How My School Has Accommodated Me
by Zach Feist
Zach Feist, a fourth grader in North Dakota, has a hearing impairment. This does not keep him from being active. He tells us about his accommodations in this helpful one-pager.
Hi my name is Zachary Allen Feist. I am 10 years old, and live in North Dakota. I am in the 4th grade. I have a lot of good friends here. I like to play football and basketball, and I am in Pee Wee wrestling. I also like to sing and I like to fish. My favorite football team is the Green Bay Packers. My favorite players are Antonio Freeman and Ahman Green. I also like to play with my dogs. My best friend is in the 6th grade, his name is Kyle. I like all sports and also play baseball in the summer.
I am going to tell you a little bit more about me. I have a hearing impairment. Almost like being deaf but not quite. I have hearing aides in both ears. I just got new ones that are stronger and computerized. They are really neat. If I am in a loud area, I can control how much I hear. Sometimes, I can hear people tell secrets with my hearing aides.
I get help in school for my hearing impairment. I have an IEP*, which is an Individual Education Plan. This is from the federal law of IDEA (Individuals with Education Act). My mom helped me with that. This helps me so I can get a good education like the rest of my class. I am in the same class with the other kids my age. I have a lot of teachers. I have my regular 4th grade teacher, a teacher for the hearing impaired, a speech teacher, and a reading teacher. My favorite subject is Math. The hardest subject for me is social Studies because we have so much work to do in it.
I sit in the front of the class, so I can read the teachers lips as well as hear her talk with my auditory trainer. An auditory trainer is like hearing aides, except the teacher wears a microphone, and I wear the other piece like the hearing aide. It cuts down on all the background noises in the classroom, and wherever she goes I can hear it. Which can be kind of funny. I also have carpet under some of the desks in the classroom. It is to help cut down on the noise in the room. My hearing impaired teacher helps me to understand if I missed something that the teacher said. She and the speech teacher help me to talk better. Last year, our class did a fair on disabilities. It was a lot of fun and helped the other kids understand about how it is for kids with disabilities to live. My friends help me a lot, when I don’t always hear. In Phys. Ed. Class and in music class, I don’t wear my auditory trainer. I wear my hearing aides. In Phys. Ed the teacher knows to look at me when he is talking and telling us what we are going to play. In Music, we are learning sign language for a song in our next play.
I don’t use sign language right now, but know some sign language. Sign language has been fun to learn. It is speaking with your hands. Some of the other kids in Music have to memorize the words but I get the song sheets to follow along with the music. That really helps me. I am with my hearing impaired teacher every day and speech teacher two days a week. I like going to their rooms because we sometimes play games. It is fun.
Sometimes the kids don’t think I can do some of the things I can do. Sometimes it hurts my feelings but my friends keep helping me. They help me so others don’t make fun of me. Especially Kyle. I have a fun time in most everything I do. The kids and I like to share jokes with each other.
Pee Wee wrestling will be starting soon. When I wrestle I don’t wear my hearing aides. The coaches have made hand signals for me to understand what moves I should do during the matches. Usually the referee knows that I can’t hear and they tap me to know when to begin and end. Sometimes I feel scared on the mat because I have had to wrestle kids bigger than I am. I have won a lot of medals in wrestling. I have wrestled for the past 5 years. I really have to do a lot of lip reading.
I have gone to school since I was three year old. I would like other kids with a disability to know that even though sometimes it is harder than for most kids, there are people and friends to help us along the way. We need one another. I hope this will help others. I had a good time writing about my life and disability.
*For more on IEP’s, see www.fape.org. FAPE is the Family & Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project. This is a project, which aims to inform and educate families and advocates about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and promising practices
Advocating for Yourself in Middle School and High School
How to Get What You Need
You should always be able to have the accommodations you need in school for your disability or health care needs. Sometimes it just takes some extra effort to get what you need. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t do as well as other kids in school. You have the same rights to succeed. By law, every school has a process (a set way) for you to talk to teachers and others about what you need. Sometimes this plan or process is called an Individual Education Plan [IEP], a 504 plan, or sometimes something else.
