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It Shouldn't Be This Hard to Get Disability Accommodations at University

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I never realized how hard disabled people need to fight for reasonable accommodations until recently. In addition to working full time, I’m also a full-time student. Up until now, I’ve been able to take classes completely online through my community college. This is my first semester at a private university that I’ve transferred to in order to finish my degree. Unfortunately, their classes are not all offered online, only some are. While this is pretty standard these days for most places, it’s a circumstance that I struggle with.

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My health is unpredictable. I could be fine one day, and then stuck between my bed and the bathroom the next day. I could decline rapidly overnight and end up hospitalized (this has happened a couple of times). I could feel capable on a Monday and then wake up Tuesday feeling like garbage and unable to move. I have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, gastroparesis, POTS, and anemia. I’m currently tube fed, and I was just given a port to start getting regular IV fluids since my stomach won’t keep much of anything down. All of these issues mean that I’m unreliable when it comes to in-person commitments. This also applies to classes.

I’m determined to finish my degree. I’ve taken 18 or 19 credit hours every semester and I’ve made Dean’s List for the last three semesters in a row. I’ve done this while managing a full-time job and being a single mother of three children. I’m not lazy. I’m exhausted. I only have a year and a half left before I graduate, and I’m determined to cross that finish line come hell or high water. But, in order to be able to do this, I need to be able to manage my health. I need to be able to survive, but more than that I want to have a good enough quality of life that I’m able to keep up with everything.

Two days ago I made the request to be transferred from an in-person section of one of my classes to a fully online section. I didn’t think it would be an issue. I mean, after all, students transfer, change and drop classes all the time, whether or not they have a disability. However, I received a reply stating that my request was “not appropriate” and I was told that the in-person class might present more challenges, but I would just need to “handle it.” I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you that’s how the email was worded. So, I did what anyone in this situation would do; I called the disability accommodations office.

It’s been three days and at least a dozen email exchanges between the woman who gave me that inappropriate response, my advisor, and the accommodations employee who has my paperwork. I’ve dropped the word “discrimination,” and at this point, it’s just a waiting game to see what happens. It would only take the clicks of a couple of buttons for those in charge to change me from one class section to another. This is not a difficult request, they just don’t feel like accommodating me, or they feel like my problems are not good enough of an excuse. I mean I’ve never once wanted to be sick in my life, but I’m suddenly wishing that I was more obviously ill so they’d understand why I need to be able to take my classes online. At the very least, I need to be able to tune in to the in-person class via Zoom, so that way if I end up needing to stay home, I can do so without jeopardizing my education.

Everyone has the right to an education, and those of us who need disability accommodations should have equal access to that education. We aren’t being lazy. We aren’t trying to make the faculty’s jobs harder. We wish we didn’t have to spend several days and dozens of emails and phone calls in order to get just a tiny bit of lenience so that we have a fighting chance of finishing our degrees. It shouldn’t be this hard to be accommodated.

Getty image by K-Kwanchai.

Originally published: February 12, 2022
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