When teachers refuse to accommodate your disability

A reader asked:

What to do if teachers refuse to give you the accommodation? I couldn’t ever finish my work because they would refuse to write down things ect

realsocialskills said:

That’s a hard problem.

In my experience, you usually can’t make them write down assignments if they’re not doing it willingly (even with a letter). Sometimes you can, if you’re sufficiently insistent.

I’ve had surprisingly good results with reminding a teacher politely and discretely the first time, reminding them in front of other students the second time, and insisting more bluntly that it’s not ok for them to neglect to do this the third time. I’ve also had this blow up in my face. Your milage may vary. It’s not something I’d wholeheartedly recommend, but it does work sometimes.

Also, if the problem is that they don’t remember (or can’t be bothered to remember), sometimes reminding them by email works. Eg, by sending an email after every class asking them what the assignment is.

Another thing that can help is getting support from other students rather than the teacher. For instance, getting the assignment from a peer who is able to write it down. Or getting other students to also ask in the moment for it to be written down so it doesn’t have to come just from you all the time. (That helps me both in terms of getting what I need, and in not feeling like I’m alone and unreasonably demanding.)

If you are in college, another thing you can do is change classes. If a teacher is not treating you well and is making it impossible to do the work, treating that as a red flag and changing to a different class can make things a lot better. In college, there is often a lot more flexibility to work with people who are willing to accommodate you, and it’s important to learn how to take advantage of that flexibility.

Sometimes treating people with disabilities well means accepting that they are uncomfortable

A reader asked:

I run a club for transgender students at my university. One of the newer members disclosed to us that she has asperger’s. Her sensory threshold seems to be extremely low and she seems to get overwhelmed in meetings often. After a meeting, I tried to pull her aside to ask her if there’s any way I could accommodate her better, but she got flustered. I don’t think she knew quite how to phrase what she needed to say in the moment, but I want to make the club more accessible for her. I’ve already spoken with the faculty adviser so we could move to a bigger room with more space. I also want to make sure this member of our club is getting her needs met, but I don’t want to force her out of her shell or put her on the spot while I try to meet her halfway. I’m having a hard time. Do you have any advice for me?

realsocialskills said:

I think the most important thing is not to put pressure on her to talk to you about her disability or access needs.

Sometimes people with disabilities choose to do things that are hard for us. Sometimes being overloaded is the price we pay for participation. It can actually be harder when people get upset about this and see overload as a problem they need to solve. Sometimes that’s just the way things are. Sometimes there’s no immediate solution, and sometimes it’s not the problem we want to work on.

Disability is personal. Coping mechanisms and disability-related choices are deeply personal. Some people with disabilities are fairly open about their specific issues and choices; for others, that’s a topic reserved for close friends. It’s ok if she doesn’t want to have that conversation with you even though she’s often physically uncomfortable or overloaded in the group. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing something wrong or that she’s doing something wrong. Sometimes it just means that some things are hard but worth doing anyway.

I’d say back off trying to get her to disclose more things about her needs, and follow her lead.

The one unilateral access thing I’d advise is that I think it’s important to make sure that she (and other group members) have the option of contacting you by email. If she’s getting too overwhelmed in the moment to tell you things she wants you to know, being able to email you might be really helpful. Don’t make a big deal about it, though, and don’t pressure her to email you about things. Just make email available as an option.

Good luck to both of you.

Short version: When you’re running a group and people with disabilities seem to be overwhelmed, don’t pressure them to talk about their disability or their access needs. Offer, but don’t pressure. Do make your email address available to group members. This makes it easier for them to tell you things that are hard to say in the moment.

Some thoughts on PTSD at school

I developed PTSD last year and took time off college, and I’m about to go back for the first time since then. I’ve been auditing classes for a few months now though and I’m suddenly terrified. I can barely read anymore (I can’t focus and it’s often panic inducing). I dissociate in class and sometimes even have highly humiliating episodes in lectures. I never retain anything and it feels futile and I’m afraid I’m gonna flunk out. If you have any advice I would appreciate it so much. Thank you!!
realsocialskills answered:
Since I don’t know you, all I can do is guess – but here are a couple of possibilities that comes to mind:
Do you find evaluation triggering? Like, tests, quizzes, papers, things where you have to prove that you mastered the material? Or knowing that you’re being graded?
If so, I wonder if maybe a full course load might be too much for you right now. Being terrified is exhausting and time consuming. So is dealing with being triggered a lot. That plus a full course load might be taking up more time than you have.
It might be better to start by only taking one course for credit. That could give you space to work on figuring out what’s triggering and how to deal with it.
Another possibility: If you’re missing material because you dissociate in class, you might be able to get a notetaker as a disability accommodation. Or you might try recording the lectures (which is a disability accommodation you can get even if recording isn’t normally allowed). Similarly, if you find a particular *kind* of assessment triggering, you might be able to arrange a modified form (eg: if taking a quiz in-class causes you to dissociate, you might be able to arrange to do a take-home instead.)
You might also try collaborative note taking:
  • It’s a good strategy for anyone to try who is having trouble paying attention in lecture
  • But it might also be helpful for you if your episodes are the kind someone can help you avert if you see one coming on
  • Because then you’d already be communicating with your notetaking partner, so if you see a problem coming it might give your the opportunity to get help
Another possibility: Are you dealing with a triggering or cognitively incompatible teacher?
  • For some people, teachers who teach in certain ways can be triggering
  • Or can be so hard to understand that they exhaust you in ways that take away the cognitive abilities you need to do school
  • Or can be hostile to you in subtle but intensely destructive ways
  • Or any number of other serious points of incompatibility
  • If you’re having a debilitating reaction to a particular teacher, it’s probably really important to not take classes with that teacher, even if it looks like a good idea on paper

(There’s a range of different things that work for different people, so it would also be good to seek out different perspectives.)