[NABS-L] Discrimination in college
mikgephart at icloud.com
Thu Dec 12 17:40:00 UTC 2019
I hope you are all doing well, and that your final exams are going well. As many of you know, I started my first year of college in August after nine months at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I have enjoyed my college experience, but the Disability Services office has been extremely frustrating.
The week after I graduated from CCB in June, I had to attend a mandatory pre-orientation for college. Despite the fact that I had been corresponding with the Assistant Director for Disability Services since April and had sent in my documentation proving I was blind, they were not prepared for me at all. There were millions of print papers floating around that were not provided in an accessible format, and they required I do an online strengths test I had not been told about. I ended up having someone read everything to me so I could get everything out of the day, but I was upset. A few days after the reorientation, I met with the Assistant Director for my intake interview. She apologized and said she would never let this happen again. I believed her!
After I received my schedule for the fall, I sent an email to all my professors introducing myself. During the week before classes started, I met with most of my professors. I am still undecided about my major and career goals, but I mentioned during the pre-orientation that I was considering majoring in Child Development. The Academic Advising team chooses schedules for all incoming freshmen based on our preferences as we mentioned on forms and at the pre-orientation, and they placed me in the introductory Child Development class. This class has a lab component at a local private preschool. The college I am attending is also a private, but they receive Financial Assistance funding from the government. When I met with my Child Development professor, I was told that the private school (where all students in this class fulfill their lab component) refused to allow me to complete my lab there. According to my professor, the school sited the North Carolina Division of Early Childhood Development and Education’s safety standards for supervision. She read out some of the standards, but I do not have a copy. From what my professor said, the standards say that staff in a school must be able to “see and hear” children eating. She said that the way the school is set up is that food is out during all times of the day, not just at lunch time. She also said that the school interprets this standard to mean that any adult in the class must be able to see and hear the students eating in case they choke. I feel like this in itself is wrong on so many levels! The fact that the state even has this standard is ridiculous, and the school’s interpretation is just as discriminatory. My professor also expressed some reservations about my ability to observe the students, even if the private school allowed me to observe in their school. She was pretty set on observation being a visual process, but was open to me reaching out to other teachers to find out how they handled it. I suggested I would gather information by interacting with the children, but she said that students observe and write down notes while off to the side so as not to interfere. We decided that I would take a General Education class during the fall, which would give us more time to figure out how to make Child Development work. I agreed, since it was so close to the start of the semester. I kept it together during the meeting, but I was devastated! However, I decided to let it go. I was still deciding on majors and careers anywhere, and it was four days before I was supposed to move in to the dorm and I wanted to keep focused on that.
Most of my first semester of college went without a hitch. I was provided with all materials in an accessible format, and I enjoyed getting to know most of my instructors and fellow students.
When it came time to register for classes on October 25th, I was extremely excited. I chose all of my classes carefully, thinking about how much time I would have in between classes and asking for recommendations of professors from other students. On November 2nd, I sent an email to all my professors introducing myself. I heard back from every professor except for my English professor.
On November 25, I was told by the Disability Services office that the English department requested that I switch to another professor’s class. The English Department had 23 days from the time of receiving my introduction email to bring this up. Of course it was right in the middle of my finals. This could have been handled November 2 with a meeting including me of course. The reason given was that the professor I chose uses “visual materials”. I took Statistics this semester, and Statistics uses a lot of visual material. To me, this seemed like a thinly veiled excuse to keep me out of her class. I decided to switch to the professor they recommended because I do not want a professor who does not want me and because I found out that my new professor is great at making materials accessible. I am still upset!
After I had some time to process the news, I sent a strong email to the Disability Services staff and the Dean of Students, even using the word discrimination. The Disability Services staff asked to meet with me last week, and I came prepared with strong but polite comments. Unfortunately, they did not seem to understand that this is discrimination. The Assistant Director came with several guesses, but never bothered to find out why the English department did not want me in this professor’s class. One of her guesses was that the Dean of the Humanities School, who made this request, thought the professor they recommended would be a better fit because of her experience making materials accessible, and that she does not think the Dean meant to discriminate because she is extremely student-centered. I did not feel like they understood how I feel about this.
I feel like I need to speak up about this. I have had three issues so far. What’s next? I love the professors and students, and want to stay here. I have gotten them to follow the ADA requirements for railings and braille signs, so I am getting through somewhat. However, I am still not satisfied, so am going to file a formal grievance through the college’s grievance procedures. They need to start following the law, and I will not allow this to happen again to me or any other blind students. I go from sadness to anger to determination, and wish things did not have to exculpate this far. I would love to have positive and informal relationships with the Disability Services staff for the next three years, but I need to let them know I am serious. I have lost faith in informal conversations, so think a formal grievance is the next step. Any advice or encouragement will be appreciated. This is an extremely frustrating experience, but I will not back down.
More information about the NABS-L