Tag Archives: university

Recommended Reading for 25 November, 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?

disability is a feminist issue by Wheelchair Dancer:

This conversation is an icon in the difficult relations of disability and feminism.

Study: Too Many Fat Women Don’t Even Know They’re Fat by Cara at The Curvature:

Trying to define and impose your definition of normal on other people — whether it be in relation to gender, sexuality, physical ability, neurological workings, weight, or some other category entirely, is alienating, damaging, and oppressive. There’s no way that defining people in opposition to “normal” and telling them that they must become normal for their own good is not harmful.

Access and Academia, Again by Liz at Dis/Embody:

Though it’s lamentable that this is necessary, twenty years after the ADA, these cases are exactly the kind of potentially broad-ranging challenges that could strengthen the civil rights protections of the ADA and the accessibility processes used in US institutes of higher education.

Boy With Disability Unable To Leave Apartment by Katie E. at Women’s Glib:

Denial of accessibility is a widespread issue for people with disabilities. Jaime’s education and right to leave his apartment is seen as trivial to the leasing office, but it is very, very important. Why should he be treated as a second-class citizen? Why don’t all people have a right to education?

In a first, Census 2011 to mark people with multiple disability by Surbhi Khyati at The Indian Express:

For the first time in India, people with multiple disability will be a part of Census 2011. The census will not only include the number of people in each disabled category but also recognise diseases like dyslexia and autism as forms of disability.

That’s all for this time. Send your links to recreading[@]disabledfeminists[.]com. Let us know if/how you want to be credited.

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.

Guest Post: Stuck and tired: How universities are failing disabled students (like me)

Diane Shipley is a freelance writer obsessed with feminism, US TV, memoirs and pizza. She writes about those things and more at her blog, the imaginatively-named Diane Shipley Blogs (http://blog.dianeshipley.com) and is almost always on Twitter (username: @dianeshipley).

You’re intelligent, personable, and get good grades. It might look like higher education is a given.

But it isn’t. Not when you have a disabling illness. Then, making it to graduation could be more challenging than you ever imagined.

Last year, I tried to finish the degree I dropped when I got ill back in 1998. The disability services department at my new university contacted me the summer before I started my course, asking what extra help I would need.

I had never been a student with disabilities before, so I couldn’t anticipate all the challenges I might face. But the system for reporting those I was aware of seemed doomed to failure: a disability advisor emailed my department in the first week of the semester to advise them that I needed my seminars and lectures to be accessible. Inevitably, this was too late. One of my lectures was in a building with a lift that was almost always out of order, leaving me the choice of missing out or making myself ill. And my registration experience was disastrous.

Registration and enrolment were in two separate buildings nowhere near each other. As no buses ran in that direction, this meant a fifty-minute round trip on foot, well beyond what I could cope with. So I emailed the university to explain this, asking if I could register and enrol online, instead.

Here’s where I point out something that should be obvious but seems not to be: when disabled students express a preference, it shouldn’t be brushed aside in favour of what administrative staff would prefer. Being assertive can be very difficult, especially in situations where someone has power over you. Expressing one’s needs can also be embarrassing, as many long-term illnesses and disabilities are stigmatised. It’s an issue that deserves to be treated with sensitivity, but too often isn’t.

Instead of granting my request, a member of staff from registry services suggested I meet her late in the afternoon, instead. Because her address was at the end of her email, and was somewhere I could access by bus, I agreed. But when I went to her office at 5 PM on registration day, the shutters were closed. Tired, upset, and alone, I vented on Twitter: “I don’t think this university cares about disabled students.” Then I called my mum in tears and she offered to leave work and drive me to the building where registration was taking place. I finally made it and explained the mix-up to one of the staff, who said someone there wanted to speak to me.

The head of registry services strode over and introduced herself, a stern expression on her face. She then shouted that I couldn’t say what I liked on Twitter without giving them “right of reply” and that the university did care about disabled students. “I’m fully conversant in equality law,” she snapped. When I mentioned the mix-up over where I was registering, she said that perhaps I should read emails more carefully in future.

