoe said. “What she couldn’t do on her own that’s what the personal assistant was for.”

The situation seems to be done and dusted. Despite a petition from all 19 of Eliza’s classmates, the people this decision was allegedly made in support of, despite the Student Senate at Southern Oregon University voting to support Eliza, despite 40 students signing a separate petition in support of Eliza, despite a protest, media attention, and multiple letters from around the world in support of Eliza, the university has decided to reaffirm their decision to force-quit Eliza from the classroom. She won’t even be allowed to come in for the final class. She will be allowed to get a critique from her university professor, though; the person who, it seems, is the one who has made all the complaints about her.

There are more than likely people reading this right now going “But a kid with Down Syndrome doesn’t belong in a university classroom.” Frankly, I’m not going to debate that with you. I’m not on the admissions team of a university. Unless you’re from SOU, you’re also not on the admissions team that has anything to do with the decision to accept Eliza. But Eliza was accepted by the university as a student. Any other student would be allowed to complete the course, even if they were disruptive, even if they were failing, even if they only attended three courses out of 12.

Frankly, this is shitty behaviour, and I am outraged both on behalf of Eliza, who deserved far better treatment than this, and on behalf of the students in her class who were used as an excuse and a shield by the university who then promptly ignored everything the students said in response.

Further Reading:
Disability Scoop: University Decision To Withdraw Student With Down Syndrome Sparks Outcry
Mail Tribune: SOU students protest rejection of woman with Down syndrome
The Arc: “I am not a disability”: Eliza’s Story
Mail Tribune: SOU dean reaffirms decision to drop art student with Down syndrome

Eliza’s University Experience

How Can Teachers & Professors Help Students With Disabilities?

One of the things we often get asked after one of us, or a guest poster, makes a post about education and accessibility is to tell teachers and professors what they can do to ensure their classes are accessible. I understand and appreciate the motivation for this question, but the problem is that we can’t really answer it with any usefulness because it depends too much on the location you’re in, the access to resources you have, and the flexibility of your educational institution.

There are two things that teachers and professors can do to have their classroom be as accessible to students with disabilities as possible.

1. Learn what your educational institution can do for students with disabilities.

One of the things that student accessibility services often do is ask students “So, what accommodations do you need?” While this is helpful for getting a conversation started, it’s not necessarily in the best interest of the student to have them just come up with a few suggestions and then focus on those. Frankly, most students won’t be aware of what accommodations are available for them, which someone working in student accessibility services would be aware of. (To give an example, I only learned recently that the university that Don dropped out of due in part to difficulties in getting accommodations had the option of adjustable tables for students with disabilities. Having never encountered them before, he never thought to ask.)

As a teacher or professor, being aware yourself of exactly what accommodations are available, and what is required to get them, will allow you to work with your students to ensure that they get the best aid possible. It will also allow you to know what you can do for any students who may be temporarily disabled due to injury or accident.

Last year I was part of a review committee for the university, and learned that none of the professors I asked had any real idea of how they would assist a student with disabilities in getting accommodations, or how they’d need to adjust their academic advising for a student with disabilities. Being that there are whole buildings on my campus that are not accessible to someone who can’t walk up a flight of stairs, which actually prevents students with mobility-related disabilities from taking any classes at all in certain disciplines (a fact that always seems to surprise people when I point it out), this strikes me as something professors, especially those who do academic advising, would need to be aware of.

2. Let students know that you’re aware that accommodations may be necessary and that you’re open to discussing those issues. Let students know how they can contact you if they need accommodations – whether you prefer email or coming by during office hours, or both.

One of the things many universities require students to do is go up to strange professors that they’ve never met before and start discussing their disability. While on the surface this probably looks like “a reasonable amount of self-advocacy”, the students with disabilities I’ve talked to often describe this as the worst part of getting accommodations. They have no idea what they’re going to face. Will it be someone who grudgingly agrees to something, obviously irritated? Will it be someone who rolls their eyes and suddenly starts talking about how easy it is to fake being disabled? Will it be someone who gives them a little “Everyone’s a bit disabled!” speech? Or will it be one of the many professors who are very accommodating and happy to make their class as accessible as possible?

(I assure you, there are many many professors who are happy to help! But, of course, the stories most passed along, and the ones that worry students with disabilities the most, are the ones where something terrible happens.)

Having this conversation also gives you the chance to let any students with disabilities know that you don’t know everything, and that you’re willing to learn what you can do to best assist them.

