Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 14 Dec 1997 13:45:55 -0500 (EST)
Subject: Random Thought: No accommodation with Documentation

Hell's been apoppin' on the internet all last week on the issue of ADA. On one discussion list I am embroiled in a heated exchange dealing the extent to which a teacher/professor must or should accommodate to the needs of students who are afflicted with LD or any disability for that matter. As the fates would have it, on three other discussion lists the same subject popped up. They were calm compared to the first until on one a professor proclaimed in a tone of no uncertain defiance, "No accommodation without documentation!" Gee, you'd think he was about to dump some tea into a bay. That pronouncement let loose a series "here, heres" that formed like a dark cloud of soul-devouring locusts ravaging fields of the spirit:

"I should decide what is reasonable and unreasonable adjustment in my classes. But, instead someone without a Ph.D. or expertise in my subject injects herself into MY class and tells me what I can or cannot do;
"we should immeidately ask if such students belong in college level classes;" "these students are trying to get off easy;"
"we just have enough funds to make these accommodations the students demand;"
"the demands being made by some of our students just are not reasonable;"
"if I didn't have to worry about being sued, I'd treat them just like I do any other student. If they didn't like that, they could enroll in someone else's class;"
what the law says we must do and just do what is required;"
"I fail to see why I have to change my approach in the classroom for one or two students;"
"the testing system for these students is not beyond reproach. Until it is, I fail to see why I must be forced to give some students special consideration;"
"It's my opinion that most of these students are merely unprepared and undiscipline and not dedicated;"
"I made all the accomodations asked of me and the student still only received a C. I don't see where it was worth the effort;"
"I've read that there are questions of whether all these LD conditions really exist;"
"we're lowering the standards of our institutions. We just can't everyone in;"
"I believe these requests disturb other students;"
"I resent a staff person telling a member of the faculty how to teach his class;"
"it isn't fair to other students to give some extra consideration;" "it truly is inconvenient and time consuming to make up different tests or offer different types of exams;
"these students just aren't as dedicated as they used to be;"
"the cost of hiring personnel and adding to the bureaucracy that is increasingly burdening our institution is by no means justified by the supposed the benefits to these so very few students;"
"I shouldn't have to take time out of my busy schedule to give additional exams just to accommodate a student who is in school only because they're letting anyone in; "It's a hard world out there and they're got to learn how to be hardened."
"what did these students do before we had to cater to them?"
"I have to spend extra time I don't have to cater to these students."

After reading these message day after day after day--I lurked on this list--I almost got the feeling that some of these supposed educators would prefer if we kidnapped, gaged, blindfolded, bound, and threw these intrusive students afflicted with LD and other disabilities off a bridge like the unwanted runts of a litter. Maybe that's being too harsh, but on the subject of accommodation to LD I'm not about pretend that I can step back or can be objective, distant, disengaged, clinical, detached, abstract, theoretical, philosophical with a spectator mentality or a passer-by uninvolvement or an onlooker consciousness. I don't want to be cold and sterile and removed. As a human being, a teacher, and a father the images of my ADHD afflicted son being drained of his energy, having his self-confidence sucked out of him, having his humanity diminished, having his pleading hands cut off, all burn pass my retina so deeply into my soul that scars can't form to hide them.

You know, I read these cavalier but faceless abstracts, nameless theories, impersonal generalities, defenses, rationalizations, excuses, explanations, half-truths (which are disguised forms of half-lies) and hair-splitting legalities that so many academic find so easy to slip into; I see how easy they find it to forget that they are talking about very real people--someone's son or daugher--and I wonder who has the real disability. They are so worried about legal protections for themselves, so concerned about their precious and so often unexamined "that's the way we've always done it" curricula and pedagogical stuff, so afraid that academic armageddon is at hand, so defensive about an invasion of their classroom sanctuary, so quick to jump and hide behind self-serving "I told you sos" that so many tend to forget about offering more than verbal support and encouragement of the sideline pom-pom waving, "rah-rah" variety to some very special, and precious people who refuse to be disabled and wish simply to be contributing and independent human beings. These are truly beautiful people; they're hummingbirds, not cockaroaches. They display more courage in one day than some of us in the ivory tower do in a life time. They don't want a handout; they simply want a legitimate shot at life and happiness and success, want a bit of flexibility to allow them to demonstrate that they got what it takes and what they got, refuse to be locked up and to be hidden away knitting potholders and fashioning brooms and putting together idiotic trinket kits and reduced to begging in airport lounges and on street corners, rightly demand that we cast aside the chains of our prejudice and see that they have "this ability and that talent." Is that so much to ask?