She wasn’t wrong: I could have double-checked. But in my defence, starting university was an overwhelming undertaking, and confusion and anxiety are big parts of my illnesses. I had also made the mistake of assuming that no-one would suggest we meet somewhere I had specifically said I couldn’t access.

I was finally able to register but because of the delay, I couldn’t get into the student intranet until two days later, so the seminars I wanted to sign up for were full. This meant that instead of organizing them at times to suit my illness, I had to take whatever was left. When I contacted my departmental disability liaison officer to ask if I could be squeezed into more convenient seminars for a couple of subjects,  he demurred, and I got the impression he thought I was trying it on. I didn’t have the energy to argue that this seemingly small issue was essential to the management of my illness.

As I thought I would, I struggled with my schedule.  Ten hours of class time isn’t much, but I hadn’t counted on the extra time I’d need to walk to lectures (and then sit down and catch my breath). In retrospect, I needed to take taxis to my classes. But I was reluctant to organise this because one of the disability support staff told me that some taxi drivers were “funny” about short journeys.

But my biggest challenge was the fire alarms, which went off once or twice a week. We would traipse out of the classroom, walk down three or four fights of stairs, stand around for ten minutes, and then go back up again. I had no idea what disabled students were supposed to do, and didn’t know who to ask, so I just struggled on, my muscles spasming from pain and stress.

I know what some people will think: maybe I was too ill to be at university in the first place. But I had a good reason for attempting it: money. In England, if you’re on a full-time course, you are entitled to loans, grants, and bursaries, which add up to (just about) enough to live on. A part-time student is only entitled to £225 a year. So I took a risk.

It’s a risk that failed. Although I could cope academically, physically I was falling apart. After five weeks, I suffered a severe stress-induced relapse and the university recommended I take a leave of absence. This meant I wouldn’t have to reapply if I felt well enough to return, but I wouldn’t be entitled to student finance or disability benefits during this time, either. I only scraped by thanks to my overdraft, a little writing work, and my supportive parents.

This summer, I had to decide whether or to go back. I decided against it. I didn’t feel well, and I didn’t feel welcome.

I don’t think my experience is unique: I suspect it is more common than universities realize. The way I was treated is part of a much larger problem: how we, as a society, view people with disabilities. We need to stop being surprised when someone has special needs, and there needs to be a socially acceptable way of saying “I can’t do that,” or “I need more help”, especially in educational institutions and the workplace.

Policies like the British government’s plan to reduce the number of people claiming disability benefits (without regard for the number of people with disabilities) perpetuate the sadly still prevalent belief that those of us who have disabling illnesses which are not terminal or immediately visible are lazy, when nothing could be further from the truth.

The fact is, students with disabilities need better support. An attempt to understand and cater to students’ individual needs rather than just paying lip service to the idea of equality would be an excellent start.

Recommended Reading for 28 September, 2010

I hope all is well in your world on this fine Tuesday! 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?

Canada: Disabled-services flip-flop at Winnipeg Free Press:

The about-face came one day after an internal U of W memo was leaked to media and revealed a number of university programs to help disabled students were on the chopping block. The decision outraged students and raised eyebrows since it comes just weeks after the U of W launched a new disability degree program devoted to the “critical analysis of disability in society.”

USA: College Web Pages Are ‘Widely Inaccessible’ to People With Disabilities from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The study found that more colleges are deploying basic accessibility features, like adding alternative text to images so a blind student can understand them with read-aloud software.

But those gains were offset by challenges from inaccessible emerging technologies. For example, a person with disabilities who can’t use a mouse will often be stymied by a Web site that requires users to hover their mouse over a page element to trigger a sub-menu.

Australia: Disabled drivers get no favours on private property from the Brisbane Times:

The Department of Transport, which issues disabled parking permits under its Disability Parking Permit Scheme, is powerless to protect drivers who park in shopping centres, with centre management charged with enforcing the scheme there.

