I am sure some of you have heard the word accommodations. For me, accommodations change everything, from how I learn to how I get things done. I have faced barriers in both school and employment. A key piece for me is accommodations which are legally required to give equal access under the ADA laws. Sometimes though society and people, in general, don’t understand and think that it is somehow giving me an upper hand. I can assure you this is not the case in my situation. As many of you know, I am visually impaired and have limited use of my hands and legs not to mention my speech is sometimes labored. All of these things prevent me from performing tasks as everyone else does but it doesn’t mean I can’t do them at all. Accommodations are meant to level the playing field not the expectations to play.
In college, I registered with the Department of Disabilities to receive accommodations that I needed to complete my classwork. Those accommodations included extra time, tests read to me, and answers recorded for me, not to mention preferential seating. The same accommodations I had in High School. In addition, some tasks need to be modified to accommodate my disability. That is not to mean they are less than but that modification is required, like tools to be used with unique handles, tables that are wheelchair accessible, hand-over-hand assistance, and equipment that I can reach. Modifications are changes that make things work better, like adjustable work chairs, the use of step ladders to reach items in high places, and grab bars in bathrooms. Accommodations change how something is accomplished like, working remotely or telehealth visits.
Video about what reasonable Accommodations are
In my freshman year of college, I took a ceramics class as an elective. I have done ceramics in the past without any questions. I thought this class would be a nice distraction as I eased into my first year of college. I was so excited, the professor seemed enthusiastic to have me in class. I thought she would accommodate my needs because, within the first 15 minutes of class, she got a table to fit my wheelchair since I did not fit under the desks. I felt included, that she was seeing me as able-bodied. I had my built-up tools, workstation, and my confidence; I was ready. I assumed everything would be fine, reasonable accommodations would be in place, the office of disabilities had not voiced any concerns and the professor had my accommodations letter. Everything would be great, I was wrong.
On the second day of class, I worked hard kneading, rolling, and pinching the clay. I stayed after class to finish my project. My aide guided my hands because I don’t have good fine motor control of my hands. The project was due by the beginning of the next class. I was not finished so I stayed after class. The professor saw me and asked if I could stay longer to talk. I thought she was going to tell me how impressed she was about how hard I had to work to make my pot look somewhat perfect. I was wrong. “Allison, what are you able to do?” she asked me. I enthusiastically explained I could do anything, I just needed hand-over-hand assistance. Then she dropped a bomb. She was not complimenting me on my hard work, to the contrary, she was concerned that I would not be able to do what is expected of her students. “This is a hands-on class,” she remarked, “How am I going to grade you?” I was devastated and my confidence shattered. Never before in all my 14 years of schooling had a teacher looked at me and said, “You can’t do this, you are not capable”. She just met me, how does she know this? I thought professors are supposed to teach. I was wrong.
She offered to allow me to take the class pass/fail, this is what she thinks is a reasonable accommodation. What does that mean? Will I get credit for the course? Will I get my money back? Will it affect my GPA? Will my mom be disappointed in me? Will I get my confidence back? What I learned from this experience is that not everyone will accommodate people with disabilities, you have to roll with those who do. There will always be people who don’t see your value. It is important that you see your value. Seek out those that see your value and gain your confidence to tackle the challenges and obstacles that you face in your life. I wish I had the confidence at the time to stand up to that professor and teach her how to value all her students and their abilities. My goal here though is to let you know that you can stand up for what you need and deserve. I did reach out to the Disabilities office but unfortunately, they did not support me.
Although I advocated for what I needed in the end I got my money back but had to drop the class. This was not before I finished my pot. Because I am part of the disabled community in my area they reached out to me and told me about an art exhibit they were doing and ask if I wanted to be part of it. Since I was proud of my imperfect pot and had taken the time to finish it on my own I decided to show it at this art show. Everyone loved what I did with this imperfect lopsided pot. I gifted it to Lisa and it is proudly displayed in her home. I did not let this experience crush me, instead, I learned from it.
Sometimes people will not accommodate your needs but that is not to say you should give up and think you are not deserving enough, because you are.
Thank you for reading until the end!
This is the view from my wheelchair, where miracles can make a difference. Always Strive for the Impossible. Come back next week to hear about my missed opportunity to blame the dog and hear more about my experiences and The View From My Wheelchair.