Students, faculty and staff need to be more understanding about accommodations

Jeff Rose

Recently, the New York Times published a response on their Social Q’s column to a question asking if testing accommodations were harmful to an autistic student and unfair to the rest of the class. 

A portion of the question reads: “She recently told me that when she takes these tests, she uses her notes to do better. This hardly seems fair to everyone who actually studied. I also don’t understand how this situation is supposed to help her issues. Should I tell the professor?”

While able-bodied people should ask questions to better understand the disabled experience, questions phrased in a such skeptic manner makes it difficult for us to ask for our accommodations or tell people about it because we’ll be doubted. Faculty and staff who are tasked with administering accommodations are more likely to do so correctly and diligently if they understand how necessary they are for disabled people to bypass barriers. 

Disabled people at all levels of education often face difficulties in trying to get instructors to follow through completely with necessary accommodations. For example, instructors may refuse to provide hard copies of their notes and request you get it from another student, despite any accommodations requesting professors make available notes. This question highlights many of the struggles we as disabled people go through with trying to get or acting on our accommodations. Many people view these accommodations as an unfair advantage rather than what they actually are: a way to level the playing ground.

Able-bodied students who view accommodations as an unfair advantage only promote the very culture disabled people have to fight to change. With many unaware, untrained and uneducated instructors not providing accommodations, it’s frustrating for disabled students to then have to deal with snide remarks or skepticism from their classmates. What comes easily to able-bodied people often does not come easily to us. This fact should be the basis for which able-bodied people should approach the subject.

Disability accommodations may sound unfair to those who are not aware of their purpose or the extent to which they assist disabled people, but asking questions and fostering forms of training and education in all fields of education is needed to equalize the treatment of disabled people. The autistic girl in question probably had extra time to take her test in order to reduce distractions as autism can affect one’s sensory perceptions and therefore their emotions. If her classmate did not know the reasoning behind the accommodation, she should have taken the time to  do some online searching before going behind a disabled students’ back and ‘telling’ on them to teachers. 

The Services for Students with Disabilities office has tips for instructors on working with disabled students, such as providing captioned videos for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, reduced-distraction testing environments for autistic students or allowing students with certain mental illnesses or disorders to exit the classroom when needed. Students such as the one in the New York Times article should refer to their school’s disability office’s website if they’re concerned about how accommodations are administered in a classroom setting. 

Those in academia need to understand that we are living with our disabilities everyday, struggling with lack of accessibility, awareness on the part of the able-bodied and people’s unwillingness to work with us. Accommodations attempt to remove these barriers but only if we can actually talk to the instructor openly about it and not face criticism or judgments from our classmates.   

Rose is an English and rhetoric and writing sophomore from The Woodlands.