Friday, January 11, 2008

Accommodations Part II (The Sequel)

(I know this should be B day, but my conversations after yesterday’s posts made me realize that there is a pervasive perception that making accommodations for people with disabilities is “cheating.”)

Several years ago I was asked to a meeting at my son's school because his teachers wanted to discuss moving him into a special education classroom. I was completely flummoxed. His reading grades were over the top, his math grades were average, and he seemed to be progressing in all of his academics… I knew all about my son’s learning challenges, but every grade and score that I knew about indicated that he was succeeding at that point.

I looked across the table at the teacher and started asking questions.

“Are these reading scores accurate?”

“Yes,” she answered.

“The math scores?” “Science?” “Social studies?”

“Yes, yes, yes…”

Finally I asked, “Do you think he’s not learning?”

“Oh yes, he’s learning—when we ask him about anything we have taught, he knows all about it.”

Then what was the problem? I am sure I looked as confused as I felt.

After an uncomfortable pause the teacher blurted out, “He wouldn’t have such good grades without his accommodations—he has had them all year and he still needs them. He isn’t getting any better!”

Accommodations are a confusing and even disturbing concept for a lot of people. We live in a country where folks take great pride in making it on their own and many people interpret the word “fair” to mean “same.”

On top of this people with disabilities often receive a combination of therapies and accommodations blurring the differences between them. Therapies are designed improve a person’s ability to function. A person receiving therapy is expected to progress, hopefully to the point where they won’t need therapy any more.

Accommodations are intended to make it possible for the person to function now—without changing. People often refer to accommodations as ‘leveling the playing field.” It is a tricky concept.

Fortunately for me there was a teacher at the meeting who was wearing eyeglasses.

“Do you wear your glasses when you drive?” I asked.

She assured me that she did. Phew! Just the example I needed.

I went on to say that my son’s accommodations were like other people’s eyeglasses: glasses don’t make your eyesight any better; people don’t really expect to outgrow them; and if a person drives to work while wearing them, they haven’t cheated—even if they couldn’t drive without them.

Now taking an eye exam (where visual acuity is being measured) with glasses on would be wrong, but driving the car (where driving safely is what matters) while wearing glasses is just fine.

Accommodations can be provided for everyone (for example you can use larger print in your Power Point presentation to all to meet the needs of one or two audience members.) Accommodations can also be made just for an individual who needs it (in the same presentation you might provide large print handouts just to the individuals who need that while everyone else gets regular print.)
On top of this, accommodations are not as unusual as people tend to think: I use a calendar to accommodate my inability to memorize my schedule, a car to accommodate my inability to walk to work (I live too far away), a calculator to speed up my math, and my doctor's office calls to remind me of appointments. I know I am not the only one who uses these types of assistance to succeed. Accommodations are simply the things we all do to get things done.
The confusion that exists about accommodations for people with disabilities--and some prejudice about what sorts of folks SHOULD be able to participate and succeed in society--has necessitated the formation of laws like the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and others.
These laws, far from being cheating, make it possible for all people with skills, abilities, interests and gifts--who may also happen to have a disability diagnosis--to be full participants in society. Our gender, race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should not be barriers to a full life in this country--neither should the diagnosis of a disability.


Liz Ditz said...

Thanks, Terri, that is one of the best short introductions to remediation and accommodation that I've run across.

It's funny -- the darling dyslexic daughter had a psychoeducational eval last week, for college (her 3rd since 2nd grade).

She has always felt uncomfortable taking the 1.5 time accommodation on tests, feeling it was somehow unfair. This time the psychologist was able to explain to her the effects of slow processing speed (her biggest residual problem) and showed her the difference between her reading comprehension on a timed test (<65%) and given time and a half (>95%).

Her comment: "I finally think it is fair for me to have extra time."

Terri said...

Thank you, Liz!

Processing time is also my son's greatest challenge. I so appreciate professionals who can help our kids recognize their strengths!