04 March, 2011

disability services are not accessible!

Hello. I'm a person who attends college. I'm also a disabled person, oh my gosh. I was hoping to talk to you today about the subject of, "DISABILITY SERVICES ARE NOT ACCESSIBLE."

Basically, the reason I found myself wanting to talk about this is because, you know, sometimes I take classes--being in college--and if I mention to my professor that I'm disabled, or...you know, either as like, "I'm having trouble with this because I have a disability that affects me in this way," or just in a way that, like, isn't related to academics but is just like, "I think I responded to this story this way because I'm disabled," I don't know...

So basically, you do this and then the professor will be like, "Well, like, if you need any accommodations, we should...you know, you should go to the disability services office and we'll get you some accommodations." They say this to be helpful. And, um, sometimes on the first day of class, you get the syllabus and if the professor is, like, a really sensitive professor they'll have written, like, "Students with disabilities, um, please contact the disability services office if you need accommodations." So, um, at this point, I completely give up on ever being able to get any kind of support from this professor as a disabled student, because disability services is so awful. I basically need disability services like I need a hole in the head--actually, I mean, not even as much.

So, what are my problems with disability services? It seems like they would be really great--they make college accessible for disabled students.

Um...okay. My first problem is...I got this pen so I can make little signs. Okay. My first problem is, "DOCUMENTATION." This means that...well, basically the way it works is that if you have a disability and you're in college and you want accommodations, you can't just say "I'm disabled," you have to bring in a diagnosis of your disability that is from the past three to five years.

So, um, this might seem like it makes sense--disabled people are always going to the doctor and getting diagnosed all the time! But, actually, um, it doesn't make that much sense because that's not actually true. Like, some people, they might be diagnosed with their disability when they're like ten and it's not a disability that changes, so, um, they don't ever get diagnosed with it again. So then they're like eighteen and they're in college and they're not eligible for accommodations because they don't have a recent enough diagnosis.

So, basically, I guess the reaction that a lot of people would have would be, "Well, so, get another diagnosis." Um...I guess, number one, is, like, yes, some people could do that but why is it necessary if it's a disability that doesn't normally change? And, number two, like, that actually takes a lot of time. It's kind of hard to go and do that when you're in college. And, number three, that actually takes a lot of money. My family has a lot of money--I can go and get another diagnosis if I'm told that I have to get one to have something that I need. Um, other people's families wouldn't be able to pay for that, so it's actually kind of a class bias in disability services.

Another thing I have about documentation is just that I don't necessarily understand the point of it in every case. Like, I think, hypothetically you could make some argument about how people are going to pretend to be disabled for like the benefits they get from it 'cause being disabled is extra fun. Like, I guess you could say someone is going to pretend to have some kind of kind of, like, chronic illness so they can have their own room or something like that. I don't know. I'm sure you can think of examples.

But a lot of the time there isn't really any arguable benefit for getting accommodations that you don't need. But...you know, if someone says they want to take a test in a different room for, I don't know, anxiety reasons, or, like, they're easily distracted, or, like, anything...how could taking a test in a different room, um, actually make any difference to someone who didn't actually need to do it? Like, if anyone goes and takes a test in a different room, it doesn't make them do better on the test unless that's actually something that they needed in the first place.

So, um, it basically bothers me because, as I'm going to go into, I can't help but feel that disability services almost has a hatred of disabled people because it's, like, this constant assumption that we must be lying and that we should do all this work to prove that we're not lying, which brings me to my second point which I'll just call, "ALL THIS WORK."

So, um, okay. Let's say I'm in class. I'm disabled and I realize that I would do better with a particular accommodation. Um...so let's say I tell someone that I need this accommodation. Whose responsibility is it that I get this accommodation and therefore, um, my schoolwork is just as accessible to me as a it is to non-disabled kids? Do you think that it would be my professor who is being paid to teach all the students, or do you think that it would be the disability services office who is also being paid to make college accessible to disabled students? Well, I'm going to read you something awesome which I found on the St. Petersburg College disability services website. I think it really just like sums up the whole attitude.

