One of the biggest misconceptions about disability accommodations is that they are an unfair advantage. Many people view them as cheating or taking the easy way out. Individuals with disabilities who use such valuable commodities are considered to be using their disability as a crutch or enabling the person, not to work to their full potential. What so many people fail to realize is that these services are ways for people with disabilities to be able to learn, live, and participate in society. November is assistive technology month. During this month we highlight adaptive equipment that people with disabilities can choose. Some of these include speech-to-text, screen readers, IPADS, and reading pens. Using these types of technology and other accommodations can help a person with a disability to succeed. However, due to the negative thoughts that surround them, many people with disabilities are hesitant to use these services. When a person chooses not to use these accommodations, it makes life frustrating and difficult.
I can remember not wanting to use disability accommodations because of the stigma that they created. From Elementary School to College, I have heard my peers say that it wasn’t fair that I got extended test time or had the test read aloud to me. Many of my peers thought that I was getting the answers given to me. What they didn’t realize is that no one gave me the answers or hints. Hearing the test read aloud, helped my brain to be able to process what was being asked on an exam. Taking the test in a separate room also helped me to have the extra time to be able to go through each question and not feel like I was being rushed. Plus I didn’t have to hold the rest of the class up while I tried to finish it.
I also had peers who thought that it wasn’t fair that I made the honor roll in academic and learning support classes. I can remember another student asking what I was really learning in those classes. She suggested that I take Advanced Placement Biology. Science and Math were always subjects that gave me a lot of problems. I needed to have a learning support class that was tailored to my individual needs, not the goals of the class or grade level. To be in a regular ed science, I needed to have accommodations and supports in place for learning. In regular education, I was expected to learn what my peers did in my class. It was hard at times, but I could perform well with the proper support.
When I got note taker in college, I recall people who thought that it was unfair. They said that someday I would have to take notes .Others thought that it was a skill that should be taught and not have others write things down for me. Many people didn’t realize that I was still writing down information, but having someone else take notes, was helpful in case I missed something. It was also hard for me to focus on the lecture and write down the information in class. Not all professors put information on the board to copy. Some would knock on the table if it was important. My notes were often identical to the note-taker’s . Another advantage of having aa notetaker, was that my handwriting is poor. Many times when I would have someone quiz me on information, they couldn’t read it .I also couldn’t decipher what I wrote, which made studying more difficult. Having a note-taker made it easier to review and read my notes. I tried recording the lecture, but found it was more effective to study a few minutes of notes each day rather than listen to an hour-long class. Another helpful tool was having a copy off the power point to review.
Calculator usage was another way that people thought I was cheating. I can remember a professor who said they used their minds not calculators in class. I can remember being upset when I heard this, but because of my disability, I was allowed to use one on tests and homework. I didn’t use it in class because my peers wouldn’t have understood. A calculator did little to help me with my math. Having a severe form of Dyscalculia, I don’t understand how numbers work. I can remember being frustrated when I put the numbers in the calculator but got the wrong answer. You still need to know the steps and how to correctly solve the problem.
Another piece of technology I use is a digital watch. The math portion of my disability, also makes reading an analog clock impossible. I cringe when I hear someone say that a person who doesn’t know how to do this is lazy and that digital clocks make people lazy. Despite many hours of education and attempts I simply can’t do this. A tutoring session isn’t going to help me. What is effective is looking at my Fit Bit or other digital clock to tell what time it is.
I’m also unable to use a manual can opener. A seemingly simple piece of equipment is like rocket science. I can try to use it but the can won’t get opened. When I would tell people that I can’t do it, they would look at me like I was an alien. Instead, I use an electric can opener. When I use an electric one I’m able to open cans by myself.
Assistive technology doesn’t cure the disability or give an unfair advantage to the person. Using accommodations or devices helps to level the playing field. It may not be appropriate only when someone is testing to get a baseline on what someone knows. Unlike regular tests, standardized tests and evaluations don’t have accommodations. When they were testing me for a Learning Disability I wasn’t allowed a calculator or a computer. The evaluator needed to see what I knew. I never walked out of an evaluation with someone declaring I didn’t have difficulties with learning. After they got how I performed without these services, I was also given a list of things that would help me learn. Having this has helped to guide me in knowing what services I need.
One of the greatest lessons I had to learn was to use the accommodations. Using these services wasn’t cheating, but providing me with the essentials I needed for success. I also had to learn to shut out the voices who were telling me otherwise. Very few of them knew what it was truly like for me. Hearing those remarks also did nothing to help me. What was helpful for me was using the accommodations. When I utilized them I had a much easier time. My grades improved and life didn’t seem as hopeless or frustrating. November may be one month devoted to highlighting assistive technology, but for a person with a disability, it’s something they face daily. Throughout the rest of my life, I will have to find new ways to do things and not listen to the voices that say accommodations are cheating.