But no. They are so quick with the "No, I can'ts" or "No, I won'ts" and so slow with the "yes, let's see hows." So quick to condemn by inference or explication or gesture anyone who needs the assistance of an out-stretched hand, who doesn't keep a stiff upper lip, who can't "grim and bear it,"and who isn't some mythical, herculean self-made person damning his own torpedoes and going full speed ahead is weak, a con-artist, a moocher, is lazy, a free-rider, a loafer, or an abuser. They are so quick with whipping out the budgets from our holster to show why we can't afford to be sensitive and understanding while we spend untold dollars to build or reburbish sports stadiums, so quick with going through the motions, so quick to resist assuming the responsibility of someone else's well-being except in the most distant, passive and convenient of ways. They are so quick to use the same defensive and offensive language like some chemical insecticide over the recent decades against women and African-Americans, and students who "aren't the way they used to be" in defense of keeping our institutions pest-free.

Maybe that's what ADA and accommodation is really all about. It's not about getting a free ride or a hand-out. It's not about charity. And it's not just about helping people, going ever so slightly out of our way, in their struggle to change the way they see themselves and others see them. It's also about letting them help us to change how we see ourselves. Maybe, that's what we are really talking about, and it scares the hell out of a lot of us. It is simply asking each of us to act like a mensch, to follow the golden rule, to truly care and love, to think about how we would feel if it is us or it is our son or daughter we are talking about, to look at ourselves in the mirror and to deal with the disabilities of our own biases and prejudices.

There are still far too many of our colleagues on our campuses, who harbor disdainful attitudes and fight or resist in various ways and to various degrees. And even if they follow the letter of the law, write statements in their syllabi, sign letters of agreement, do so only under duress and in their mind under the threat of litigation. They may go coldly through the motions, but do so without the warming spirit of compassion. They may comply, but they are not committed. The sceptical, legalistic, cynicical words leap out that yield a pervading emptiness rather than a fullness. Such people are so quick at glancing at the outside when they should be searching for something inside; they're so long on criticsm and so short on community and passion; they so tightly embrace disdain and annoyance and weakly hold on to the love; they're so inclined to turn their backs, and so reluctant to face these students; and, as a high school teacher said, they find it so easy to cut off the hand that reaches out for comfort and assistance rather than firmly and lovingly grasp it and refuse to let go.

As I told an e-mail friend, I think the real mark of whether we have a commitment for not letting these beautiful people fall through the cracks without a fight is not whether we make accommodations in accordance with ADA, but whether we make them without ADA. How many times have we heard colleagues at conferences, in the hallways, during meetings, at social gatherings, in coffee clutches talking about the interference of the special needs office in the inner sanctum of their classroom. How many times have we heard our colleagues say in a tone of either/and relief and defiance, or maybe we've said it ourselves,"well, a student told me that he or she had a learning disability, but isn't enrolled in the special needs program. So, I don't have to do anything if I don't want to." That speaks volumes about the extent, depth, and nature of our real passion for the student and the extent to which they are willing to accommodate ourselves to the needs of each student.

The question is whether we have to be "forced" to be feign understanding, sensitive, compassionate, and flexible; whether we begrudgingly accommodate under the threatening sword of a "must do"; or whether we are guided by the shining and loving light of "the right thing to do."

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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