Trying Not To Rock The Disability Boat

, , , , , , , | Learning | September 17, 2018

I have a learning disability. I can’t hear out of my left ear — single-sided deafness — and have Dysgraphia, so my written grammar is out of wrack. I understand the rules, but when I write in silence, it gets to be unreadable.

In college, I have to show proof of my disability — provided by the disability services at our school — that outlines what my disability is and what I need to help minimize it. For me, I need to take my written tests on a computer, I need additional time, and I need someone to review my papers before I submit them. I give teachers and professors proof that I wrote what I wrote, and ensure them that I received no outside help.

I am studying abroad on a ship. We go to classes on the ship while it is at sea. When we land in different countries, we don’t have classes for five days, but instead, we have that time to explore another culture. It advocates diversity and understanding of other people that are different.

I get into the program and manage to get a discount as a work-study student! I make sure to provide the program with my disability information, and they claim to have received it when I check before I leave, so I am ready to go. Since calling on international waters and going online will cost an arm and a leg, I don’t want to use the precious minutes I’ve bought for working out paperwork.

After the orientation I go to the person who is head of the disability program; he is the program’s assistant dean. I tell him that I am learning-disabled and need the proof to give to the professors of my classes, to provide them with the information before any papers and tests are due. He claims that he never received it, and that I need to contact my school to send it to the program. I insist that I sent it over and that they told me before I left that they received it.

He sighs, goes to open up my records, scans them, and gives me a skeptical look. He asks how I could be a learning disabled student, since I am a work-study student, my recommendation letters to the program say I’m a very responsible and hardworking student, and I have 3.2 GPA at my college. Most importantly he wants to know how I got into a state college and into this program if I’m learning-disabled. I keep on pushing and explaining, and he just shrugs his shoulders, refusing to believe or help me. I go to the head dean, and he says that is out of his hands and he can’t do anything.

So, at a loss, I decide to speak to my professors directly. After going to the first three out of four professors, getting the same exact reaction as the assistant dean, one of them insists that I need to use the blue book and hand write my work, because using a computer would not be fair to other students. I decide not to mention things to my last professor, knowing that he and his wife are big-wigs for this program, and figuring that they won’t understand and will have the same reaction and responses as others.

I decide to suck it up.

After a few weeks, the first papers and tests are due. I’ve done my best, used the Microsoft Word program, and tried to proofread on my own work. I submit it and hope for the best, but I don’t expect much. I get my results returned, and as expected, I get Ds. The majority of the complaints say, “I can’t understand what you wrote.” I sigh, knowing I can’t do anything.

The professor I didn’t talk to about my problems asks me to stay after class. He’s noticed that I made lots of grammatical errors, and says that he knows that I know the information based on how I participated in class, and that he saw me do the reading. He asks if I have ever been tested for a disability.

I break down crying, and in between sobs explain to him what happened, how fearful I am that I’m going to flunk out on my tests and papers, and how I don’t want to be kicked out of the program that I worked so hard to reach. He waits for me to calm down. Then he tells me that it is okay and that he will do something about it, to give it a day or two, and not to worry about this paper from him.

The next day I get called by the assistant dean of the program all of a sudden, and he says that even though they never received the notification, he will make an exception for me and provide the proof that I need for my professors. My three other professors suddenly offer proofreading services or opportunities to take the exams orally or write them out on a computer, and agree to bump up my test and paper grades to Cs because I wasn’t adequately provided for my learning disability.  

I am shocked at the sudden change of attitude, and in trying to process what has happened, I leave the classrooms in a daze.

I bump into the professor before his class starts, and he asked me if I spoke to the other professors and the assistant dean. I nod, telling him that I’m uncomfortable with my grade being bumped. He says that I should take it because it’s their fault for not believing me in the first place. So, I ask what changed their minds.

It turns out that his wife has a doctorate for Special Education! Apparently, all three other professors and assistant dean hit a nerve of hers with their treatment of me. So, she and my professor personally complained for me, and said the magic words that I could sue the program for discrimination, as I was not provided an equal level of education to others. The argument was also made that that they were being prejudicial against people with learning disabilities and not understanding people that are different from them, directly opposite what the program was supposed to encourage.

The professor then tells me that his wife will gladly check for grammatical errors on my papers, and that if I need any additional services I can contact her at any time.

I thank him so much, and I’m in deep gratitude for rest of the program. Even though I still feel uncomfortable with the bump in the grade to this day, the professor did have a point that it was their fault for not believing me, and for their prejudgments about people with learning disabilities that we are all lazy, irresponsible, and slow.

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