Friday, January 20, 2012

An Issue That Needs Immediate Attention in a Southern Ontario College

This is a "political" piece in the sense that I'm about to discuss the politics at a certain college in Southern Ontario and how displeased I am with some recent happenings in one particular department. I'm not going to go into specifics as to which school or program right at this moment, but anyone who knows me knows what I'm studying, although you may not know at which school.

To the point, I've been certified as a Teacher in Ontario. I've had my own classroom, I've learned about accommodations for students with special needs, I'm certainly not an expert, but I know what the province's responsibilities are in regards to meeting the needs of ALL OF ITS CITIZENS. Furthermore, I worked in the public sector as a Librarian, and was given special training on the laws that are in place (or soon will be) for making the province accessible to ALL and at all public places.

This particular college is NOT making the proper accommodations for certain students with disabilities. If they do eventually (or perhaps will eventually) the head of this department fights the students (and counsellors) every step of the way. There are only certain things I know firsthand, but I've certainly heard things about his policies towards those with disabilities that turn my stomach.

Here is the specific case I'm familiar with:

There is a female student. Since Elementary School her learning has been hindered by learning disabilities, as far as multitasking, reading comprehension, some other things. The province and medical doctors recognize her disability. She is allowed accommodations according to the College. This one department, headed by one particular man, keeps insisting she is NOT entitled to accommodations because it isn't fair to all the other students. The main issue is, she is entitled to memory aids for her tests. She writes her tests in another room so other students wouldn't even be aware she had the aids. She excels at her visual/practical work but struggles with written exams. The college website clearly states that acceptable accommodations for a student with a learning disability are:

  • a reduced course load
  • provision of a notetaker for lectures
  • tape recording of lectures
  • access to alternative format materials such as books on tape
  • access to a word processor with spell check, thesaurus, grammar check for completion of final copy of written work
  • clarification of information on overheads, charts and lecture material
  • alternative methods of evaluation, such as point form responses rather than full sentences, in content courses
  • provision of extended time for tests and exams. The amount of extra time is determined by the disability support office but is usually time and a half.
  • use of memory aids or formula cards
  • supplementary oral exams
  • exams may need to be written on a computer with editing functions and/or adaptive software
  • use of writing tools (e.g. spelling dictionary) so marks are not taken off for spelling
  • exams/tests may need to be scribed and written in a quiet writing room
  • clarification of questions on tests/exams
  • use of a calculator on tests/exams

He will let her have more time, but more time doesn't help because if you struggle with written exams you can sit for 6 hours and still have nothing BUT he refused to sign her accommodation sheet because he doesn't feel she is entitled to memory aids. I will also add that he decided to play doctor and told her that she "doesn't have problems with comprehension" and that her IEP (Individual Education Plan) is clearly outdated, even though she's been to a doctor lately. I'm sorry if this is jargon for a lot of you. To be honest, I'm mostly doing this to vent but also so that people are aware of the kinds of problems people with disabilities face. Many college professors (and in my experience) University professors, really have no idea how to make accommodations for people. As a TA, I had to take the issues sometimes to my supervisor and ask what was being done for a given student. This really needs to change. I'm hoping that by writing this, I might put pressure on those in charge. 

The term disability carries so much stigma. The truth is, none of us learn in the same way. A gifted student is a different sort of learner as well, only his/her learning style facilitates rather than hinders his/her experience in the education system. Why should certain students be penalized just because they don't learn and think exactly like whatever the "norm" is? The reality is, there is no NORM, and learning needs to be entirely inclusive. We are all different, and that's how we are the same.


Teddi said...

this disgusts, & infuriates me. i agree with everything you have said. how frustrating for these students who are truly trying the best that they can. i am very familiar with this jargon, having worked in education, & having family members who also do. in fact one of them has their master's degree & works specifically with students of special needs. this situation is unconscionable!

Crissy said...

That's so wrong :\ Hopefully things will change. It's certainly not fair for someone with a learning disability to be treated like that when there should be acceptable accommodations.

I don't have a learning disability but I am a mute and I've gone through the drama of teachers claiming that there's nothing wrong with me and I get treated the same. (Zero's on oral reports)