Step 1: Evaluate what you need:
Sit down with your parents and decide what accommodations you need based on your disability. For example, extra time on tests, a note taker, or two sets of books. Only pick accommodations that are necessary for your disability. For example, if you don’t need a program on your computer to read your book to you, don’t ask for it. People with different disabilities need different things.
Step 2: Find a helpful resource at school:
A resource at school could be a teacher, vice-principal or counselor who is willing to work with you and make sure you get what you need. Once you find a helpful resource, have a meeting with that person and see what they can do to help you advocate for yourself. This person will serve as your case worker. To prepare for this meeting, ask other kids who get accommodations at school what works for them, or talk to the principal about what is available.
Step 3: Talk to your teachers:
Hold a meeting with all your teachers, your parents and your case worker present. With the help of these people, you should advocate for yourself. The teachers have overall power in the classroom, so it’s important that they understand your needs. If a meeting is not possible, have your case worker or parents write a letter. If you are in high school, talk to your teachers, expressing your needs and letting them know that they can contact your parents or case worker with any questions. If a teacher is unwilling to work with you, see what your case worker can do. If that does not work, talk to the administration (the principal or even your school board) about the problem. Teachers can’t discriminate against you.
Step 4: Have a follow-up meeting:
Several times during the school year, you should stop by to talk to your case worker and let them know how everything is going. Halfway through the year, you should have a meeting with your parents and case worker to talk about what is working for you and what isn’t. Try to have one teacher present also.
Other forms of advocating for yourself and getting what you need:
- Know about your disability so you can explain it, if needed, to teachers or others.
- There is sometimes a difference between advocating for what you want and advocating for what you need to get school work done. If you’re not sure, ask a friend, parent or teacher if they think your idea is something you need to get school work done. This doesn’t mean you cannot advocate for what you want in other areas; it just may make more sense to do it at a different time or with different people.
- You can get extended time on standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT and AP tests.
- If you feel that a student doesn’t understand your disability, first talk to them and see if you can open their eyes to the wonderful person you are. If that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to get the teacher or administration (principal or school board) involved.
- If you feel you are being mistreated by any adult, go to someone you trust IMMEDIATELY.
- There are other kids who are going through the same things, so don’t be afraid to express yourself.
- Be proud of who you are, always.
For more information check out:
Beach Center on Disability – www.beachcenter.org/
National Disability Rights Network – www.napas.org
Also, websites about your specific disability may have ideas for school accommodations.
Advocating for Yourself in Middle School and High School: How To Get What You Need
You should always be able to have the accommodations you need in school for your disability or health care needs. Sometimes it just takes some extra effort to get what you need. Just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean you can’t do as well as the other kids in school, you have the same rights to succeed.
By law every school has a process [a set way] for you to talk to teachers and others about what you need. Sometimes this plan or process is called an Individual Education Plan [IEP], a 504 plan, or sometimes something else.
Step 1: Evaluate what you need:
Sit down with your parents and decide what accommodations you need based on your disability. For example, extra time on tests, a note taker, or two sets of books. Only pick accommodations that are necessary for your disability. For example, I knew I didn’t need a program on my computer that read my book to me, so I didn’t ask for it. People with different disabilities need different things.
Step 2: Find a helpful resource at school:
This could be a teacher, vice-principal or counselor, who is willing to work with you and make sure you get what you need. Ask other kids who get accommodations at school what works for them, or talk to the principal about what is available. Once you find a helpful resource, have a meeting with that person and see what they can do to help you advocate for yourself. This resource will serve as your case worker.
Step 3: Talk to your teachers:
Try to have a meeting with all your teachers, with your parents and your case worker present. With the help of your parents and others, you should advocate for yourself. The teachers have overall power in the classroom, so it’s important that they understand your needs. If a meeting is not possible, have your case worker or parents write a letter. If you are in high school go talk to your teachers, express your needs and let them know that they can contact your parents or case worker with any questions. If a teacher is unwilling to work with you, see what your case worker can do. If that does not work, talk to the administration [the principal or even your school board], about the problem. Teachers can’t discriminate against you.
Step 4: Have a follow up meeting:
Several times during the school year you should stop by to talk to your case worker and let them know how everything is going. Half way through the year you should have a meeting with your parents and case worker, and try to have one teacher present, to talk about what is working for you and what isn’t.