India: Promote sign language, urges deaf association from expressbuzz.com:

More than 100 members of the Deaf Enabled Foundation, an NGO for the deaf, took out a rally on International Day of the Deaf, here on Sunday, from the Labour Statue to Light House.

And, also from India, framed in possibly the most patronising way possible, Movie made by deaf and dumb to premiere on Oct 9 from the Indian Express:

The movie Amir=Garib, to be premiered on October 9 in the Town Hall Auditorium, has all the essentials of a Bollywood flick, but one fundamental element — sound. The movie has been made by deaf and dumb people.

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

Kids these days! The “Generation Y” panic, privilege, and erasure

Recently, I read this odd article, penned by Judith Warner, in the New York Times–one in a stream of many that detail how excessively awful the current generation of young people (read: young workers) is at putting its collective nose to the grindstone, sucking it up, and generally not acting like a bunch of brats, or something.

Many of us have heard about, or come into contact with, some of these bright young things. They are heralded — or, more commonly, blasted — as naive, entitled, too optimistic, and over-confident. In many of these articles, their numerous faults are listed: They don’t know how to dress professionally! They expect to march into the workplace of their choice and immediately start making a six figure-salary! They think they are perfect! They want praise all of the time! (Does no one who writes these sorts of articles stop to consider that many human beings want praise when they complete a task to the best of their abilities?) They have tattoos, dyed hair, and iPods! EVERYBODY PANIC, because the American workplace is apparently going to be dragged down by Generation Y’s entitlement, narcissism and laziness! This narrative, however, seems to apply mostly to a very specific subset of the population (and even the picture that accompanies the NYT article reinforces this): young, able-bodied, middle to upper-middle class, college-educated white people.

This erases, or conveniently ignores, a hell of a lot of folks who are not young, abled, middle/upper-middle class, and white. It erases young workers who may not have had the “expected” educational opportunities (such as college), or who had to take more than the expected four years to finish their degree, or who did not finish school. It erases people whose parents or family members may not have been quite so “involved” in their education, or in their lives at all. Of course, it also erases young people with disabilities — both those who cannot work, and those who want to work but who may be bumping up against various narratives such as that of the “entitled” Generation Y kid. Some of us have psychological issues or disabilities that put us completely at odds with the “overly-confident” and “entitled” stereotype that apparently befits the current generation — because we cannot stop worrying despite the fact that we are supposed to be totally optimistic and confident all of the time, always thinking that the roads leading to our perfect job will be lined with rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and gold.

Some of us have physical disabilities, chronic pain, or chronic illnesses that prevent us from working 40-hour weeks (or more); asking for accommodations or disclosing our condition(s), we fear, may make us look “entitled,” or like we do not want to put in the time necessary to work our way up — even if this is not the case. The fact is that many people, and many young people, with disabilities are already at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to the labor market and making a living. Not only are many people with disabilities, at least in the U.S., more likely to face lengthy stretches of unemployment and/or live in poverty regardless of age, but many face additional hostility, discrimination, and unreasonable demands, both in the workplace and from society at large because of their disabilities.

While I am not saying that these over-entitled Generation Y-ers don’t exist (I’ve had run-ins with quite a few of them, myself), I am struck by the fact that the narrative surrounding them is so dependent upon erasing or ignoring certain people whose bodies and experiences do not fit the “expected” attitudes about labor that have been traditionally upheld by American culture. Many of these attitudes, furthermore, rely heavily on binaries that reinforce who “counts” and who does not: You either work full-time, or you’re lazy. You’re willing to be mistreated in the workplace and do whatever it takes “for the job,” or you’re a wimp. Suck it up, or go home. If you’re not making enough money to live on or are poor, you just aren’t working hard enough. If you ask for “accommodations,” you’re asking for too much — just do your job! You have to work hard to “make it,” and if you don’t work hard enough, it’s your fault. If you don’t like your job or face daily mistreatment, you can always quit and find another one, right? But if you can’t, it’s your fault, and why did you quit that job, anyway? These attitudes surrounding work affect people with disabilities in a wide variety of age groups and generational cohorts, and this is a crucial part of why they are so important to critically question and examine.

