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Blog: Inaccessibility in higher education

a compilation of responses from Instagram

Bachelor’s in Disability recently published a blog linked here where Angela Gormley, an ambulatory wheelchair user, shared her own experiences with ableism at her university. The truth is that students with disabilities/disabled students face a myriad of uniquely frustrating challenges in an educational setting, and at Bachelor’s in Disability, we think it’s important that these experiences are talked about to make other people aware and so that things can change in the future. To our disabled followers we asked, “what are some of the challenges and inaccessibility issues students with disabilities face in a school setting?”

On our Instagram story, we put a question box that asked this very question, and we are very grateful and appreciative of the people who shared their own experiences. While all responses are kept anonymous, there is a pattern between all of the responses:

  • “It seems like they [the school] didn’t ask disabled ppl what they needed, they just guessed.”

  • “One thing is I need to have a diagnosis, doctor, and a doctor’s letter to get any accommodations [from my school].”

  • “My school wanted my diagnosis sent from the specialist and a letter from my primary care to make sure I still needed the accommodations.”

One person said that another challenge they faced was that their professor(s) had refused to record a class when asked, and that the student was punished when they missed class.

This wasn’t the only response about having professors that were not understanding of an accommodation request. Another person added that the professor rolled their eyes at the student when the student’s real-time captioner asked them to slow down so the captioner could live-transcribe the class discussion.

The Instagram post about Angela Gormely’s blog, which discussed challenges she faced at her university as an ambulatory wheelchair user, also had some comments from other Instagram users where they shared their thoughts as well:

“Having institutions decide whether your access needs ‘counts’ or not is just ridiculous, it meant I underplayed my issues and assumed myself to be ‘wrong’ if I struggle with something,” Instagram user kxruth said. “Only now as a more confident adult am I able to identify and advocate for things to help me - but boy is this hard work!”

Schools and professors adhering to accommodation requests is the minimum that they could do. According to the literature review “Barriers to Accommodations for Students with Disabilities in Higher Education” by Christopher Toutain, “much improvement stands to be made in creating educational experiences that are inclusive, equitable, and promote the success of students with disabilities.” Everybody deserves to have an equal opportunity not only to attain an education but academic success, and accommodations, support from universities and professors, and resources are what students with disabilities need in order for them to excel. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network, “estimates show that 19% of undergraduate students and 12% of graduate students have disabilities”. But why is it that our needs are not prioritized by universities? Especially when accommodations contribute greatly to academic success and a more enjoyable educational experience?

“I have received the accommodations of flexible attendance and deadlines, and it is a lifesaver with conditions like Schizophrenia and Fibromyalgia. However, it’s one of if not the hardest accommodation to get, and I have it because of the severity of my diagnoses,” Instagram user psychosispsositivity said underneath the original Instagram post.

“It would be helpful for so many students, and became a more general practice with COVID-19, actually, and least in my undergrad. I wish that universities treated accommodations as the rights they are rather than rations.”

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