I believe that a lot of professors and teachers, just like a lot of the staff that works with students with disabilities, really want what’s best for their students, and want them to be able to do well in school. I know that a lot of times there’s only so much they can do, due to lack of funding or lack of assistance from other people in an educational institution. Knowing what you can do can be endlessly helpful to assisting students with disabilities in your classroom.

Recommended Reading for Wednesday, October 27

If you haven’t been following my tale of woe on my personal journal, I have a terrible ear infection and can’t hear out of either ear. But now I have antibiotics to treat the middle ear infection, so any day now I should be able to hear something. I hope. (Woe.)

Today’s Recommend Reading is not entirely about the budget cuts and slashing of disability-related funding, but a lot of it is. I really recommend following Where’s the Benefit? for more in-depth discussion of these cuts.

Disabled People Protest Against The Cuts That Will Kill

Data from Family Resources Survey and the National Equalities Panel found that:
· 75% of disabled women and 70% of disabled men are already at the bottom end of Britain’s income distribution scale living in poverty.
· A tenth of disabled woman have incomes below £31 per week and a tenth of disabled men have incomes below £59 per week including earned income and benefits.
· Under the coalition government’s economy drive disabled people are set to lose at least £140 per month through direct cuts to disability benefits (initially devised to pay the extra costs of being disabled) alone.
· The Tories have threatened to remove our DLA saying that the number of claimants must be reduced by one-fifth.

rich at arbitrary constant: Osborne: Welfare cheats are “like burglars”

I’ll start by reminding people that most disability benefits are not work- or sickness-related. For example, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) helps with the additional costs of disability, primarily related to personal care. It is for people under 65, though you can continue to be in receipt of DLA over the age of 65 if you have it before you are 65. (Attendance Allowance is the equivalent for people over 65. Both are non-means tested.)

And rather than pejorative statements that play to Osborne’s prejudices, let’s introduce some facts.

CripChick’s Blog: thoughts on national coming out day

today is national coming out day. as i think about what this means for me as someone who is so out, yet so so closeted, friends and i are on a conference call going over notes from a recent summit where self advocates with developmental disabilities worked to create policy recommendations on community living. (sadly this is needed because too many providers use gov’t dollars set aside for community living to do things that are really hurtful to disabled people).

we asked people to talk about what group homes and other residential facilities for disabled people often look like. this is what the notes reflected.

Kali at Brilliant Mind, Broken Body: Disability services – hit or miss

Now, one of the interesting things I have to point out here when talking about how my law school handles my disability is that my law school is semi-autonomous from the greater university. It creates an…interesting…situation for disability accomodations. Not bad entirely; it’s had pros and cons for me. The way getting accomodations works for me is like this: I bring my doctor’s letter to the law school’s disability coordinator, who we’ll call W. The disability coordinator faxes the letter over to the university’s disability resources center. ( I officially have a file there and a counselor, but I’ve only really interacted with her over one issue.) The disability resources center sends back its evaluation of what accomodations I’m to be accorded. W and the law school student resources secretary then arrange for the accommodations.

Corina Becker at No Stereotypes Here: Adults Count Autism Survey

Not long ago, I heard about a survey being done by the Redpath Centre on the needs of Autistic Adults. Looking at the website, I see that the purpose of the survey is to gather materials in order to advocate for better services. Curious and always willing to help out, I emailed them, and received this reply.

In the news:

UK: The Guardian: Disabled people among the hardest hit by spending review: Osborne limits employment support allowance to one year. “After one year, people with assets, savings or partners who work will no longer receive benefits. Single people with no assets may be able to qualify for a means-tested safety net, but everyone else will have to manage on their husband or wife’s salary – no matter how low it may be – or dip into any private savings they may have.”

UK: The Guardian: A whirlwind of hatred against the disabled: Just how far are we, as a society, prepared to let violent crime against the disabled spiral upwards? [Trigger Warning for discussions of violence against disabled people, including sexualised violence] “The statistics should shame us all. Nine out of 10 people with learning difficulties have suffered bullying or harassment.”