Other forms of advocating for yourself and getting what you need
- Know about your disability so you can explain it [if needed] to teachers or others.
- There is a difference sometimes between advocating for yourself for what you want to do and advocating for what you need to get schoolwork done. If you’re not sure ask a friend, parent or teacher if they think it is something you need to get schoolwork done. This doesn’t mean you can not advocate for what you want in other areas, it just may make more sense to do it at a different time or with different people.
- You can get extended time on standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT and AP tests.
- If you feel that a student doesn’t understand your disability, first talk to them and see if you can open their eyes to the wonderful person you are. If that doesn’t work don’t be afraid to get the teacher or administration [principal or school board] involved.
- If you feel you are being mistreated by any adult go to someone you trust IMMEDIATELY.
- There are other kids who are going through the same things, don’t be afraid to express yourself.
- Be proud of who you are, always.
For more information check out::
Beach Center on Disability – www.beachcenter.org
National Disability Rights Network – www.napas.org
Also, websites about your specific disability may have ideas for school accommodations.
A Great School for Me
By Nate Rennie
When I was 3 years old my mother knew that something was amiss and she sent me to a special pre-K school. The school said I was fine and there was not a problem. I went through kindergarten and the first half of first grade with no problem. But the second half of first grade was a little bumpy and my mom had me tested at the beginning of second grade.
The test confirmed that I was dyslexic. Dyslexia is a special learning disability. It effects reading, spelling, writing and organization. After the test I went to “Special Ed”. There were two teachers there who were not really qualified for teaching dyslexics. I was taken out for reading and any other class that the teacher did not think I could learn. I was in “Special Ed” from 2nd to 5th grades.
I came to the Rawson Saunders School half way threw my fifth grade year. I, for the first time had a one to one reading class with a real academic language therapist (or ALT)). The teacher student ratio was 1 to 3 (as it still is). The size of the school is 42 students. That year was a change. I didn’t learn too much that year. The next year I was assigned a new ALT who got me straight to work. That was also the first year that the Engles were co-directors. They decreased the size of the math class and incorporated a writing class. The next year they bought Alpha Smarts (small computers) so we can learn how to type. This year they are starting the village program.
In Rawson Saunders I am not afraid of making a reading mistake and everyone laughing. I can also ask questions due to the small class size. Another thing is the smaller children are not afraid of the bigger children.
I am in a class with three other students. Both Engles are teaching us. All of the students in their class are going to graduate this year. The Engles are preparing us for high school. They are constantly giving us tests. They also give us a lot of homework.
There have been a lot of successful people with dyslexia, in a lot of ways. The reason for this is they work on their talents instead of reading or organizing. Here are some examples (you might recognize some of these names) in the field of inventors and science; Thomas Edition, and Alexander Bell; for art Leonardo de Vinci and Walt Disney, for military and political strategists General George Patton, Winston Churchill, and Woodrow Wilson with entertainers Cher, Whoopi Goldberg, and Danny Glover athletes, Greg Louganis, Bruce Jenner. Even “Time’s Man of the Century” Albert Einstein was dyslexic.
You can go to www.rawson-saunders.org.
Submitted by Nate Rennie, 12/10/00.
My information is from a book called “The gift of dyslexia” and “Time” magazine.
How to Get the most out of your IEP
by Tyler Feist
Tyler Feist, a ninth grader in North Dakota, tells his story about getting his IEP followed:
A special greeting from the Midwest. My name is Tyler Feist; I am 14 years old and live in rural North Dakota. I am a freshman at Edgeley High School. This fall I played Varsity football and my position was flanker and line backer. I like to hunt and fish, which we do a lot of. This summer I had a job working on a farm, which was an awesome learning experience, and will work there again next summer. We have a spot out at one of the nearby lakes, so that is our place of retreat, where I also like to go tubing and skiing.
I’m writing today about how to get the most out of your IEP as a youth. My diagnosis is ADHD/Visual Perception Learning Disability. School is most difficult as it is very hard for me to concentrate. It takes every ounce of energy I have to focus sometimes. Areas of reading and written language are the most difficult. One of the hardest things for me is to be able to express myself when I am overwhelmed during the school day.
