Thursday, March 19, 2015

Accommodations Misery

As I recover from the fourth, fifth, or sixth almost-losing of this site (the emotional roller coaster!!), I am also trying to deal with a pretty terrible demand from my college's accommodations department. Let's commiserate!

First, a caveat. I have a disability. Not one that ruins my life, but I am epileptic, and that fact has been pretty disruptive. I used the Disability Services in undergrad and grad school to help organize my thoughts when seizure headaches made studying almost impossible. I am grateful to these services and I try my very best to accommodate students who are overcoming depression, schizophrenia, blindness, or any other issues in order to get their degree. So when accommodations get out of hand, I get really pissed off.


For two months now, I have been dealing with an absent student who is taking my course absentee from an institution. He is allowed exactly 10 hours online per week, and he spends 5 hours of that online time "attending" my lectures via Skype and trying to do his homework. (guess how thoroughly one can do a research paper with such restrictions....)

Here are the problems so far:
  • The student cannot access the online textbook and had to wait three weeks for a physical textbook to be delivered to his institution. Why three weeks? No one can explain. I gave him an extension and he caught up quickly.
  • More often than not, Skype fails to connect adequately (surprising no one). He cannot email just anyone from his institution, so I have to convince volunteers to email me their student notes and then forward said notes to the student.
  • Part of my course requires a weekly blog post. Each student chooses a theme and posts academic material, personal thoughts, or creative expressions about that theme to a final blog. They are then responsible for posting on at least 3 classmate blogs every week. Guess what institution blocks these blogs from their location? Yeah, so Special Student cannot access a term-long assignment that is worth 30% of his grade.
  • The final assignment of this course is a term paper. Pretty standard. However, the university databases (things like science direct and JSTOR) are blocked from the institution. So are general websites like, wikipedia, and yahoo answers. Not that I would have allowed such things to be used in a paper, but without academic sources OR library visits OR general info websites, how the ever-loving hell is this kid supposed to be able to write a goddamned research paper??????
So everyone reading this has to be with me when I say: these accommodates have gone too far. They are over the top. The only way to "accommodate" this student is to create a completely different course with abstract assignments or maybe just worksheets based on the textbook. His work will not resemble the rest of the class at all, so any grade he receives will not really represent passing my course.

Guess how the administration reacted to my concerns? Something something student success something something customer service something something deconstruct the paradigm and shoot me in the skull.

There is nothing really to do. I give some grades; no one is satisfied; I avoid failing the kid entirely but the whole thing takes way too much of my time and ends up serving no one.

Unsolicited Advice: Drop the damn course, get better, and go to school later.


  1. Um… what kind of a school blocks JSTOR? Does this mean that they simply don't pay to subscribe, or that they actually block it like a high school blocks potential porn?

    Maybe the student should go to the disabilities office at his or her institution and tell them that he or she needs access to the following resources to pass the class. And perhaps the disabilities services computer can allow access to blogs, and research articles.

    1. I think that the "institution" may be of the penal or mental health varieties. Either would explain the rigor of the restriction the student is laboring under...

  2. ". . . customer service something something deconstruct the paradigm and shoot me in the skull."

    AM, I believe that you owe me a gin and tonic. Oh, and a set of sinuses from shooting gin and tonic out my nose.

  3. Another frustrating element: I believe the "institution" may be both psychological AND criminal, based on the firm refusal of anyone to provide me with any details for such strong restrictions. (the criminal part would explain why he is only allowed to speak with me, his accommodations rep, or his institutional rep).

    Pat, this is the greatest compliment ever received. Gin and tonics for everyone!!

  4. I am sympathetic to students with disabilities, and will do most anything I can to help them. But then, I will do most anything I can to help any students who want to learn, whether they're disabled or not.

    I had a blind student in my general-ed astronomy course for non-majors. She wrote her term paper on astronomy for the blind, and it was one of the best term papers ever. Many things in space give off radio waves, and these can make sounds when played through speakers. Jupiter's magnetic field rumbles like thunder. Saturn's rings like a bell. Burned-out cinders that used to be stars beep. It was so cool I could barely stand it.

    On the other hand, some students do abuse their accommodations. I HATE that. What makes it worse is that the administration never acknowledges that this is even possible. You are therefore not alone in facing this. Hang in there!

    1. Your case is yet another of well-meaning but not very thoughtful educational administration, in their eagerness to be fair, creating a situation in which NO ONE is served. I hate that: it's much too common. Nearly all of American public high school education suffers from it, and it isn't unique there.

  5. It seems to me that some of the "disability" you are up against is not the student's, but that of the student's residential institution. They are failing to provide the student with the adequate resources such that he can get an equivalent educational experience from the class. If allowing more computer access time, turning off filters, etc. means that they have to supervise him to make sure he doesn't dip into the naughty stuff, then so be it. It's possible for it to be done, and it's not on you to work around the fact that it isn't done.

    The ADA does not require that the instructor alter the fundamental education elements of the course as part of the accomodation. If the syllabus says it's to be a paper with X, Y, Z, then you don't necessarily have to take one with zeta, beta, potato.

  6. Isn't the phrase "REASONABLE" accommodations? Redesigning most of the assignments is not reasonable. Something something deconstruct the paradigm and shoot me in the skull indeed.

    And why on earth would the institution block access to a university literature database? Nurse Ratchit doesn't want them researching lobotomies?

    1. Nurse Ratchit doesn't want them researching lobotomies?
      *wipes coffee off keyboard and monitor*

    2. I saw the movie when it was still fairly new. I then read Ken Kesey's novel. I was surprised to learn that the character's name is "Nurse Ratched", as from the movie I'd figured it for Ratchit or Ratchet.

      That novel may have introduced me to the concept of the unreliable narrator.

    3. To follow up on PG's comment, the key is indeed Reasonable. When multiple fundamental educational components are altered (or outright removed), thereby changing the outcomes/objectives/competencies/etc., it is not a reasonable accommodation

  7. I agree with OPH: this is a glaring case of institutional failure, both the student's and the one you work for; obviously the restrictions on the student are incompatible with academic work, and your institution is a failure for putting you (and the student) in this situation.

    How one might deal with this depends on your job security: from a tenured position I would simply say NO (and fuck you adminiflakes). No longer accept online students at all, unless the conditions are laid out in advance and I find them reasonable. In the present case, I'd probably just fail the student: unable to satisfy minimal course requirements. His institution's fault, not his, but grades can be a powerful way to send a message.

  8. Yeah I'm still tenure-track, so I have to take it and kiss ass as long as I can. And I have to do it with a smile, restraining myself from spilling truth forward. The misery.


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