An ADA Statement Isn’t Enough

It’s become standard fare for instructors to include in a syllabus a statement of ADA accommodation. My syllabus are no different. I always include, somewhere near the “Academic Honesty” section (though the placement doesn’t matter), this sentence: “If you need adaptations or accommodations (due to a learning disability, different physical abilities, sensitivity to hall sounds or overhead lighting, etc.), if you have emergency medical information to share with me, or if you need special arrangements in case the building must be evacuated, please make an appointment to meet with me as soon as possible.”

Some might challenge this statement, saying that I need to refer students to the appropriate department (at Virginia Tech, that’s Services for Students with Disabilities, or SSD). Others might want me to include the word “documented” to modify “disabilities,” worrying that students without documentation will take advantage of my willingness to believe them.

For these challenges, I can only offer questions:

  • What about students who have challenges to their learning that can’t be documented? Are documented learning challenges the only valid ones?
  • How can we help students who find some stigma in the word “disability”?

I find nothing inherently wrong with specifying documented dis/abilities, but not all students seek that kind of help or know to get help from SSD. One of the responsibilities of instructors is to work with all students. I’ve found it helpful to guide students who believe themselves to have some sort of document-able condition toward SSD, not for my class, but for other classes that may require paperwork.

The single most important part of an ADA statement is what happens after. Following through on promises to help, looking out for students, listening to them– all these make the ADA statement meaningful.

But what about students who don’t like the word “disability,” for whatever connotations it has? I always include a section for finding help. In it, I point to librarians, the writing center, asking questions, and meeting with me as ways that can help students find success. Of course, not all students seek out the many ways that they can find help, but it’s our responsibility to give them the opportunities.

(Post inspired by “A New Obstacle for Students with Disabilities,” which discusses the accommodation difficulties with new instructional technologies.)

About j.d.grunert

Historian, Science and Technology Studier, Librarian, Academish

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3 Responses to An ADA Statement Isn’t Enough

  1. Childpsychprof says:

    **omg i love this post.**

    No, really – I did a study over the summer looking at how GTAs perceive and interact with students in their classroom that they think may have traits of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Interestingly, not a lot of people knew much about ASD, much less how to support these students. We go through a bunch of training in our first semester aimed towards helping us teach, but nothing really touches on how to help learners who are less “traditional.” I would like to change that. For example, this semester we are offering a workshop for 1st year GTAs about working with neurodiverse students in the classroom. I had not really thought about the wording of my syllabus, though. I think this class wants us to challenge everything we feel like we “have to” do (e.g., lectures, grades)…can we reform our Accommodations and Academic Honesty statements to be more meaningful, too?

  2. filot says:

    Remarkably true. It’s rather uninspiring, the extent to which “dealing with” dis/abilities has become defined by a bureaucratic reaction on the part of educators and administrators alike.

    For teachers, this translates into: “I guess I better throw that disabilities clause in my syllabus and call it a day. Oh, and if any students do *heaven forbid* approach me with any kind of learning-related request, thank God I can avoid any discomfort on my part by simply dumping them on that one office…SDD? SDS? SSD? Ah yes, that’s the one. Out of sight, out of mind.”
    For students, this translates into: “I guess I better go through 10 hours of humiliating testing to prove my disability to the SSD office, and then hand my prof a certified piece of paper that reads, ‘You had better believe me you good-for-nothing; otherwise I’ll my lawyer uncle will sue you for ADA violations!”

    This system really opposes teachers to students. It expects teachers to behave like heartless jerks, and it expects students to behave like they have their fingers on the Sarah Palin “Gotcha!” trigger. You’ve really gotten at the heart of the matter in this post: “One of the responsibilities of instructors is to work with all students. … The single most important part of an ADA statement is what happens after. Following through on promises to help, looking out for students, listening to them– all these make the ADA statement meaningful.” Thanks for sharing your thoughts on all this, and for all your efforts in trying to foster a HUMAN-centered learning environment.

  3. Miko says:

    The issue of disabilities can be even more difficult in online/hybrid courses. An excellent resource that can be considered in Quality Matters (Standard 8). It really provides useful guidance to foster accessibility in online environments.

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