As both a co-teacher and a deaf and hard of hearing teacher, I am faced with my students’ need for self-advocacy skills. I was recently struck by some material I was reading over in order to teach a lesson on the differences between ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and 504 (from the Rehabilitation Act of 1973). When comparing how these laws aid those with disabilities in high school versus college, I came across some interesting wording:
“In general, the burden of responsibility shifts from K-12 school to the individual college student. College students must contact Disability Support Services, prove eligibility, and make their needs known.”
“High schools often offer services and accommodations meant to help ensure a student’s success. At college, the governing laws simply require that an institution not discriminate against a student with a disability and provide access to the curriculum…services may be quite different between colleges. Different colleges have different philosophies on accommodations.”
I am concerned. If this is what is expected of our students when they attend college, we may not be preparing them adequately to do these things. When I had my students take a pre-test on knowledge of interpreting services and hearing assistive technology services, they showed a gross misunderstanding of these essential accommodations for deaf and hard of hearing students intending to attend college. (P.S. – These were all deaf and hard of hearing students.)
We must remember to explicitly teach our students self-advocacy skills like simply saying what they need in the classroom to the teacher. I plan on instituting this concept in each of my IEPs (Individualized Education Program). It is difficult to add another goal on top of difficulty with academics, but, I realize that this may make or break my students’ careers.
I remember speaking with a teacher recently and hearing that another teacher didn’t “believe” in accommodations. This is an interesting concept to me because it seems to be a statement like, “I don’t believe in trees.” That’s fine if you don’t believe in them, but they are still there. They still help our environment and give us things we need like paper and tables. Accommodations are the same way. They are the boxes that help our students to see over the fence to see what other students see typically. Without these boxes, they will not be tall enough to see enough to learn.
A favorite book of mine is Fair Isn’t Always Equal: Assessing and Grading the Differentiated Classroom by Rick Wormeli. This book describes how accommodations can equalize the classroom for those with special needs. I recommend it for further reading.