(L)Earning (Dis)Abilities

Learning Abilities,

Earning Abilities.

What does it mean to “earn” an accommodation in an educational system that champions fairness and rigor? 

Let us, for a second, consider our answers to the following:

  • What does it mean to be abled?
  • What does it mean to be disabled?
  • What does it mean to be differently abled?

Though fairly ambiguous questions, do our responses – and therefore, opinions – to these change significantly given the context? What if you were asked to consider these while standing on a field, or a classroom, or a stage? During trials to become an Army Ranger, or during college entrance exams? Could it be that, at the intersection of “teaching to the curve” and subjective notions of fairness and equality, we may be compromising the potential for humans/students/professionals of different ‘abilities’ – in every sense of the word?

Take, for example, this definition:

Learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or math.  They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention.  It is important to realize that learning disabilities can affect an individual’s life beyond academics and can impact relationships with family, friends and in the workplace.

– Learning Disabilities Association of America 

Or, say, after being diagnosed with a disability, a college student gets an accommodation of time and a half in a separate room. Is that fair to the other students in the course? Does this unfairly advantage the student with accommodations, alleviating time and social pressures? These are among the questions students with accommodations grapple with every day. Further, if a student’s request for accommodations is met with questions by a professor about whether or not the student deserves the accommodation, how is the student supposed to feel trusted to complete their work? Beyond focusing on their healing process or compensating for their ‘disadvantage’ in the already immersive, challenging, and frankly, exhausting college experience – they also have to ideologically defend the nature of their accommodations, and transitively, their worth and abilities. How much are we complicating students’ success by making them feel unnecessarily excluded from learning spaces?

Designing technologies to assist students in the classroom is a wonderful thing. But designing inclusive classrooms, and equipping educators with other tools – like accommodations trainings – to promote inclusivity are critical for a strategy that helps students succeed comprehensively, inside and outside of the classroom.



One Response to “(L)Earning (Dis)Abilities”

  1. Jeff Dusek says:

    Excellent post, you raise tons of interesting questions, and I’m still going through the articles. I think inclusive design is really the answer we’re looking for, but that said, AT devices and accommodations are an extremely important step along the road to get there. It would be awesome to rebuild infrastructure, rewrite curriculums, etc. to maximize inclusiveness, but that all takes time. I guess just don’t want to see those who need solutions immediately ignored in the quest to find and all encompassing solution.

Leave a Reply