"Colleges and universities have no responsibility to identify or seek out students with disabilities. It is the student's responsibility to make his or her disability known to the proper individuals, to provide correct and current paperwork documenting the disability, and to request accommodation personally"--I really want to go and talk about this in a minute.

But anyway...yeah. It's our responsibility. All the time. I don't know if you know anything about being, um, disabled, but sometimes, like, it's really hard to do anything, and things that other people think of as being very normal, like, may be, like, pretty, really hard for you. So, it may, all the time, be kind of like going around and carrying, I don't know, a really, really giant heavy bag that no one else is carrying and you're expected to do everything the same as them anyway. So, I guess disability services felt that, like, one bag isn't enough, so they have to add a second bag of making you be the one who has to go through all of the effort to get accommodations instead of them just doing it--which it seems like would be their job, but no.

So, um, what do you have to do? You have to figure out what accommodation you need, you have to go to disability services--or maybe you go to your professor first, I don't know--um, you get your d--you get your documentation, which may take a lot of steps if you don't have documentation, but, um, you get your recent documentation, and you meet with your professor...and also, sometimes you have to keep doing this over and over again when you've already done it.

For example, I have a friend who had to take a test in a separate room, so every single time that she had a test in the class she had to bring a form to the professor for him to sign saying that it was okay for her to take a test in another room. So, basically because of the basic, like, cognitive problems that she had going on at the time she couldn't actually go to the professor and get him to sign the form. She couldn't remember or focus enough to do it. So she basically didn't get her accommodations because she was made to do all the work and she wasn't actually able to do it. So...it just doesn't really seem very fair I guess when someone is already dealing with things, and when someone, besides, is a student, and when someone else is doing this as their job, that they can't just do some things for you.

Um, a particular thing is when you're supposed to personally go to your professor and tell them about your disability and what accommodations you need. For some people this isn't really possible. In fact...yeah. For example, let's say someone has an anxiety disorder and they don't want to go talk to someone about it. Let's say someone has any kind of disability that is kind of stigmatized and they don't always like to go around telling people about it.


Sorry, my roommate was going to the bathroom and I didn't want that to be in the video.

Um yeah so basically there are various reasons that a person might not want to be able to go to a professor and start telling them about their disability, or that it might be very difficult for them to do so, but they're still required to do it. And this ties into what I was saying before--basically that disability services kind of seems to hate disabled students, because, um, even though things are already kind of hard, we're basically supposed to do all this extra work just to be treated the same.

Um, yeah, shit, what was my third thing?

I guess what I was going to say--I don't need to write it down. I'm probably wrong. I probably do need to write it down. But I was going to talk about, like, surprises. Basically disability services has this really cut-and-dry view of disability where you always know what you need. So, um, you know, if someone needs extra time to take a test, they'll always know that that's what they need. If someone needs...I don't know. You don't really need that many examples.

Basically, you know, someone's supposed to be able to know before they even start the semester what kind of accommodations they're going to need, and, you know there can't be any surprises. But...living with a disability, there are a lot of surprises. And one reason this is is just because of...I guess because of the general sort of complexity of, like...it's not always that you can't do something completely, but that for a lot of people it's that you can't do something sometimes or it's harder for you to do something.

So, this means that, like, you know, you might not ask for an accommodation on, like, a paper because you don't feel that you're...like, maybe you have, like, a reading disability, but you don't feel like you're so affected that you won't be able to work really hard and do this one paper. But then the paper comes around and you're like really super tired or, like, you have like three papers and it takes you so long to do this that you just can't do all of it, so you just don't do one of your papers. There's basically no way in hell that you could go at the last minute and be like, "Hey, can I have a disability accommodation? Because of my disability, I can't do all these papers at the same time." And...you know. That wouldn't be seen as real.