I receive assistance in school through an IEP *,which is an Individual Education Plan. With certain disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a student can receive services to meet their unique needs and goals. In my case, there was a meeting to identify that I was having difficult in certain areas. It was decided at that time, to do an assessment. This assessment was done to identify my areas of difficulty.
Following the assessment, the team met, which included; me, parents, teachers, principle and others to identify how to make changes to the curriculum to meet the needs necessary for me to achieve and learn. All IEP’s will look differently, depending upon our unique needs. At first I was not thrilled about any of it. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that children with disabilities will receive a quality education, equal to kids who do not have a disability. To that I say ….Thank goodness we have this great federal law to help us reach our dreams.
A couple years ago, I went to a conference with my mom. Mike Auberger, from the group ADAPT* was presenting. He told me “you need to learn to advocate for yourself as your mom isn’t always going to be able to do it”. Those words ring in my ears a lot.
Some of the accommodations that I need are:
- Have tests read for me, outside of the classroom,
- sit in an non-distracting area,
- for reading books I have modified points and am able to use books on tape of which I can either test orally or on the computer,
- classroom notes from the teacher are provided for me (my handwriting is difficult to read) and I can also use a laptop for taking notes because of my handwriting. I have a teacher for learning disabilities that assists me pull things together to make sure that I am getting everything done. We use a planner between home and school so there is consistency on what I have done and not done. She helps me to stay organized, when at times it is difficult for me to follow through. Darlene, my LD teacher is one of the most important keys to my success. She understands me very well. She knows for sure when I am pulling her leg and always has an understanding ear. I couldn’t do it without her. If there is something that is working and I have some thoughts on what could work better, she always has an open heart and mind.
I think one of the very things that are a must in making your IEP work for you is understanding and communicating what is in it. That begins by being a part of the IEP team. I used to walk around outside, while the meeting went on inside and was very nervous about what they were saying. I think I was 10 or so at the time. My mom sensed that this bothered me and from that point on I attended the IEP’s. I really think it is important to state your feelings on what works and what doesn’t work. After all, this is a program designed for your uniqueness. It is a bit frightening sitting there with all of those people, but the one thing to remember is they are there for you.
There have been times when my mom has had to go into the school on my behalf, but that is becoming less frequent. Mom has always said that they key is communication, communication, communication. If they don’t know, they can’t help you. Short and long term goals are written for you. You have input. The new regulations of the law has made it very clear the importance of parental input and input of the student.
I have had to speak with the principle when I felt that my IEP wasn’t being followed. The first time I was rather scared to talk to him, but it is important to do. I am sure that at times it is easy for teachers to forget, they are only human. But I also feel it is important for them to follow, as your success is dependent upon your program.
There have been times that I have gotten down and depressed because of school and feeling misunderstood. At those times it is very important to keep your head high, and don’t let anybody distract you from your dreams. This hasn’t come easy. I have had support from a couple older friends that have the same thing as myself. One is now a senior and the other has graduated but they have told me to NEVER GIVE UP and NEVER GIVE IN! You have to keep on pushing for your rights.
*For more on IEP’s, see www.fape.org. FAPE is the Family & Advocates Partnership for Education (FAPE) project. This is a project which aims to inform and educate families and advocates about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 and promising practices.
*ADAPT stands for the American Disabled for Attendent Programs Today. Attendant services are assistance with things like dressing, bathing eating, getting in and out of bed, helping with a check book or reminding someone to take a pill. Attendants work for a person with a disability, doing tasks that person can’t do alone.
Nationally, ADAPT is a non-profit organization which focuses on promoting services in the community instead of warehousing people with disabilities in institutions and nursing homes. Attendant services (help with things like eating, dressing, toileting, moving from wheelchair to bed, etc.) are the cornerstone to community-based services for people with severe disabilities. ADAPT is working to get 25% of the Medicaid long term care funds redirected to pay for a national, mandated attendant services program. More on adapt, see www.adapt.org.
