I’m a disabled person, and I also work at the Disability Services Office at a college.
Not very long ago, a professor rushed into our office flustered and angry because
1. She had a blind student in her class.
2. She asked us how we planned to communicate graded papers to her student, since her habit was to write corrections on printed papers.
3. To which we replied, “Just send her an email instead of writing your corrections on the printed paper.”
How DARE we burden HER with so much extra work? More about how busy she is. More about how that gives an “unfair advantage”. (???) More on how could we possibly expect her to make such a drastic accommodation, which wasn’t fair to her or her other students.
How many emails do you think you send to your sighted students every semester? Dozens? Hundreds? How many classes of 25+ students do your teach every semester? How do you communicate with them?
This problem was entirely created in this professor’s mind by her own assumption that anything a disabled student could need was unacceptable, and a waste of her time.She returned to our office to complain several times over this.
She threw an actual tantrum over something she did for her non-disabled students every single day without even considering it.
Because “everyone knows” disabled people, whatever we might need, that need is too much. It’s a burden on abled people. It’s “unfair to everyone else (read: non-disabled people).
Many disability activists say things along the lines of “our needs aren’t more, just different”. Well, I have to say that even when are needs are the same, they’re still, apparently “too much”.
Year and a half ago I had a class with this professor I’ll call Dr. Smith. The student who sat next to me, who I’ll call Abby, used a wheelchair. (Not entirely a coincidence - I always sit in the front row so I can hear the professor and she had to sit in the front row because the room had auditorium seating.)
The two of us came to be pretty friendly with each other and I got to hear all the horror stories she had about Dr. Smith refusing her accommodations. Things like, on exam day she passed out papers to everyone including Abby. The rest of us start writing, Abby calls Dr. Smith over and reminds her that she can’t use a pencil, she has to take exams on the computer.
First Dr. Smith was like, “You have to tell me these things ahead of time.” After Abby reminded her that the disabilities office had emailed her before the class started and Abby confirmed her receipt of the email on the first day of class, the professor switched to, “You have to remind of these things the day before.” Abby said the professor should have told her that on the first day when they were discussing Abby’s needs. Then Dr. Smith was like, “Anyway it’s not on the computer now, I’ll put it on there later today and you can take it at home tomorrow.”
So everything’s worked out all hunky-dory. Except we get our exams back and Abby’s been docked late points. So the disabilities office gets involved. And Dr. Smith’s excuse changes, now they’re not late points, now she retroactively graded it harder because Abby wasn’t supervised and might have used her textbook. This disabilities office was like, “We told you we proctor computer exams here, there was no reason to have Abby take it at home.” The professor says, Abby agreed! Abby says, I wasn’t given any other options!
Last I heard from Abby she was dropping out one class shy of her bachelor’s because complications due to ableism meant she couldn’t afford tuition.
Next semester I have another class with Dr. Smith. Next semester is also the first semester I’ll have officially registered with the disabilities office and utilizing official accommodations. Depression and anxiety are illnesses people are often accused of faking, that I’ve been accused of “psyching myself out”. And I have trouble getting accommodations for my Autism because I fake being allistic so well people can’t see how hard it is for me to do that.
So my invisible disabilities and I are definitively looking forward to cooperation from the professor who refused accommodations to the student in the wheelchair. </sarcasm>
Also: this is really important to demonstrate that people with visible and/or physical disabilities do not “have it easier” and it’s NOT a case of “everyone just understands”.
There’s a woman at my college who uses a wheelchair, and she’s had to campaign pretty vocally about having the buttons that open the flipping DOORS working properly! (I spoke with her on a disabled women’s history month panel and I admire her style).