The message for Generation Y, in general, may be “Get over yourself,” but the message for those who do not fit the characteristics of the “average” Generation Y worker is more severe — and ultimately more dire.

[Cross-posted at ham blog]

For your Tool-kit: Letter to my University Residence Coordinator

I’m on a variety of mailing lists dedicated to people with disabilities across Canada, and students are looking for university information. This can vary from what services are offered through Student Accessibility Services, how accessible a campus is, and what residence options they have available.

I only learned two days ago, by chance, that my university offers on-campus accommodations for (some) students with mobility-related disabilities. This information is not available on their website.

So, I drafted an email about it, and I thought it may be useful for others to adapt to their needs.

Dear [Residence Coordinator]

I was very surprised to hear that there are options for students with physical disabilities to live on campus at [Uni]. It was indicated to me that many of the residences at [Uni] have a room set aside on every floor that is larger than most, to accommodate mobility aids, and a private washroom with grip bars. I was very happy to learn of this, although it is not something I would now be able to take advantage of.

I’m writing because I think that this information, along with other information that would be relevant to students with disabilities coming to [Uni], should be available on the Residence website. A search through the Residence site does not bring up any references to students with disabilities or disability-related accommodations.

As well, [Person I spoke to] was unable to tell me about other accommodations that might be necessary for students with disabilities. For example, what policies are in place for students who work with service animals? Is there a way to adapt “general” rooms so that students who are Deaf can get visual alerts for alarms rather than relying on someone else to fetch them in case of an emergency? I understand from the website that [Uni] can accommodate vegan & vegetarian meal plans. I suspect that [Uni] can also accommodate food allergies or intolerances, but I feel this should be highlighted as part of the meal plan in a similar way to vegan* options.

As a student who is affected by disability, I am required to do a lot of advocating for myself and other people with disabilities. Frankly, one gets tired of having to navigate through levels of website to find out information, and I know I’m not the only student who has chosen to assume that, if information for students with disabilities isn’t available easily, then there probably isn’t any. I think making a section of the Residence website discussing explicitly what residences can accommodate students with disabilities, what is required to take advantage of these residences, what services [Uni] is able to provide to assist students with disabilities who wish to live in Residence, and a specific contact for students with disabilities to discuss any additional accommodations required would be very helpful. As well, contacting the Student Accessibility Services department and having them put a link to this information on their website would make it even easier for students with disabilities to know that [Uni] residence halls are happy to accept them.



Feel free to use & adapt this letter for your needs.

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?

Recommended Reading for November 9

Spoon Theory and Me (It’s all about me)

I’ve been reading about the Spoon Theory and kinda going, yeah, that doesn’t apply to me. (Basically, we all have a number of spoons that represent what we can do that day. Healthy, temporarily able bodied people (age will get us all!! Run!!) have an unlimited amount. Those not so able-bodied do not.)

Thinking about the Spoon Theory and applying it to my life is scary because dammit, if I write down that it hurts, then it really happened and it just won’t go away. If I don’t classify it, it’s not there. Denial is awesome unless WILL YOU STOP STABBING ME. See?

But I do use it, I realized today.

Identity Matters

It brings up some interesting thoughts for me about “what actually is disability?” That’s medical vs social model stuff, but its not just that. Its about the labels we as people with impairments use to define and describe ourselves. What boxes we put ourselves in and how easily or not we communicate with those in the other boxes of disability.

What it is to be a monster

You know you a monster when almost all the depictions of your condition in the media show you as either a joke or a jerkass. It gets to you. You begin to wonder if those you call your friends see you the same way. Are they keeping you around for the crazy antics? Do they like the real you, who ever that may be?

