Monday, 1 May 2017

#BADD: Ableism with Disability Services

When I explain my college-related difficulties to people, they tell me that if I go to disability services, they will help me and try to accommodate me. Yes, colleges have great services and options for disabled students. Except when they don't.

My experience with disability services has been ableist. I wasn't even going to disclose to them, but one of my instructors took me aside and asked me if I was autistic. I told her that I was so she suggested that I go to disability services. I didn't take her suggestion, but then some other people noticed and I kept getting pressured into going to them, so I did.

I can't say my experience with them was great.

They looked over my old documentation which discussed things like meltdown triggers and special interests. It didn't really go into academic challenges too much, that was outlined in my IEP. But apparently IEPs are not acceptable. In my documentation, it says that, well, I don't really know what it says, but apparently, it says something about anxiety and how I get anxious when doing certain subjects, but it really doesn't go into academic challenges because that wasn't much of an issue, except for handwriting. When I asked for accommodations for handwritten tests, I was told no and that everyone finds it easier to use a computer to write a test and that no, I don't have as big of issues with it as I think, otherwise, it would be in my documentation. The problem is, all disabilities where handwriting is a criterion, that is just one aspect and other aspects (which I don't have) are required for a diagnosis. They don't understand that disabilities like autism, nonverbal learning disability and ADHD can cause people to struggle with handwriting. Therefore, I was unable to be accommodated. And no, they will not provide an assessment, I am responsible for getting an assessment from a psychologist (like students can afford psychologists, most seem to charge you by the second, this requirement is actually a little classist because it means that those who can afford will receive better services). If you think that is bad, it gets worse.......

Disability services makes a lot of assumptions about what i CAN'T do as well as what I CAN do.  Recently, I applied for a field school and disclosed that I was registered with disability services, because I had to. It appeared they just wanted to see if they could accommodate you or not. I thought it would be a piece of cake, but it wasn't. They told that I'd likely find the field school very challenging and wouldn't be able to do it. They were worried that I was going to leave the group if I felt anxious. Not once, was I asked what I was concerned about and how we would handle it. I was just told that "We are concerned about blah blah blah, can you handle it?" Even when I tried to discuss why that wouldn't be a concern for me, they did not appear less concerned. I felt my voice was ignored. My dad was there as well and he spoke up and explained why their concerns were unfounded, and that worked a little better, but they still seemed more focused on their assumptions than what he had to say.

I had issues in high school that I no longer have. I can't pinpoint them, but they are there. Disability services also makes recommendations based on this because it is in my documentation. For example, at one time in my life, I disliked standing in lines. I was told by disability services that I should try and get my books early to avoid the long lines (which I do anyway). They were concerned that if I had to get my books after classes started because they weren't available until then, I'd have a meltdown due to the line-up, but lines don't really cause problems for me anymore. At least, not more than anyone else (Who really likes line-ups?). I didn't even attempt to tell them I don't have issues with lines anymore. Maybe I should have?

Note that I am NOT trying to make out that colleges should have disability services, quite the opposite; I think colleges should be required to have them, but they gotta do it right. Ignoring the voices of disabled people, making assumptions, and denying accommodations to those who need them solely based on old documentation is ableist. It is not how disability services should be. Disability services needs to listen to the concerns of disability people and do a better job at providing accommodations. And currently, disability services at my college isn't doing that.



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