On the College Front
by Maia Wroblewski
What is college really like for a person with a disability? Pretty much the same as a person without a disability, or at least this has been my experience. I have had to make a few arrangements to inform my professors about my disability and the accommodations I need, but I have enjoyed being “just another freshman.” Its not the best label in the world but it’s better than “that girl with a disability.” I chose to go to a very large school, the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Although it can be overwhelming sometimes, it has really been nice to just blend in. It is amazing how different college is from high school. You have so much freedom, you almost don’t know what to do with yourself. The classes are harder, but they are for a shorter time during the day, and I can choose the time of each class. It allows me to plan around my schedule and my needs.
I recommend that if you do have a disability that you contact the disability center on the college campus. They are experienced people who have helped many other students receive an equal education. It is a really helpful step in your college education. The dorms are really awesome and I suggest that if you have the choice to live there that you take it. I have met some really cool people, and have created some really cool study groups with people from my dorm. The dorm also allows you to have some freedom from your parental units, you decide what you eat, when you go to bed, and how your room looks, its great! Parties? I haven’t really attended a lot of parties, but as long as you use good judgment they are really fun.
Class is okay, and the professors are definitely interesting. My suggestion is to sit in front of the classroom. The first row, or aisle seat (called the T-zone) will allow the professor to see you, without you having to answer questions. If you do ask a question, that’s even better, the professor is more likely to remember you as “the student who paid attention.” Well, that’s all I have for now, but I’m sure there will be more.
Maia is a freshman in college and has been advocating for herself since she was two. Maia is co-chair of the KASA board. Let us know what you think, send an email to email@example.com, attn: Maia.
I wanted to go to college and my dream came true
by Micah Fialka-Feldman
I wanted to go to college and my dream came true. Here’s what happened.
I always wanted to be with my friends. When I was in first grade I was in a special classroom. It was okay but I wanted to be with my friends so I told my mom and dad that I wanted to go into the same door at school that all the other kids were going in. They helped me do that.
Then when I got older I started thinking about what college I wanted to go to. My friends wanted to go to college and I wanted to do the same thing. Since I was little I’ve been going to the University of Michigan football games with my Papa. I learned about college from going to the games and seeing the kids have a good time. They looked happy. I have always been included in regular classes so I wanted to stay in regular classes after high school. When I was in sixth grade I had a MAP (Making Action Plans). My friends, teachers, and parents helped me think about my dreams for my future. One of my friends said that I would go to college. I liked hearing that because that was my dream.
I want to work in politics, maybe in government or at our state capital. I also like current events and I like to do public speaking at conferences, universities, and other places. I tell people about inclusion, disability rights and self advocacy. I can learn about these things in college and be with my peers. I didn’t want to go to a segregated program after high school.
My parents learned about a college program for kids with cognitive impairments at Eastern Michigan University. I visited the program with some of my teachers, my parents and Michele Harmala from Oakland Schools. I liked it a lot and thought it was a cool program for kids with disabilities who wanted to learn on campus and be with their peers. The teacher was John Rose. He was cool and funny.
Then we went back to my school and had LOTS and LOTS of meetings. Many people started having the same dream that I had about going to college, so they helped me.
My high school and my parents helped me get ready for college. They helped me learn a lot about computers, using a palm pilot, running my meetings, being in clubs, and learning how to be a self advocate. I know how to use the computer to write my papers. I can do look up information on the internet and I can use a program that reads everything to me. I also learned to talk into the computer and then it writes what I say. It is called Dragon Speak. My best teacher in high school was Ms. Berke. She helped me learn more about using the computer. She also helped me plan before every one of my meetings so I knew what I wanted to say. I learned how to tell my teachers what I wanted. Ms. Berke listened to me and helped me get my dream. She was the best! During high school, I also attended the Michigan Youth Leadership Forum and the National Youth Leadership Forum which helped me learn about my rights. I am a member of a Board Member of national youth advocacy group called Kids As Self Advocates (www.fvkasa.org). I learned a lot from these groups. They helped me to feel proud.