Positive Experiences with Disability Activism

I had some really positive experiences today with some disability activism that I would really like to share. The first two were at work and the third at an after-work conference for language development in the Middle Swan area.

In the news:

Student files suit against U. [Princeton]

Metcalf-Leggette’s complaint asserted that she has four learning disabilities, which were diagnosed in 2003: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), mixed-receptive-expressive language disorder, disorder of written expression and developmental coordination disorder. The conditions, according to the complaint, hinder her ability to focus, process information and communicate in writing.

The suit comes after a series of meetings with school officials during which Metcalf-Leggette sought accommodation for her disabilities. The University currently accommodates Metcalf-Leggette’s disabilities by offering her a “reduced distraction testing environment,” a limit of one exam per day and a 10-minute break each hour, the law journal reported.

Getting It Wrong: Rate Your Students and Ableism

[Possible trigger warning for upsetting and ableist language]

As some of you may know, I am a graduate student getting my Master’s Degree in Women and Gender Studies. I currently have vague career aspirations of getting my PhD or at least remaining in academia in some capacity; my academic interests primarily have to do with feminist disability theory and the body.

I was an undergrad when I discovered Rate Your Students, a blog for college professors and TAs to rant, with anonymity, about the wonderful world of academia–including its apparent hordes of clueless undergrads. I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon it, but I found it very refreshing. I was probably what the RYS denizens would call a “special snowflake”, or “snowflake” for short–that is, an overeager student who is convinced of zie’s own specialness (however, my low self-esteem may negate such a categorization)–but I found the site a welcome break from dealing with fellow undergrads at my school, many of whom, I felt, fit the “snowflake” categorization perfectly.

Given my disability and resulting limited energy, during this time I was  privately contemptuous of those whom I percieved to be slacking and getting away with it, particularly when I was assigned to work with them on group projects or in discussion cohorts. Inevitably, I would be the one who led the group in discussion–even when I had been the only one to have done the reading–or the one who would do most of the “group” project planning and resulting work. I do not say this to toot my own horn; this information is meant to be context for the reasons that I started reading RYS in the first place.

After this week’s posts on accommodation(s) for students with disabilities, however, I am seriously rethinking my earlier enthusiasm for the site. One professor sent a query to the other readers of the site:

How do you teach a student…who clearly has severe intellectual developmental issues? How do you make sure the other students aren’t held back? What if your course is a small seminar course, not a large course? You have to spend a lot of one-on-one time with one at the expense of several. Why doesn’t the university provide resources for you and this student?

Am I bad teacher for not knowing how to deal with this? Or for not wanting to?

The responses are a motley bunch (the [+] markers denote different responses from different folks), ranging from the awesome to the somewhat reasonable to the awful:

Anyway, I don’t think too much of students who come to me with a letter demanding time-and-a-half on tests. Nor do I pity the poor fucktards when I think of their asking a future boss for time-and-a-half on a project. There are some students who are truly disabled, and truly need accommodations. But ADD is a sad joke. It puts us at the beck and call of every spoiled tool whose parents can find a quack to label the kid as ADD.

I am an academic. I am also a person with disabilities. I know, furthermore, that “difficult” students exist, and in some cases, universities do not provide clear policies for faculty when dealing with students with disabilities. Professors, however, are not usually assigned to be the disability police, and with good reason (see above). From the glut of postings on this topic, the message that I am getting–as a person with multiple disabilities, both physical and other–is that I do not belong in the academy. People with severe emotional or mental health issues, apparently, do not belong in the academy because they freak out the “normal” folks. Furthermore, if I choose to disclose my disability to faculty, I may be subject to disbelief and doubt, due to their past experiences with disabled students. Hell, someone might even rant about me on RYS if I piss them off enough!

I respect the fact that RYS is a site for professors to anonymously vent; all of us need those spaces. Some of us, however, are both hopeful professors and people with disabilities.  Privileged displays of ableism like the above are asking some of us to side against our own, which many of us cannot do.