Temporary Disabilities

man with hand bandage wearing backpack standing

Staying within the theme of students with disabilities, I have been thinking about students with temporary disabilities, perhaps because I have seen a number of St. Clair College students recently on crutches. I expect that all colleges and universities provide acommodations for students with a temporary disabilities such as a broken arm, sprained ankle or other injury. A student comes in with a broken arm and I expect the reaction is: Well of course! You are going to need more time to write your test because you broke your writing hand! Often, temporary disabilities are obvious – you can see it!

Let’s do a self test. When you are asked for accomodations from a student with a broken arm, how do you react? Do you:

A. Ask them for a doctor’s note and copy of their xray to prove that their arm is broken?

B. Question them about if they REALLY need extra time to write their test? After all, employers aren’t going to want to give extra time!

C. Accept their excuse but call them out in class for making you do extra work by having to get their test to Student Services 48 hours in advance and making you go back there to pick it up!

D. Accept their accomodation plan and ask if there is anything else you can do to help them while they recover?

Do you think that my A – C answers are ridiculous? I do, but I have heard stories of students with other types of disabilities including learning disabilities and mental health issues describe these kinds of reactions from faculty and I have heard faculty express concerns about whether students with disabilities REALLY need them.

I just wonder, do we give students with invisible disabilities the same acceptance and care that we do for students with temporary disabilities? It is something to think about!

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Learning Strategies for Students

person holding pencil near laptop computer

All students come to us with a certain set of study skills but most don’t realize that there are a variety of ways to approach and interact with materials and learning experiences in an educational environment. When students have struggles with their learning, often they do more of the same rather than trying something new; usually because they don’t know that there is something new to try. For students with learning disabilities, Learning Strategists are the best source of new ideas.

Students with learning disabilities, in particular, benefit from explicit instruction in strategies that mitigate the challenges in the education environment that their learning disability presents. But like many enhancements in our environment that we have made for persons with disabilities like automatic doors which help persons without disabilities as well, learning strategies can help all students. Here’s a couple of examples:

Two Finger Reading: If you are reading a textbook and come across a figure or chart, use two finger reading. Before reading the full text in the chapter about the figure, read the text beneath the figure. This often is a brief summary of the material presented and can provide a quick overview of the big picture. Place one finger of one hand on the figure. Place one finger of the other hand on the text in the chapter. This will help you keep your place in the text and on the figure as you move your attention between the two. Read a chunk of the full text that describes or explains the figure. Then shift your attention to the figure and trace the area of the figure that the text described. When you have reviewed that section of the figure, return to read another chuck of the full text. For more on reading see my previous post.

3 + 3 + 3 In Class: This strategy is to help shift your focus to the class that is beginning and prepare for new information as well as close a class before you leave. It involves taking three minutes before the class begins and 3 minutes at the end of class before you leave. Before start of class, take three minutes and quickly review the material presented in the last class. Scan your notes or other materials to remind yourself of what has come before. This can help you build connections between information presented from one class to the next and it wakes up your brain so that it is ready to receive new information. At the end of class, before you pack up and leave, take three minutes to quickly review the notes you have just taken and make a list of three concepts or ideas that were most important TO YOU. A quick review, coupled with decision making and writing down your list can help make the information more meaningful to you and increase the movement of information between short-term and long term memory.

While learning strategies and study skill instruction can help all students, for students with disabilities, working with a Learning Strategist allows for the exploration of strategies tailored to their particular learning needs. It can take some trial and error to find the method that matches the student, but the effort can mean the difference between struggling needlessly and making the most of a student’s finite study time.

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SAD and my yearly descent in to madness

woman looking down reflected in a windo

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It begins, for me, in September and I crash hard by November.  “Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, 2018, para. 1). When I was pursuing post-secondary education, I had SAD but had not been diagnosed. That came after. My family doctor recognized this after reviewing my medical file and noticed that I had come to see him the first week of November for seven years in a row with the same complaint of feeling desperate and out of control.

I am starting ten days of vacation. I take the first week of November off every year as part of my SAD coping plan. Let me tell you what happens to me.

I call it a descent into madness purposefully. I have a physiological reaction to the lack of sunlight and the chemical processes that happen impact my physical and emotional state. SAD tells me lies. SAD tells me that I am worthless, useless and hopeless. SAD makes me want to sleep between 3 pm and 9 pm and won’t let me sleep at night. SAD gives me panic attacks that start once or twice a day and builds so that by the first week of November, I wake with a panic attack that sits in the core of my being and continues all day. SAD causes tears to run down my face for no logical reason, tears that I have no control over. SAD causes me to withdraw from family and friends. SAD makes me feel heartbroken and devastated. SAD tells me that I am a horrible person and a terrible mother. SAD tells me that nothing I do is good.

SAD tells me lies. So I use a set of coping skills to battle SAD. I use logic – intellectually, I know that I awesome and I have a good life. I don’t feel that way, but I can remind myself that this will end. This is probably the best thing about SAD, I know it will end. I know that at some point, usually in January, I will begin to have “happy to be me” thoughts again. But in the meantime, any compliment or any good thing that I do will be rejected.

