Disability and Education
Per the VA, I am 100% totally and permanently disabled. I wasn’t always given that designation, I had to fight for it, go through years (yes, years and in fact almost a decade) of medical tests and several diagnoses before they finally acknowledged it. Thinking about how hard it was to get to this point, reminded me of an important issue, disability and education. The system isn’t accessible, but don’t worry that’s by design.
I was almost halfway finished with my bachelors degree before I found out about disability services at my school. The office was tucked away in what was essentially a closet and they had a backlog of appointments so it took time (weeks) before they could even see me.
When I found out that I could get in class and testing accommodations I was elated. I was struggling to be normal, to do what my peers were doing and I was failing. Exam times were the worst, I could get maybe half of the exam finished in the allotted amount of time. The stress and anxiety that came prior and during the exam didn’t help either.
I’ve been a student for a long time now and over the years I’ve realized I do things differently. That’s not a bad thing and in research it’s actually been beneficial to me. Unfortunately standardized tests are a one size fits all, single solution to the problem, blunt tool for a precision job.
Unfortunately the road to accomodations wasn’t straightforward. I met with the councilor who would help me, she gave me several forms for me to fill out and several forms for my doctors to fill out. That was the first problem since I was still just barely getting healthcare at the VA and didn’t have anyone really who knew my case.
Physical evidence wasn’t good enough. For example, a print out of my conditions wasn’t what was needed nor was it wanted. The doctor had to specifically list what accommodations they thought I needed. Seriously, I had to trust someone I saw once every two years to list what kind of accommodations he thought would help me in school. Once I did that, I was good… right? Wrong!
So I got the paper filled out, signed, and made a follow up appointment to get my accommodations. That’s when I got the but wait, there’s more speech. It wasn’t enough that I got accommodations for classes, I had to request them specifically per class. That’s right, they weren’t just active when I enrolled, I had to go through a whole other process of requesting the accommodations I received. So I had to wait for the new term to start before I could use them and I had to re-request them every term and every class for as long as I used them.
Then came the unequal application of my accommodations! It wasn’t enough that I had to jump through three different hoops. Now I had to reach out directly to the instructors to make sure they knew that I had accommodations. Some instructors were awesome! Others pretended like I never asked for accommodations in the first place. Yep, there’s no real enforcement for accommodations so even though one of my courses had an online exam component, I wasn’t given the extra time I was entitled to for the exam. Instead I got the exact amount of time as everyone else.
What could I do to fix that problem you ask? Absolutely nothing. There was no recourse so I got what I was given and that was all I could have. Despite my objections to the people in charge and the disability services group, I finished the class without accommodations because the instructor didn’t feel like giving them to me.
Being disabled in school can be a challenge to say the least. From inaccessible classrooms to lack of proper accommodations, all the way down to the system in place to give those accommodations. The barriers can be insurmountable. Thankfully people are fighting for better systems, checks and balances, and more accessibility for the disabled community. Unfortunately it’s a long and tough battle, one that won’t be over anytime soon. Until then, we’re left to speak up for ourselves, even if no one in power is listening.