07 March, 2011

how to find out if your students are disabled!! by AWV, age 8

Sorry to brag, but you know. It happens. I linked my disability services post/video on tumblr and it got 26 notes. Then someone else posted it on tumblr, and their post got 73 notes. Then someone else posted it and their post got 67 notes. That's 166 notes! Now I get to feel slightly accomplished despite sucking at a bunch of other stuff.

First, an epigraph from my dear friend Lion Face: "You make a bad bitch. Please don't be like that."

So, yeah, I'm being kind of bitchy about this and you should go look at my tumblr and read her post so you can make your own judgment--but this disabled professor reblogged it and gave me a big talk about how PROFESSORS ARE PEOPLE TOO and I SHOULDN'T BLAME PROFESSORS (which I wasn't doing, I'm pretty sure the video was about how disability services suck and professors should be aware of that, not about how professors suck) and DON'T I KNOW THAT PROFESSORS ARE SOMETIMES DISABLED TOO. This last one really throws me for a loop because I think it's implying that I should be practicing ~disability solidarity~ and not criticizing ableist, able-normative, and inaccessible behavior because it might be coming from a disabled person! I don't get this, especially since I also sometimes work jobs where I am meant to be supporting disabled people, and I do not feel that my disability in any way exempts me from being open to criticism and trying to figure out if I'm doing a good job.

Anyway, one question this person asked was, even if it's hard for students to make the decision to come and talk about being disabled and ask for accommodations, how else could the professor possibly know the student is disabled otherwise? HOW IN THE WORLD COULD ANYONE EVER FIND THIS OUT?

Well...

~how to find out if your students are disabled!!!11 (and if they need accommodations) (and generally make your class closer to universal design)

1. On the first day of class, hand out little index cards or forms asking questions about the students. A lot of professors already do this when there's a limit on class size and they want to decide who is best suited for the class, or for other reasons. (My Latin professor would terrifyingly shuffle her index cards and use them to call on people. We were reading Boethius, so she called it the Wheel of Fortune.)

2. Have one of the questions be more or less, "Are you disabled?" but ask this in a very open way, possibly with a joke involved, so no one feels that they have to answer the question "No" because their disability isn't ~serious~ enough or they don't have documentation.

3. On the syllabus, write the usual thing about how disabled students can contact the disability services office if they need accommodations. But also say that in some cases you are open to communicating with a student directly, and doing things differently with them if it seems fair to do so. And say that if an aspect of the way the class is set up seems really inaccessible, you encourage students to contact you about this; you can't promise that you will change the structure of the class, but you will consider it if there are no drawbacks. After all, in some cases universal design benefits everyone.

4. In #2 and #3, make it possible for people to state exactly what they have trouble with, instead of stating their diagnosis if they are uncomfortable.

Something pretty obvious is that no one likes to go talk to a professor about being disabled and needing an accommodation, especially because you often have no idea how the professor feels about disability or will react to your disability. (This particular reblogging professor writes on her syllabus that she has a disability, which I think is great--but in general, students usually don't know what the professor's experience with disability is.) And also because asking for an accommodation may lead to the professor thinking you're lazy and having a low opinion of you.

So...if the professor normalizes the idea of disability and shows that they are comfortable with disability and won't just tolerate but will accept a conversation about accessibility, and makes it possible to disclose disability casually and without speaking...then they will know when students are disabled and when students would benefit from accommodations. Without students having to come and tell them. I'm not a professor so maybe I'm wrong, but would this method really be so difficult?

4 comments:

  1. Heh, sounds like you hit a real nerve there!

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  2. I don't know, maybe I'm just an asshole
    but I was just like "really?" for most of her post.

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  3. And you're StumbleUpon famous too.

    (For those who might not know StumbleUpon, it is one of the most accessible of the three social bookmarking sites: Digg, Reddit and StumbleUpon).

    I had not really got the significance of the video on StumbleUpon: it had ~160 links.

    Wanted to say: good point on being open and responsive to criticism. I did think that was an essential part of being part of the academic community. And especially how you put it in the context of the "workers".

    Solidarity is a troublesome concept altogether.

    Here is the bit I was thinking about and wanting to highlight:

    "This last one really throws me for a loop because I think it's implying that I should be practicing ~disability solidarity~ and not criticizing ableist, able-normative, and inaccessible behavior because it might be coming from a disabled person! I don't get this, especially since I also sometimes work jobs where I am meant to be supporting disabled people, and I do not feel that my disability in any way exempts me from being open to criticism and trying to figure out if I'm doing a good job."

    Glad you got the three concepts: "ableist", "able-normative" and "inaccessible" separate. They are in different fields, though may have the same effect: that of excluding people.

    And I love points 3 and 4 of "How to Find Out". Because putting it out there seldom helps only the one student who might put it out there in the first place. And it does show a sense of respect and humanity.

    One thing I often recommend is My experiences as a disabled researcher by Ju Gosling, which shows experiences within the British academy, and is very person-centred, and is not afraid to point out criticisms and deficiencies in the existing models.

    Also this author produced Health and safety in the virtual environment.

    (Given that so much study and design does take place online, it is a valuable point).

    There might well be a professorial union/interest group. So professors might know about each other (both inside and outside the academy), if not their students.

    Something about taking recommendations seriously?

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  4. I didn't really think your video was so much against professors but disability offices.

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