15 February, 2010

okay, this is what I sent

Dear [professor],

I am dropping your class. I feel like I have trouble relating to and grasping the concept of ableism as it is portrayed in the class.

The idea of not discussing specific disabilities or people's personal experiences makes me feel really confused. As a disabled person, I experience ableism in a way that feels very specific. For example, because I am not visibly disabled, I often get to avoid the experience of being stared at or treated oddly by strangers; but I am also expected to educate others about my disability in order to explain why I need help, and run the risk that people will simply refuse to believe my disability is real. Because I have a disability that is somewhat fashionable in the media, I get to be seen as interesting (albeit in a rather insulting way), while people with less fashionable disabilities, like Down Syndrome, are treated like wastes of space.

By using those examples, I'm not trying to say that I want to constantly talk about my own experiences in class, but just that ableism is often quite specific, and it's hard for me to understand it the way it's being presented in the class. I feel like I don't know how to talk about ableism without focusing on particular aspects and themes. I think that real and imagined classifications between different disabilities are a huge part of ableism, both abled-to-disabled and inter-disabled. I'm having trouble relating to what the class is about and I feel that I wouldn't do well in the class.

I also feel that the class is set up in a way that isn't accessible for me. The syllabus makes a big point of emphasizing that assignments have to be turned in on time, have to be typed and brought to class, and have to be formatted in a particular way. I have trouble planning tasks and switching from one task to another, and have a poor memory. So sometimes I am late to turn things in, because I forget to bring them to class, or because I write papers in longhand and underestimate the amount of time it will take to type and print them. This obviously isn't something I could apply for accommodation for because I can't predict exactly what the problem will be. Also, I don't want to predict that there's going to be a problem, because obviously I try to avoid making these kind of errors as much as I can. At the same time, I'm not currently in a position where I can be sure that I won't make such errors, so I would like to be in a class where turning in a paper late is not seen as extremely important. Those passages in the syllabus made me feel that I would be graded based on my memory and executive function skills, instead of my actual work.

I think that the syllabus assumes neurotypicality on the part of the reader, and this made me feel othered, as did the fact that in a class where most people are nondisabled, we seemed to be avoiding specifics. I think that avoiding specifics assumes that the nondisabled people in class have a good understanding of disability and ableism. In my experience, most nondisabled people don't, at all. (Not that disabled people are experts; we could probably use some specifics too.)

Anyway, I am not writing you this email not because I want to be rude or a jerk, and it is fine if you don't want to answer it. I'm just writing this because I am upset. I have autism spectrum disorder and part of what this means is that it really upsets me to change my schedule. I'm a junior and this is the first time I have ever dropped a class that I was planning to take. The idea of dropping the class made me anxious and for a while I couldn't even think about it, but I decided that being in the class would be more upsetting than changing my schedule. Obviously my feeling of discomfort in the class is my own, and may not represent the feelings of other disabled people in the class, but nonetheless I wanted to express it.




  1. I'm glad you wrote this. It came out really well. Good luck with your semester =)

  2. This is really good. I wish I could have written something this clear and informative to the classes I've dropped because of my disabilities.

  3. (this is Jelly, too lazy to sign in at school..)

    But that was really well written! I'm sorry your teacher made you feel that way. :/