Two days after my 19th birthday, I starting going to Oakland University in Michigan. That was one of my best birthday gifts. A lot of people didn’t think that it could happen but my team believed in my dream. I learned how to take public busses to get to the college campus. I learned how to post flyers at the university so I got someone to drive me to school on some of the days. My new teacher, Suzanne James is helping me find good classes to sit in on at Oakland University. She is working hard. Next semester I am planning to sit in a speech class, a political science class, and a social problems class. I think I will learn a lot. I volunteer at the child care center on the campus. I am also in the social work club and Hillel, which is a Jewish organization. I am learning how to be a leader and how to do community service. I know my way around the campus and I have lunch with friends. I like being a college student. I think I will learn a lot. I am proud to tell people that I am a college student. I am happy. My dream came true.
(This article will be published in a forthcoming book to be published by The National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports [NIDRR], University of Hawaii. Please contact the author, Micah Fialka-Feldman for permission to reproduce this article.)
Dr. Michael Peterson from Wayne State University made a website for me. He used my Power Points and added some things. You can get to it by going to here. Then click on the left side “Video Project”, then scroll down and click on “Micah in High School.”
From the 100 Minority Scholarship Gateway List
Created by Black Excel
- Ron Brown Scholar Program (major scholarships)
- Scholarships On The Net (1,500)
- FastWEB Scholarship Search
- THE HARRY S. TRUMAN SCHOLARSHIP SITE
- THE HISPANIC COLLEGE FUND
- JACKIE ROBINSON FOUNDATION SCHOLARSHIPS
- MARINE CORPS SCHOLARSHIPS
- McDONALD’S Education Scholarships (with UNCF)
- Target Scholarships
- UNITED NEGRO COLLEGE FUND MERCK SCIENCE INITIATIVE
- ACADEMY FOR EDUCATIONAL DEVELOPMENT FELLOWSHIPS
- Minority Health Program
- AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF HISPANIC CPA’s Scholarships
- AMERICAN GEOLOGICAL INSTITUTE Minority Geoscience Scholarships
- Minority Scholarships (doctoral students in accounting)
- AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MICROBIOLOGY Undergraduate Fellowships
- Research Program for Women & Minorities Underrepresented in the Sciences
- BRISTOL-MYERS SQUIBB Minority Fellowships in Academic Medicine
- DEVELOPMENT FUND FOR BLACK STUDENTS IN SCIENCE Scholarship
- Tylenol Scholarships
- Coca Cola Scholarships
- STATE FARM INSURANCE Achievement Scholarships
- STATE FARM INSURANCE Hispanic Scholarships
- McNair Scholars Program
- Undergraduate Scholarships (National Institutes of Health Scholarships)
- National Scholarships at all levels
- The ROTC Scholarships
The STAR Mentoring Program at Dartmouth College
by Mara Buchbinder
Mara is a student at Dartmouth and has been very involved in the STAR Mentoring program.
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at twelve years old. Crohn’s disease is an auto-immune condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the digestive system, resulting in ulceration of the digestive lining, and unpleasant symptoms such as cramping and bleeding. Because my illness is not a visible one, for many years I tricked myself into thinking that if I hid my Crohn’s disease from other’s, that it would not affect my life in any way. For a while, this strategy worked. I took my medicine, got plenty of rest, and took good care of myself, and I seemed pretty healthy to the outside world.
When I started college three years ago, however, I found myself having a more difficult time maintaining my health. The transition to college was difficult for me because I was adjusting my eating, sleeping, and drinking habits in the effort to be a “normal” college freshman, and I found myself encountering a host of factors that made it difficult to cope with my Crohn’s disease. It was then that I realized that compared to my friends, who didn’t have as many worries and responsibilities as I did, I wasn’t normal. Whatever that means!
One of the things that helped me through this transition was that I became involved in a mentor program that matches Dartmouth College students with chronic health conditions with local adolescents who have similar diagnoses. The program, called STAR Mentoring, stands for Steps Toward Adult Responsibility, and is based out of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. The STAR program is run by Dr. Mark Detzer, a Clinical Psychologist, and the mentoring component is run through the Tucker Foundation for community services at Dartmouth, where Dr. Detzer is aided by student volunteers. Dr. Detzer and student coordinators work in conjunction with nurses at DHMC and the director of the College Health Center and the disabilities coordinator to facilitate matches.
During my freshman year, I was matched with a teenage girl who had Crohn’s disease. We found that we had undergone many of the same experiences, and were able to relate to each other and support each other. I also learned a tremendous amount of factual information about my illness from her. It didn’t take long before the relationship developed from a mentor-mentee dynamic to a friendship.
