Adjusting our attitude toward academic accommodations

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According to the University of Dallas’ website, the university “is commited to respecting the dignity of each person.” Photo by Samuel Curran.

Every day, University of Dallas students pass through the doorway of Braniff 114, walk past the politics and economics tutors and enter a room with a clock that runs just a couple minutes slow. This 8-chair room with beige-covered walls is the official testing center for students with approved academic accommodations.

Here at UD, academic accommodations are perceived with a strange mixture of indifference, bemusement and in some cases, hostility. Although UD has made improvements regarding its ADA system, more changes must occur in order to properly serve this community of students.

I am non-neurotypical: I have two learning disabilities, one of which is an uncommon neuropsychological learning disorder. As a student with academic accommodations, I am required to provide proper documentation of my disabilities, speak with my professors at the start of each semester about my accommodations, gain their approval and submit my proctor request form at least one week prior to each exam.

My freshman year, there was no such designated testing area; instead, proctored tests were administered in the library study rooms.

If anything went wrong during the exam or if the professor had failed to provide the exam to the proctor, it was difficult to reach the ADA coordinator.

The creation of an official testing center near the ADA coordinator’s office is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. During midterms and finals, the center becomes overcrowded, transforming what is supposed to be a distraction-free space into a messy, compact group of stressed students, completely negating its purpose.

The accommodations staff should increase their advocacy for their students. For example, educational resources about different types of learning disabilities should be provided to professors.

Staff should also provide professors with relevant excerpts from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

IDEA, passed in 1975, outlines the rights of students with disabilities and the responsibilities of educators. The 1990 Americans with Disability Act (ADA) also includes legislation regarding the rights of students with learning disabilities.

The staff should also advocate for their students more directly, stepping in when a student encounters difficulties and when the student and the professor cannot reach a compromise about their accommodations.

When I experienced this issue last semester, I was told that my professor was “too busy” to meet with ADA staff to create a solution.

As a result, I was left in limbo for the rest of the semester, unsure if I was able to exercise my rights under the IDEA act and employ my accommodations. When I cited my IDEA act rights to the coordinator, I was told that the professor had the right to contest my specific accommodations.

However, in this instance, the refusal of my specific accommodation was prohibited under IDEA.

My accommodations are not my desire to seek an unfair advantage or special treatment. They are my right as a student, and my rights deserve to be understood and respected.

In recent weeks, it has emerged that many students involved in the college admissions scandal were fraudulently granted extra time accommodations on standardized tests. This has damaged the perception of students who actually need these accommodations to perform at the same level as everyone else.

Now, more than ever students and professors alike need to recognize that academic accommodations are not a privilege or advantage for students with learning disabilities. They are a right that provides equality to all students.

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