I don't know who needs to hear this but academic accommodations do not eradicate the struggles that come with being a disabled student. They do not even the playing field. And they certainly don't eliminate our symptoms.
Throughout high school, I did my absolute best to hide the fact that I receive academic accommodations. I was scared that my peers would suddenly think my academic experience is ten times easier than theirs. I ended up lying to my friends and downplaying the help I need. I don't like lying, and I now have much more self-respect than I did then. To my college friends reading this post- I receive 1.5x extended time on exams, I am allowed to stand up in class, I am allowed to record lectures, and I am allowed to leave class if I need to(this is not without penalty) due to my symptoms. I am grateful for my accommodations, but I want to now give you some perspective as to why I receive them and how much they actually impact my experience as a disabled student.
My accommodations don't take away my pain
My dorm was 20 minutes from my classes. Because I have fibromyalgia, I could only carry one notebook at a time in my backpack(if I really needed to, I would push myself to carry more). In other words, I could not carry a laptop or materials for more than one class at a time. That being said, I would walk to one class, sit down and contain my pain from the 20-minute walk(carrying anything on your back as a chronic pain patient- even if it's a practically empty backpack- is really painful), and then walk all the way back to my dorm, rest for a bit to recover, and grab the materials for the next class and repeat this cycle multiple times. In a day, I would lose about two to three(many times more) hours simply because I could not carry multiple materials at once. Why am I talking about this? Because in the three hours wasted replacing the singular notebook in my backpack, my abled peers would study or do homework. If you are reading this and don't think three hours during the school day is a lot of time, then 1) you probably aren't in college or 2) you are a student who would study in between classes and don't recognize your privilege.
Some of you may be thinking- well Riya, why are you ranting about this....a university can't change the fact that you have chronic conditions, what are they supposed to do besides give you extended time?
So glad you asked. Imagine if universities gave their disabled students access to the computer labs in every single building to help make up for the fact that most abled people carry their laptops throughout the day. Imagine if universities invested in devices- like the iPad Air- that are easy to carry and can store your notes in one place for disabled students to rent for the year(sounds expensive but trust me they can afford it). Imagine if disabled students were allowed to leave and miss class due to the unpredictable nature of their conditions without penalty.
Just a thought.
My Accommodations Don't Change my Assignments
Typing and writing are hard for me. Like there's a very high chance I'm going to pay the price for writing a blog post this long hard. Even though I receive extended time on exams, it doesn't change the fact that I have to type research papers, submit assignments due the next morning despite having an awful migraine and excruciating back pain, and force myself to write when I physically can't.
Extended time also doesn't change the fact that I take almost every single exam with a fever and a panic attack. Those extra 30 minutes make the experiences a little easier, but they aren't the medicine many people perceive them to be.
I also feel like being a disabled science student specifically offers some unique challenges. Last semester, I had to drop lab because physically being present and standing and doing experiments was hard for me. People definitely conveyed that they thought I dropped it because I could not handle the complexity of the course work, but I knew I could.
And it hurts more when the "easy part" is what is not in your reach.
There were many other aspects of my experience that my accommodations did not affect as well- like my harmed social life, the feeling of being alone, the lack of understanding, etc.
I hope this blog helps you challenge the idea of academic accommodations being a cure for the unique struggles disabled students experience. Everyone's experience is different, and many disabled students have additional stressors that I did not list. If you ever want to voice your story or provide some ideas for advocacy, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or anyone else on the iWave team.