Getting Serious About the ADA

I’m excited to hear that the U.S. Dept. of Ed has given a 3 year grant to over 23 unis to develop best practices and inclusive pedagogy for students with disabilities. Grants will help provided needed training and technical assistance to faculty and admin and help develop strategies to improve achievement, completion, and quality of education. Proposed programs are as varied as summer institutes, educational technologies purchases, distance learning, and research.

Schools in Hawaii, Texas, Iowa, Oregon, Virginia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and California will all be developing pilot studies on better serving students with disabilities using an average grant of $300,000 each. I am glad to see the list of schools is so varied and that one or more of the schools who may need a little extra help are among those taking the initiative.

While it is common for schools to have an ADA office, the commitment to informing students about services and how to access them has largely fallen on them and their parents. Further language in the ADA requiring student “disclosure” often results in a disconnect between needs and desires for independence, fear of being overly helped or treated differently, or a sense that one’s ability issue is not as greater as some else’s. And these feelings are reinforced by the university system which poorly trains its faculty on disability issues and has little sanction for those who do over help or ignore students with “special needs.”

Instead of seeing innovative programs and holistic support for students, what I have witnessed more often than not is understaffed and underfunded programs with beleaguered directors who remind me more of community advocates in a non-profit (underfunded, underpaid, overworked, and with little support outside of their cause) than thriving members of student support services at campuses that pride themselves in such services. The offices are often not centrally located so that both service seekers and people looking to be better trained have an additional barrier to meeting their goals. And sadly, issues of visible versus “hidden” disability can show up even amongst disability advocates but especially amongst faculty. Loop holes are easy to find in schools that generally do not serve a large enough number of differently-abled students to get caught. (And like all things, appropriate or even struggling student services for compliance do not translate to similar services for faculty and administration.)

In this context, I cannot say enough how excited I am to hear about these grants nor express how much success I wish the grantees. If they go well, the pressure will be on for other universities to follow suit and that can only be a good thing.


  • mural outside the Women’s Building in SF (one of my favorite images; please let me know if you know the artist)
  • image from the Tobu-Kamikita board of education Differently-abled student picnic. photographer Mehan.



2 thoughts on “Getting Serious About the ADA

  1. It bothers me that people still see it as “special treatment” This in part I believe is because of the whole “super crip” construction of disability. The able bodied are not expected to make distinctions they expect the disabled to rise above and if they cannot then their bodies are even more stigmatized and devalued. I a glad to hear about the increase in funding.

  2. In an academic setting, I think it is often other students who see it as “special treatment” b/c part of ADA is not disclosing the ability issues of your students, so what the class sees is someone who may be able bodied appearing being able to take extra time on assignments or tests, etc. It is a problem in the system that we have not been able to iron out. Altho one way would be to include disability issues in the Freshman and transfer student orientation events.The other “special treatment” issue I have witnessed is with able-bodied appearing students who access for reasonable accommodations. Often they are seen or treated like liars or worse like whiners b/c we have so trained ourselves into seeing ability as a visible image that the lack of visibility insights distrust and disdain. This system keeps a lot of students from disclosing and getting the help they need which in turn impacts their overall academic experience, record, and chances of moving forward at the same rates as able-bodied students. I hope that all of the grantees are using a portion of the grant to train staff (not just the people who work in student services but also the faculty) so that some of this can be handled better. My own experience says that training is a huge issue.all this to say, I agree and I think there are solutions.

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