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  • Writer's pictureTrish Dotts

Following the Law: Asking students about Accommodations

Youthful Ideas

It is important to respect the ideas of our youth. Their proposals are exciting and can be paradigm-shifting. Looking at images young people create with crayons, pencils, and paint, we can almost get a glimpse into their world view. It can remind us of a time when we were so preciously innocent of the complexities of the world. Hearing ideas of young people widens our options when ours have been narrowed by social norms and status quo. Adults tend to be resistant to wild ideas and hare-brained alternatives. So, it might be nifty to have a thoughtful child on every design creation team, on a school board or any place that deals with tricky problems. An intentional integration of children’s thinking could transform the trajectory of our progress.

Presently, we do not ask them. A critical glance at their artwork indicates reflections of misconceptions, lack of perspective, still-developing control over the medium and tools. Children lack experience that could open their minds even more to potential strategies and solutions.

Yet, we ask them if they want their legally assigned accommodations and modifications in the classroom.

Let me set this up for you. A child participates in the school setting for education. Over time it becomes evident that a child has something getting in the way of learning or producing artifacts of learning in a regular classroom setting. The regular classroom setting may not be the most flexible learning environment for diverse learners to have equal access to success. So, in this setting, the child is struggling as a student. Recommendations are made, data is studied, specific and Doctor administered tests result in confirmation of a learning disability. Then through advice and effort of teachers who specialize in supporting students who have a learning disability an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) is developed for the child.

This plan includes lists the specialized instruction the child may receive in a different setting, and supports for the regular classroom, because there is no special instruction designed for the arts and sciences. Which is fine because all people should have access to the rich environment of the regular classroom, they shouldn’t be relegated to ‘special locations’ all day. Supports listed in the IEP include changes to the way information (content) is delivered and to the way students can show their learning (artifacts/assignments/products.) Sometimes the students are offered shortened assignments or extra time, simplified access to information, access to electronic versions of the work, extra reminders to use learning behaviors and special seating arrangements. This plan, this IEP becomes law, protected by the federal government. This child is now protected. By. the. Fed. eral. Govern. ment.

By LAW this child receives access to the accommodations and modifications so that the child has supports to learn the way this child needs to learn. Just like my friend, Chandra, who lives life in a wheelchair, has access to visit the popular coffee shops by law with a specially designed parking space and a change in the curb. A ramp (not always accessible(funny/not funny story) is provided so she may have a blended coffee drink with her friends.

Do we ask Chandra if she wants the store to put in a special parking space or ramp for her? What would she say? She would say, “No, that’s okay” She would not want to impose hardships on others. She would not want to call ‘special’ extra attention to the fact that she navigates life differently that many others.

I know this, because I was born without a right hand. My physical difference isn’t as impactful as Chandra’s. I live in a world of 'righties.' I probably WAS a right-handed person, so I live life with only the use of my non-dominant hand. Oh yes! I can do almost anything, I ride horses, tie my own shoes, zip up my coat, drive a stick-shift, and even rope steers from the back of my horse, which is difficult for two-handed people. Chandra and I have figured out strategies to live differently, and have benefited by little improvements people have made to the world to accommodate or modify the setting so we all have access to as much success and fun as possible.

I grew up in a rural setting doing all of the chores and enjoying outdoor activities with one hand. I had no idea that having only one-hand was different than anyone else’s experience. So, when doctors and my parents asked me if I wanted a prosthetic, I said, “Ew! No! I inferred that the prosthetic would draw more attention and I was fearful of the unknown.

As an adult, I took a 6 hour test to see if I met the standard for National Board Certification for teaching. I did not ask for any accommodations. I could have asked for frequent breaks. I may have been able to have a scribe. The idea that my one-handedness might interfere with me reflecting mastery over the standards never crossed my mind. I did not realize that typing for that long would cause me pain. I did not know that my hand would go numb. The result was that I failed the last portion of the test. I missed passing the first time by a mere .0174 points. At a cost of $5,000 in lost income and the $300 cost to re-take the test a year later, I certainly passed.

Looking back, I wonder if I should have asked for accommodations? I can tell you a few other stories that make me reflect on situations where I might have benefited from asking. But, one doesn’t know how a disability is going to impact access until the opportunity has passed. People with disabilities figure out different ways to accomplish what able-bodied people do all of the time. Yes, it takes a certain amount of perseverance and creativity to get by. We have no real idea of how much easier it is for you. So, asking me if I want help, a modification or accommodation for something I have never done before is pointless.

Yet, everyday in our classrooms, we ask children if they want to use their federally protected supports. We ask a student who has never has the opportunity to do an assignment with any hope of earning a good grade if the student wants the support?

The student has no idea how the disability impedes access to success. The student just thinks that some people are smart. The student believes that A’s are for others. Teachers tell them that ‘If you really wanted it, you’d try harder.” Teachers say, "She chooses not to get her work done."

"If he just tried a little, I would help him."

"They are always talking instead of doing their work."

When the parents call to check on the progress of their child, teachers tell them, I asked if she wanted [accommodation] and she said, “No.” Or the teacher says, you have to at least try, in order to get help. The teacher thinks this lets them off the hook for following the law.

Children and adults do not know the entire impact their disability has. You can not look at a person and decide how a disability interferes with the person’s life. You can not look at a person with a hidden disability and decide how much effort has been used to get to that point in the day. You can not look at someone and see how invested they are in learning or accomplishing a task.

If the law says you must provide supports, then every single teacher is legally required to provide those supports.

If a ramp is provided, you must help the person learn to use the ramp in your setting. You can not just say, “there is a ramp, go use it” or more commonly, “Hey, do you want to use the ramp?’ You might actually have to help the person use the ramp.

And further, the ramp takes a bit of effort. It takes more effort than just rolling along flat ground. More effort than walking. It can be embarrassing to use an accommodation. So, the event happening on the other side of the ramp, must be enticing enough to overcome that extra work. If the ramp is followed by other obstacles, or the event is not enticing enough, then the ramp is not going to be used.

Teachers think that a person not using the ramp is just being lazy, or has apathy. But, if the ramp user has never felt the joy of earning an “A” or the pride of being in Honors class, then those accolades are not enough to put forth the effort and frankly the embarrassment of using the "ramp." Any person has to learn the benefits of achievement. You have to experience it to know that perseverance is worth it. A person with a learning disability has never had the feeling of achievement.

Stop asking students if they want the legally required supports. Just help them use the supports in YOUR classroom. You love your content, so will they.

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