Something else, kind of an in-between issue, but something that's always personally bothered me is that, you know...if, for cognitive reasons, I cannot do something in class, like...I'm not even saying that I want to get away with that and have it not affect my grade. But I would appreciate it, I guess, if the professor doesn't decide that I don't care about their class and start being really nasty to me, which has happened; and, um, I don't know, I guess I wish that there was some way for disability services to actually be involved in issues when someone is either being discriminated against because of their disability or in which, like, professors are misunderstanding things that happened because of the person's disability--because if you're in a class with a professor that like really hates you it can make it really hard to succeed because you don't ever get any support or help from them.

Shit my roommate's dropping stuff and I know I'm gonna get really confused in a minute. I guess that was basically the whole point I was making, though. Basically, no room for clearing up misconceptions about disability--basically no room for anything relating to prejudice against disability--especially because disability services is extremely in the medical model of disability, in which everything is about the disabled person and basically it's the disabled person's fault that things don't work for them. Um, that's actually like, for me, I would kind of say that's what the whole thing is. That's what it feels like. The whole thing is about how it's the disabled person's fault and they should feel very very bad and the only way they can make up for causing such a problem is by doing all this extra work and getting their documentation together and shit.

What else did I have to say? Let's find out.

Shit--you know, it's really too bad, because I made another video about this and I said something so smart and I can't remember what it is.

So I guess you might be asking, what is something else that you could do, besides disability services--for example, if you are a professor, how could you help? Um...do it yourself?

Like...there's probably some things, I assume, are probably against the law. But there are other things that you can just do, and I know this because one time, for me, a professor let me take an exam in a separate room for emotional reasons, which I explained to him, which he accepted without me having any documentation because he was a really good person and he knew that there wasn't a reason that I would need that accommodation unless I actually needed it.

Um, there's things like that. There's things like trying to make your class universally accessible. What universal design means, basically, is that instead of making something so that only non-disabled people can access it and then, like, very long-sufferingly, like, making a tiny ramp for a disabled person to get in...you just make everything so as many people can do it as possible. So when you're designing your class, just think about different ways that people might need to access the information.

Or, you know, if someone's in class, just write on the syllabus if they're having trouble with something because of their disability, they can just talk to you. You don't need to have the whole part about "go to disability services," because you don't know what that means, so just say that they could talk to you, and then people will actually think that you get it, because you actually will.

Um, yeah, that's basically it. Sorry I can't remember the amazing thing that I said in my video that I made of this the other day.


Guess what? I just went back and looked at my other video and I found what I was going to say. I was going to say something about--wait--"BEING AN ADULT AND DEVELOPING GOOD SELF-ADVOCACY SKILLS."

So, this is something I have seen. When disability services people are being criticized for the fact that they basically make disabled students do all the work to get their services, they'll usually be like, "Well, we're actually teaching our students to be responsible, take initiative, and develop good self-advocacy skills." Well, this sounds nice, especially because a lot of the time disabled people are treated as being children, or treated as being incompetent and needing people to do everything for us, which obviously isn't a good thing. So, like, maybe first off it sounds kind of good when they're saying, "Oh, we're gonna make you do things for yourself." But actually, if you say that you're treating someone like an adult, but they're actually the only person who's being made to behave that way, then you're not really treating them equally.

Because, when you're in college, you aren't exactly being treated like an adult--like, no one is. You basically have someone kind of taking care of a lot of the details of your housing for you, a lot of the details of your eating, depending on the housing and eating decisions that you make, but you have a lot of people doing stuff for you.

And, if you're not disabled, your classes just are accessible to someone like you automatically and you don't have to do anything. So, if someone is disabled, and suddenly instead of doing it for them, you know, given the fact that they're a young adult and maybe they still need some support and can't do everything on their own, you say that they have to do it all on their own, because they need to get mature and get self-advocacy skills, you're actually holding them to a different standard from other students. Which is not fair, actually, so don't do it.


  1. Um, fuck. I typed out this big long comment and then Blogger ate it or something.

    Anyway, good point about the possibility of a disability that interferes with your ability to get disability services.

