The Messiness of Disability Accommodations
Everything becomes nearly impossible to navigate
A few years ago, I started a second graduate program in Library and Information Science. Before starting classes, I navigated my way through the university’s disability services. This wasn't my first time doing this, but it was one of the most difficult times.
I have two learning disabilities (Dyscalculia and Language Processing Disorder), a Sensory Integration Disorder, and two mental illnesses (Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD). I have had to advocate for, well, my rights since I was diagnosed with my learning disabilities in third grade.
It never gets easier, because society sets disabled people up to fail.
The summer before I started my second grad program, I made my way to the university’s disability services; met with an amazing counselor. That part went great. The part that didn’t go well, and the part that is still shitty and stressful, is the terms with which I received accommodations at the university. Because my learning disability testing is outdated (it has to be within the last 5 years, and mine is from college between 2004-2008), my accommodations did not go towards my learning disabilities. You might be thinking: “So what? You still got accommodations.” Yes, I did, but I got them specifically in relation to my Generalized Anxiety Disorder and my PTSD. This is problematic because, while my dyscalculia is not necessarily a daily issue (numbers, math), my Language Processing Disorder IS daily. I can’t even completely articulate this disorder of mine (oh, the irony), but you can go here to read about it. My point is: I chronically struggle with processing language, so when I had to work on assignments for school, it took me longer, it was more challenging, and much more frustrating. So, the accommodations I received for this second grad program did not adequately speak to my learning disabilities.
Let’s unpack the classism here. I certainly could have gotten retested; that’s always an option. However, it’s only an option for people who have money (and time), which I didn’t. It costs hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars to get testing done. There is also usually a waitlist, and once you do get in, you need to go in for 3-hour time periods. It’s grueling, difficult to schedule, inconvenient, and costly.
I remember being tested as a third grader for learning disabilities back in the early 90s. It was awful. You’re in a small room with an authoritative figure, and you know something is “wrong” with you, because that’s how the entire experience is established. It’s human nature to “please” people, especially as a small child. So, I remember feeling immense pressure to give the “right” or “correct” answer. It feels like you’re being interrogated. It feels like you are trying so hard to shrink yourself, but you also know you can’t. It feels like you’re being found out—and not on your terms.
Disability and classism are inextricably linked whether it’s a physical or cognitive disability. Linda Stout, a disabled activist and author writes, “Because so many low-income people are disabled, handicapped accessibility is a class issue. I can’t tell you how many events I’ve gone to that are not physically accessible. The National Network of Grantmakers had a big celebration downstairs, not wheelchair accessible, and I was using a walker and couldn’t get there.” Accessibility is a huge disability rights issue. Mia Mingus, a disability justice organizer writes, “Accessibility is concrete resistance to the isolation of disabled people.”
If I would have had access to learning disability testing, say, if it were free or if my insurance covered it or if I had the money, this wouldn’t fix the greater issue of the perpetual disbelief in/of disabled people and our diagnoses (whether these diagnoses are self-diagnosed or doctor-diagnosed). Getting accommodations puts me at, not even a level playing field, because, brain stuff, but it at least doesn’t set me up to fail (which is the alternative).
This experience parallels somewhat with how I had to get a medical accommodation for the first year and a half of the pandemic so I could work remote. Navigating a medical accommodation is also no picnic.
It still angers me that I didn’t receive accommodations for disabilities that I have solely because I didn’t have the funds to get retested. It angers me that even if I did, it would be an incredibly re-traumatizing experience, and it would be all for the sole purpose of “proving” to academia that I’m “impaired.”
People in power are so afraid of others utilizing services they don’t actually need that they refuse to see the majority of us who DO need these services as valid or deserving.
Your daily life is easier without a learning disability. Your daily life is easier without any disability. I guarantee it. Recognize this when you want to say we’re all “fake” and “lazy.”
I really, really want to write about my experience with disability accommodations in the first master’s program I started in and how awful it was. And I was able to even be pursuing a masters because I was employed at the same college, so it was free to me.
The discrimination I was facing in both my job and the degree program (like you, outside of the disability services person who was great) was so overwhelming at a time when my chronic conditions were already so debilitating and I was already so worn down by the prolonged treatment of my department, that I crumbled.
I gave up and left my position and therefore immediately lost my access to my masters program. At that point, I had been doing well but had been granted an incomplete in two classes due to medical leave.
I could no longer access my email account that I was required to use for the masters program, which was my work email, and I so could no longer access the online system to communicate with my professors or to complete or hand in work.
I lost everything all at once, after fighting for survival in each course so far and even harder through that particular semester, where both the prism running the masters program, my advisor and my supervisors were all insisting I should quit (my job and the program.)
I was going to say how I really want to write about this but it’s so hard and I haven’t been able to even talk about it out loud much-even 4+years later now.
But I started this comment and have already stated it seems…
Basically, thank you for writing this piece and I am hopeful that I can write about my experience more fully soon. If not, I may just put out bits and pieces and see what eventually comes together.
I’m new to putting my writing out there more publicly and just published my first *anything* on Substack this week.
I have followed you since discovering the GF group many years ago, and it has influenced my life tremendously.
I’m going to keep following you and hoping that I can get my thoughts out of my head and into something readable
For the first times in many years. My current disabilities have affected my ability to write with ease like the old days.
Eek, this comment should be it’s own publication on Substack! I guess I should start writing in my own space and not just in your comments.. 😂
So true and needing proving yourself for accommodations is just, ugh. If disability justice were at the foundation, these hoops wouldn’t have to exist. Sorry you have to deal with this and thanks for sharing 💜