Too many college professors treat requests for reasonable accommodations as either students trying to get away with something (extra time, for example, on assignments) or signs of poor moral character (toughen up!). I would like such statements treated with the same care as casual racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry. Which isn’t to say we always handle those well.
We live in a time where the discourse of diversity is practically a bumper sticker found in faculty orientation packets. Yet the presence of disabled students in our classrooms is too often presented as an anomalous burden, a challenge to be met. Its overarching goal? To normalize disabilities by setting them up as simple problems to be easily overcome.
We saw a good example of that in a recent advice essay in The Chronicle — “Why I Dread the Accommodations Talk,” by Gail A Hornstein. While her efforts as an ally of disability rights are certainly appreciated, her rhetoric — labeling disability conversations with students as something to dread — is dangerous, not just for the students it minimizes, but for the “advice” it offers to faculty members.
Disability activists and theorists such as Simi Linton and Margaret Price have been working for years to combat and dispel calcified and problematic tropes about disability. Unfortunately, Hornstein’s essay served to perpetuate them: the myth of overcoming disability (or what Hornstein labels “resiliency”), the trope of the able-savior, and the notion that disability itself is inherently deficient and, thus, runs contrary to academic life. We’d like to explore each of those in turn and then share some of our own suggestions for handling “the accommodations talk.”
As always, READ THE WHOLE THING.