Human Rights Office: Dear Jen: Accomodations for a Disability (August 2001)
I have a learning disability, and so far I've been able to get along without specific accommodation because of the type of classes I've been taking. Next term though, I have to take a lot of labs and I will need some specific accommodation for the exams. This has been my greatest fear because my some of my friends, who do not know I have any type of disability, sometimes complain about how unfair it is when someone in the class gets an accommodation, like extra time for their exams. I know that they will think my marks aren't worth as much as theirs if I've been accommodated so I'm considering not making a request. I'd just like to try doing the exams along with everyone else even if it means getting a lower mark. Can I ask for a rewrite if it turns out I just can't handle the exam without the accommodation? Chris.
I can understand your predicament. Few people understand what accommodation really means for a student with a disability. This is even more so for learning disabilities because they involve very complex neurological processes and are therefore invisible. Because of this, people sometimes feel that those who are getting accommodation for their disability are actually getting special favours that make it easier for them to pass. In fact an accommodation is always based on sound medical documentation and is negotiated with the professor to simply allow the person to compete equally with others without compromising academic integrity.
It is important to remember that when it comes to accommodation for students with disabilities, the University has a responsibility to provide accommodation, and the student has a responsibility to inform the University and help find the most appropriate accommodation as soon as they have knowledge of their needs. Otherwise, a delay in accommodation and consequently your studies could be justified. It may not be seen as reasonable to try the exam first, and then ask for a rewrite if you had prior knowledge of the need. It could delay your academic program unnecessarily.
It would be best to discuss this issue with the Disability Services Coordinator in Student Health, Counselling and Disability Services in the Lasalle Building. It sounds like you have already taken some steps to document and evaluate your needs in the past, but you have not yet needed to access the services available to you. It is important that you have an equal chance as everyone else to succeed in your course. Whatever the accommodation that you require, the University has a responsibility to take steps to ensure confidentiality while providing it. It may be impossible to hide from your classmates the fact that you did not write the exam at the same time as they did, but there is no need for them to know why, or the circumstances in which you did write it. It is important for you to work out a strategy for the future so that you are comfortable with the access you have to accommodations that you may require.