Recommended Reading for 8 October, 2010

Gentle reader, be cautioned: comments sections on mainstream media sites tend to not be safe and we here at FWD/Forward don’t necessarily endorse all the opinions in these pieces. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

Anna linked to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage of this story earlier in the week, now here is Cara’s analysis at The Curvature: Australian Women Report Sexual Abuse in Victoria Psychiatric Wards:

Everyone deserves safety, no matter what their mental health or disability status. But there is an extra responsibility to keep safe those who have been placed in restrictive and vulnerable environments.

stuff to say in class by Amanda Forest Vivian at I’M SOMEWHERE ELSE:

I mean, to me this is common sense and people should already be questioning “non-disabled people>>>>everyone else forever,” but if we really need a study to show that forced normalization in every area of life is really NOT SMART, studying women would be an easy way to do it.

Sorry I’m so inconvenient by Kali at Brilliant Mind Broken Body:

I hate things like this, where it feels like I’m treated as an inconvenience. It’s not like I get some kind of power trip asking for accomodations. I don’t push people around because it’s fun. When I ask for something, it’s because I NEED it, and my health, safety, and ability to continue going to school are jeopardized.

Look, I’m sorry I’m so inconvenient. But if you had to deal with the sheer number of inconveniences I deal with every day because of my disabilities, you’d realize that I’m really asking for very little.

From the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, American Apparel Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination:

American Apparel, Inc., a clothing manufacturer which operates what it says is the largest garment factory in the nation, violated federal law when it terminated a disabled garment worker while he was on medical leave for cancer treatment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed last week.

At the New Zealand Herald: Call to rescue IHC providers rejected:

Health Minister Tony Ryall has ruled out a Government bailout of disability services facing hundreds of millions of dollars debt for backpay arising from an Employment Court ruling.

Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

Recommended Reading for Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Another fast & furious recommended reading today, folks! Yay for busy schedules all around, right? I am glad I try to keep up with the news, though, because I learned that legislation passed in the US that will enforce captioning and descriptive audio! I don’t actually have a t.v., but the last time I stayed in a hotel I was very excited to learn that descriptive audio is used regularly on at least some Canadian stations. I’d love to see it, and proper captioning, available everywhere.

But, enough random commentary from me. Links for everyone!

I Am PWD: New Study Reveals Lack of Characters with Disabilities on Television

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month and a new report released today on minority representation on broadcast television shows that scripted characters with disabilities will represent only one percent of all scripted series regular characters — six characters out of 587 — on the five broadcast networks: ABC, CBS, The CW, Fox, and NBC. Not only is this invisibility in the media misrepresentative of people with disabilities, it also means few opportunities for actors with disabilities to be cast.

yasonablack in ontd_feminism: These Will Be The Only Things I’ve Learned From “Higher Education”

I had put so much work into college. I had fought through anxiety and panic attacks and mind-numbing boredom with classes. I always handed in my essays on time (except for that one), I took tests on time and finished them early, and I showed up for the majority of classes. I even participated in class on low anxiety days. I always made sure that college and education came before anything else, before a social life, before internet, before anything else. So I assumed that all I had to do to get back on an even playing field at school was meet with the school’s disability office and all would be good. Sure, I was disabled, but I could find alternate ways of getting around things. I had to. Everyone kept telling me how much harder it would be to get a job, so graduating would be even more important than ever. No one told me how much harder school would be.

One of the first things I’ve ever learned at college is the able-bodied rules of dealing with disabled classmates/students.

Lisa at Where’s the Benefit: The Human Cost of Benefit Cuts

Any loss of life is tragic. I hope that at least his death can serve as a wake up call to those attacking us that their actions do have very real consequences. Ultimately I would like to see Paul’s death prevent any more disabled people being put in the economic position where they feel that death is their only option.

Quotidian Dissent: Sitting In Wheelchairs, Standing Up For Their Rights [This is an internet news source about the ADAPT protest, so the language is a lot of “wheelchair bound” and “how brave!”]

The central focus this year is nursing homes. According to the group, programs like Medicaid favor nursing homes, which they say provide a lower quality of life, as a means of caring for those who need assistance. “I’m protesting to get people out of nursing homes all over the country. I’m here for them, because they cannot come down here themselves, and I can,” says Wallach.

Having lived in a Rochester nursing home until recently, Wallach is adamant that nursing home residents “have no rights. They eat what they’re served. They get a shower once a week! That’s it. There is nothing for them to do in a nursing home.”

In The News:

US: 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Legislation Passes. “The legislation requires captioned television programs to be captioned also when delivered over the Internet and requires video description on television for people with vision loss.”