    I think disability offices should at least make it a lot easier to get documentation (like having someone on site who can diagnose or something), and maybe only require it if you're asking for an accommodation that could potentially give a non-disabled person who's faking an unfair advantage.

    Oh yeah and for developmental disabilities, there's no reason they shouldn't accept a 10-year old diagnosis. You don't grow out of being autistic.

  2. Glad you mentioned the cost, it can be a huge disadvantage on top of having a disability in the first place. What exactly is disability services job anyway? Oh, yeah to "teach you how to be a responsible adult." I have noticed other disabled students at my school (who are clearly not lying about having a disability) and they literally have to turn in paper work each time they need an accommodation even if it for the exact same thing. What a joke. You already know about my experience. They didn't even have advice on how I could obtain a diagnosis. They told me to call around. How specific. Even after I asked them if they could please be more specific, they just admitted they had no idea. Wouldn't it be their job to at least research and get back to me? Not to mention calling random people and not having a clue how to ask the right questions to get the information I want is part of my problem. Oh you will like this... My son's teacher informed me that all of the programs he was in last year were cancelled due to budget cuts so I asked her if she had any advice on where I could start in my search to find private services and she told me (no joke) to look in the yellow pages. I just could not tell if she was mocking me or if she was serious. I'm inclined to believe the first one because it makes more sense.

  3. <3 <3 <3 xs 10000000000000000000000000000

  4. Wow!! I like your video...very good!!!

  5. There is also the issue of visible vs invisible disabilities. My partner has Cerebral Palsy, and I have ADD, and our college has actively told us "You do not deserve accessible housing because you are not in a wheelchair." Never mind the fact that cerebral palsy, even the kind of cerebral palsy where you are able to walk, presents many challenges relating to accessible space, when applying for accessible housing on campus, we were basically told, well, you want one of the nicest houses on campus and we don't want to give it to you. Another one of my partner's accommodations was to live with a group of friends-- people who would be willing to help carry heavy things and liquids, help with food preparation, drive to the grocery store, etc. The housing office didn't like that. So they allowed us two other people who we knew, the rest of the 8 room house was filled with transfer students, most of whom didn't have much interest in helping. The people we lived with did not understand accessibility, and made a hard-to-navigate mess all the time. And the crowning cherry in the humiliation cake was the fact that the two of us were forced to live in the smallest double room available, a double that was in fact, designed as a larger single room to be used by a student in a wheelchair. So I'm sure you can imagine how happy and successful our sophomore year was.

  6. Great to know you. I am on Facebook and have a blog also.

  7. As a disability services specialist at a community college, I understand your arguments, but I don't think you understand the laws we work under. I struggle on a regular basis to get the faculty & staff to understand my role. I believe I understand where you are coming from b/c I used to teach high school special needs for 8 years. Students do best when they self-advocate with instructors, but good DSS folk should be there to help support you in your self-advocacy.

    1. I believe you don't really understand where she's coming from because you aren't disabled. Yes. You are under a lot of laws, but the point is that those laws need to change. They were placed there by non-disabled people and can be removed by people. Students who can self-advocate may do best when they do, but some students can not self-advocate and need support to get their accommodations.

  8. I do understand it's the setup and not an individual disability services worker deciding to do things like this. I don't mean to imply otherwise.

  9. I know how that feels. I wanted to go to a community college just for a few classes in writing. I also have an autistic disorder as well as ADHD and severe anxiety. You can imagine how rough my issues are. So anyway, my mom had called them to ask about their accommodations. They actually told me I had to take a math class, science and whatever. For me, that is just going to add more stress. I can't attend university because I have too much of an issue with being away from my parents so you know that is out of the question.

    Thing is, people who work in these kind of services want to do anything they can to make it harder for someone who really needs some sort of special accommodation. I mean I only want to take a few classes for writing. Too much stress and I could literally spiral into a full on meltdown.