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Colleges Should Accommodate Students All Year – Not Just During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Ten years ago, I sat across from my high school vice principal who looked at me and said, “I shouldn’t graduate you. You missed 45 days of school this year, and we can only accommodate 12 absences.” He let me walk at graduation because I had a 4.0, and the district didn’t want to spend any additional money on me.

Seven years ago, I sat across from my college dean, who looked at me and said, “We recommend you drop out. Your continued absences are going to fail you.” Remote learning was “not an accommodation that could be made.” I ignored the advice, and took an unofficial leave of absence for four weeks to rest my failing body. I returned to school, made up the entirety of my work without accommodations, and scored a 98, 96 and 97 on my history, philosophy and French midterms respectively. They were the highest scores in the class. I dropped out of college two weeks later because I could no longer live in a dorm, eat dining hall food or walk across our city block campus. And yet again, “accommodations could not be made.”

Two weeks ago, I sat across from my professor, a church member letting me sit in on his religion course at a local college. I kept my sunglasses on and cried the entire class because I was so relieved. I fought for seven years to be back in a classroom, accommodations or not.

Yesterday, I sat in class, and when everyone looked at me, I offered my advice on remote learning accessibility. Because of the spreading novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which was recently declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), schools and universities are closing down, some switching to online classes — accessibility I was never offered as I lay bed-bound for four years and remained home-bound for another three.

My old high school just canceled classes for two weeks. My old college just went remote for the semester. And I got two weeks into my time as a returning student before it was halted to accommodate everyone else.

Disability is not a bad word. Disabled people are worthy of accommodations because we, too, are human. And when we are included in the conversation, everybody wins.

“Unprecedented” was the word that stemmed from each of my conversations requesting accommodations that could not be met. “Precedented” is the word I, and every other disabled person who has been marginalized for years, will be using from now on.

Coronavirus ironically paved a runway for disability rights. We plan to take off.

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Getty image via Chris Ryan