Canada: Bus stop call system hits bumps. “A few glitches still need to be worked out in the new automated next-stop call system being installed on OC Transpo buses this week, according to riders.”

Canadian Students With Disabilities: There are still spaces in Transcribe Your Class

Transcribe Your Classes!

Please note that spots are filling up quickly for the Liberated Learning Youth Initiative starting this fall. The Youth Initiative provides students with disabilities access to a new Speech Recognition transcription system. During the project, students will be given special user accounts where they will be able to upload recorded lectures and receive speech recognition generated, multimedia transcripts.

Brief application forms are posted at Transcribe Your Class.

We encourage you to review the participation criteria on the website, share this message, and apply to participate. For further information, please contact:

Keith Bain, Project Director, Liberated Learning, Saint Mary’s University
902.496.8741
keith.bain@smu.ca

Janice Stevens, Project Coordinator, Liberated Learning, Saint Mary’s University
902.496.8178
janice.stevens@smu.ca

Doing just fine

Hi there readers, remember me? It is I, Chally! I have been absent, it is true (well sort of, here’s a post I’ve posted elsewhere on the subject of absence) but now I have returned to your lovely company. I want to talk a bit about my having been away and the disability implications thereof.

I’ve had quite a lot on for the last few months between uni work and moving home (well, sort of, but that’s a story for another time). And what with being chronically ill, that has really taken its toll. I’ve been having days where I could eat and sleep and do assignments and that was about it. It was pretty frustrating.

Part of the problem was that I was just that exhausted by the assigned work and just getting through the day. But part of it also was that I worked especially hard at uni just to prove the disabled lady could do it. I’ve been pretty used to the attitude that I’ve not worthy of a place in whatever educational institution I happened to be participating at the time. It’s an awful feeling, the feeling that I’m not so deserving of an education (or a good education) because of the kind of body I have, or because there’s a perception of me as a whiny lying woman, and it has invested me with a thirst to prove myself. Or, better, a fear that they’re right. So I work really, really hard. I hand in the most perfect assignments I can write. And that’s so exhausting. It’s a vicious cycle: I’m disabled, so I have to exacerbate my disability to show I’m doing fine, which just makes everything else worse. I’ve been so tired, and every day has been so hard.

I also want to talk a bit about adjusting my ideas of what “doing fine” means. If I’m having to exhaust myself in order to prove myself (and I’ve been proving myself (yay ridiculously good marks!)) there’s no real advantage to me. That trade-off between work/life balance and living up to expectations hasn’t been serving me, it’s been serving an ideal of what society expects of me. It’s been serving the idea that we’re only good enough if we try and approach abled ideas of the Super Hard Working and High Achieving PWD, a pretty impossible way to be. And not an ideal one either, I’d argue – I think it would have been better if I balanced everything in my life a bit more and, even if I got slightly worse marks, felt better in myself, lived a bit more. That would have been “doing fine;” it would have been doing great.

Goodness me, there’s social justice to be explored even in absence, isn’t there?

Creating Accessible Campuses

My Student Union is doing work right now around issues of student residences. This is something that’s very much on my mind right now in light of the recent highlighting of difficulties of having a service animal when living on campus. In reading the Yummy Puppy Adventures – or, more accurately, the Mount Holyoke College Accessibility Fail – I started to really think about what an accessible residence experience would look like for students with disabilities.

So of course I brought it up to one of my student union executives, and instead of, say, asking students with disabilities for feedback on the issue, or contacting student accessibility services, he suggested I send him an email detailing out my concerns.

(In his defense, it is a month until school is over, and he is busy, and he doesn’t even know what to ask. I’m not irritated with him, just with the situation in general.)

So, this is the short list of things that I’ve come up with, but I know from previous discussions with the community that I will miss important things that should be considered.

In no order:

  • Clearly post that service animals are allowed around campus and in campus dorms and facilities.
  • List on both your residence page and your student accessibility services page that there are residences for students with disabilities.
  • Private washrooms with grip bars for toilet & shower/bath.
  • Wider doors & hallways.
  • Barrier free access to all dorm rooms.
  • Residence Orientation that mentions accessibility features to all students, including re-iterating scent free policies and that service animals are allowed on campus.
  • The ability to change any room over to have lights that flash for alerts.
  • A map of campus that indicates all barrier-free access points to all buildings.
  • Highlighting menu plans that accommodate food allergies or intolerances.

I’m certain I’m missing obvious things.

Please, give me your thoughts?