I tell everyone that I have SAD and remind them that SAD season is coming. I tell my students, tutors, colleagues, and my boss. I tell my family and friends. I illicit their support and understanding. I do logic checks of my reactions, especially emotional ones to gauge if SAD is impacting me. I check with family and colleagues in case I need to reframe my overreactions. My friends forgive me when I disappear for a few weeks. My children strap on their SAD warrior gear and talk to me and hug me when I need it most. I have a SAD support group I can turn to with other SAD warriors who understand.

I use light therapy and supplements. I use antidepressants when I need to. I use my week off to be kind to myself, to embrace my SAD and work on resetting my internal clock. On my week off, I eat what I want to, I sleep when I want to, I cry when I want to, I feel all the things I feel fully. SAD is part of me and because of SAD I am more compassionate because I know what it feels like to be desperate, devastated, and heartbroken. I know what it feels like to need help and to get it and also to be judged for it. Trust me, it is better to get help when you need it.

For our students who have a mental health challenge, compassion and understanding is the best reaction you can give. These students are stronger than you can imagine and they deserve our help to learn and to succeed in their academic pursuits. As educators, let’s start with educating ourselves on mental illness and advocating for an end to stigma so that students can come freely to talk about what reasonable accommodations they need.

I’ve known for over 20 years that I have SAD. I have gotten good at coping with it and for asking for the help I need. But, here I am fighting with the SAD trying to decide whether to hit publish on this post. SAD is saying  I will be judged and fellow educators will reject me. I wonder who will win?

CAMH. (2018). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder

Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

 

SAD lies to me.
I know it will end.
SAD is a part of me.
I wonder who will win.
A poem by Irene Stewart

The right to education for student with disabilities

macro shot of stainless steel padlock

The accommodations given to students with disabilities are sometimes questioned by faculty who are concerned that these are not fair.  Some will go as far as challenge students about their disability and their need to tape record lectures or writing in the testing centre, for example. I believe this does our students a disservice and that faculty should fully support accommodations as approved through our student service departments.

Maya Venters (2017), in her OUSA blog, said it well:

The purpose of accommodation is not to give them an edge over other students, but to bring them forward to the starting line with everyone else.

Canadians with disabilities continue to face discrimination. Is this an urgent issue? I believe so given that over 50% of human right complaints in Canada, including those investigated by provincial commissions, are disability related  according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC, 2015). Consider that 13% of all Canadians have a disability that impacts their daily life and 20% of Canadians will have a challenge with mental illness this year (CHRC, n.d.). We can expect students in our classrooms who are experiencing disability and mental illness and it is our responsibility as educators to create an environment where they can learn to their full potential.

In Canadian schools, 25% of students with disabilities faced bullying and 35% reported exclusion;  37% of students with disabilities took fewer courses and 11% left their studies early because of their disability (CHRC, 2012). It is vital that we be a part of the solution for students with disabilities. Education is the way to opportunities for a better life through employment as well as development of citizens that improve our society. We need to recognize the educational barriers that exist for our students with disabilities in Canada and do our part to advocate for access for all. 

The CHRC (2017) identified four significant barriers for students with disabilities in our education system:

  1. lack of disability accommodation and support;
  2. lack of services and funding;
  3. ineffective dispute resolution;
  4. lack of special education and disability supports on First Nations reserves.

The first issue, lack of disability accommodation and support is something we as educators can improve. Here are few suggestions on what educators can do this school year:

  1. Learn more about human rights. Did you know there are 30? And the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to earn them, we were born with them. You can check out the illustrated guide from the United Nations (2015).
  2. Learn more about the Canadian Code of Human Rights, which along with the applicable provincial Human Rights Codes, governs the accommodation services provided to post secondary students. The CHRC’s (2010) guide is an excellent place to start.
  3. Learn more about the accommodation processes at your institution by meeting with disability service providers, attending workshops by your student services departments and reviewing your institution’s policies.
  4. Accept your students’ accommodation plans graciously and express your support for their use of the accommodations. Protect their confidentiality by meeting privately with them to discuss any questions you may have. Trust your accommodations protocol and if you have concerns, address them to the disability service providers first, rather than your student.

The accommodations often represent additional work for educators, but I hope you will see this as equity work, human rights advocacy work. The extra time you are spending is time you invest to support a student reaching their full potential and it is worth it!

References

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Disability rights. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/persons-disabilities

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Left out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/left-out-challenges-faced-persons-disabilities-canadas-schools

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Report on equality rights of people with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/rerpd_rdepad-eng.pdf

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2015). The rights of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/rights-persons-disabilities-equality-and-non-discrimination

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2010). Your guide to understanding Human Rights.  Retrieved from  https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/chra_guide_lcdp-eng.pdf

United Nations. (2015). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved from  http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf

Venters, M. (2017, August 30). Equality Is not equity: The argument for academic accommodations. Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Blog. Retrieved from https://www.ousa.ca/blog_equality_is_not_equity

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