Now I am senior at Dartmouth, and I have been the co-chair for the mentoring program for the past three years. I have mentored for four different individuals with Crohn’s disease, through face-to-face contact, and often with e-mail or phone contact when distances or health status made that impossible. Now I help facilitate the matching process, recruit Dartmouth students, and plan social events for STAR members, like ropes courses and going to sporting events at Dartmouth. Along with several other Dartmouth students I lead dinner groups every other month where the STAR teens come together to discuss issues that face adolescents with special health concerns, such as dealing with medication and side effects, talking to friends about their condition, and advocating for special needs or attention at school.
It has been a great experience for me to be able to come together with a group of optimistic, understanding, and articulate individuals, all of whom share a common link with me. I have met some of the most interesting and impressive people through this program. Besides that, we just have fun, with dinners, retreats, and activities. While I feel that I have made a positive impact on the STAR program by acting as a supportive role model to younger teenagers, I have also taken more from it in learning, growth, and life experience than I ever could have hoped for when I was a freshman.
Working with Students Who Have Physical Disabilities
by Naomi Ortiz
This was originally written to help college professors understand the struggles of students with physical disabilities. It is not intended to be comprehensive, but it is a guide that may be helpful. Feedback is welcomed. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use People First Language
People First Language is a widely accepted way to talk about people with disabilities. In fact in any group or organization made up of people with disabilities uses People First Language. People First Language is the concept of acknowledging the person before the disability.
For example, refer to a person with a physical disability NOT a disabled person, a person with a cognitive disability NOT a retarded person), a person who is deaf NOT a deaf person or better a person who is hearing impaired, people with disabilities, etc.
Terms that are NOT Acceptable and Reasons Why
- Crippled/Deformed– these terms are often used in the medical profession and many people with disabilities see nothing wrong their bodies and are not waiting to be cured or healed and therefore find it offensive.
- Handicapped– the history of this word comes from after WW1 and WW2 some of the veterans, who had lost body parts in the war, started begging on the street holding out their army hats to collect money. These people were called “hand to caps”. This word is found offensive in the general disabled community.
- Differently Abled– this word is often used as a “politically correct” way to describe people with disabilities. The disabled community’s problem with this word is that it often leads able-bodied people to think that if a person has a disability than they must have some other skill to compensate.
For example, if someone is in a chair (wheelchair) then they must be extra smart, or if a person is blind than their hearing must be extra good. Although people with disabilities do learn to adapt it leads to misinterpretations of what it means to be disabled.
- Adaptive technology comes into effect on many different levels, depending on the student’s disability. The teacher needs to be aware of how that adaptive technology effects the student’s work or ability to get things in on time. Disabled students are expected to be just as responsible as any other student, but this is something a teacher needs to be aware of. There is a technology out that many people with disabilities use to write on computers. It is voice activated and prints what a person says on the screen. Yet, this technology is far from perfect. For example it takes me about an hour and ½ to write a two-page paper and that’s if I am completely prepared with an outline and my notes. That is two to three times longer than a non-disabled person.
A good rule for the teacher is to ask the student what type of adaptive technology they use, then to discuss how that will impact the student’s work.
- Notetakers–When a student requests a notetaker, the student should be taken seriously. Even if the teacher does not think they give a lot of notes they should make sure the student has a notetaker. If the student after time determines that a notetaker is not needed, then the student can terminate the process.
- Finding a notetaker- if the student wants the teacher to find a notetaker, than the teacher should make an announcement in class stating “someone in this class needs a notetaker. If you feel you take clear, concise notes, and attend class regularly, than you would be a good person to volunteer. The disability student services provide a stipend for doing this service. Who is able to volunteer?” Hopefully someone will volunteer, if not the teacher should tell people to think about it, then read the announcement again at the beginning of the next class. If still no one volunteers, tell the student to contact disability student services, because they will help the student with other options.
- It is essential to find a notetaker with in the first few days of class.
- Testing–Disability Student Services has a lot of options available for the student, but the student needs at least 1 and ½ weeks notice to set these services up. So, if there are any pop-quizzes, small in class tests, or anything off the syllabus, the teacher should plan to make adaptations along with the student. This may mean doing the test orally, by tape recorder, by personal computer/laptop or other options that the teacher and the student can come up with.
- Field Trips–For day-to-day class, students can usually deal with barriers on their own. Yet, if there are any plans to do any field trips this may take a lot of planning. The teacher needs to talk to the student about their limitations and discuss options.
For example, accessible transportation might be an issue, especially if the student is in a chair (wheelchair). Some people may use handi-van (an accessible bus service provided by the city) but services have to be requested at least a week in advance, and even then they are not guaranteed. So it may also be necessary to have a back up plan in place.
- The teacher should call ahead and talk to manager/boss of where ever the field trip is to and ask them how accessible their facility is. This includes the distance between the parking and the facility, where the accessible entrance is in the building, if and where there are any stairs in or outside the building, and if there are elevators or ramps to compensate, if the bathrooms are disabled or wheelchair accessible, and finally does this person foresee any other barriers that would be a problem. If there are problems the teacher should discuss it with the student and come up with accommodations to make it possible for the student to go.
- The teacher should talk to the student about their mobility issues; they may need to have a chair (wheelchair) even if they don’t use one at school. The teacher should ask the student if they have one already or if the teacher needs to rent/borrow one. If the teacher does need to get one the Disability Student Services may be able to help.
- If the student needs some assistance during the field trip, some options are offering (to pay if there is an entry fee) for a friend or other person to come along (to push the chair, and/or with other needs). Or, only if the student feels comfortable, having a classmate help them.
- Most Important: The teacher should not abandon the student. Something is bound to not turn out as planned, if the teacher and the student do not have a back up plan, the teacher may need to be willing to be flexible. They should stay with the student until they have it figured out, and the teacher should be sure the student is comfortable with whatever needs to happen.
Communicating with Students
A teacher should not single a student out in front of the class. No matter how much a student talks about their disability, in or out of class, the teacher should treat them with the same level of confidentiality as some one who never says a word about their disability. Some ways to do this are to ask to see the student after class, or make an appointment to see them.
- A teacher should be aware of physical barriers in the classroom. If there is a student in a chair (wheelchair) the teacher can remove a chair from the table each day near the door, or make sure a table is in a classroom that has only desks.
- A teacher can still do activities that move the students around the room.
For example, if the teacher splits the class into groups they can just make sure that whatever group the student with the disability is in goes to them.
- The teacher must be also be aware of body language. This means if a student is in a chair (wheelchair) the teacher must not stand over the student and talk down to them, or pat them on the head or shoulder.
- Another issue many students with disabilities face is parking. The teacher may have to be flexible with tardiness due to the fact that sometimes accessible parking is available and other times it’s not. If the student that day can not find accessible parking they may have to rest on their way to class, hence the tardiness may occur. Or, if they use a university sponsored shuttle service for students with disabilities, they may be late due to the unreliability of the service. As with anything it is best for the teacher to discuss this with the student if it is an issue.
It is very important if teachers are asking classes to meet in a separate place, other than University property or regular meeting place, that they treat it like a field trip.
- If a student with disabilities is in your class, it is not the student’s job to educate the class on disability issues.
- There is a fine line between advocating for a student and letting the student advocate for themselves. The teacher should talk to the student and they should work it out together.
- Another tip is for the teacher to have a checklist of things discussed on this etiquette list so they can make sure that they cover what needs to be covered.
- The teacher should, if possible or if needed, write up an agreement with the student, and make a copy both for himself or herself and for the student.
Additional Educational Resources
There are two books I can recommend as good ways to learn about disability issues.
- No Pity by Joseph P. Shapiro
An amazing book that looks at the disability rights movement. It is an excellent book to explain to able-bodied people what disability rights is all about and what people with all kinds of disabilities are going through in present day America.
- Moving Violations by John Hockenberry
- A great book if you prefer a more personal approach. It is an autobiography written by a journalist in a chair and he does a pretty good job bringing up physical disability issues.
For more on People First Language, see www.kidstogether.org/pep-1st.htm.
Naomi is a student at the University of Arizona. She recently transferred there from another University that did not respond to her accommodation needs.