There are many things I can do as a hard of hearing person, such as drive a car, listen to a lecture, watch a movie, etc. All things hearing people can do. Despite all of that, the reality is that there are a lot of things I cannot hear, so sometimes I need a little help. When I was in school, this help came in the form of accommodations. What I was entitled to by law was outlined in my IEP (Read more about IEPs here).
For me, accommodations included the following:
- Sitting in the front of the classroom.
- Extra time on tests (if needed).
- Note takers (if needed).
- Microphone to pick up a teacher’s voice across a classroom.
- Closed captions (if needed).
- Speech therapy (1st-6th grade)
In addition to those, I also had an adviser who made sure my teachers were aware of my disability and that I was keeping up with the rest of my classmates. This adviser would sometimes help with school work and, later, college applications. When I was younger, I also had speech therapists who would pull me out of class to help me with my speech development. They would usually talk to me while playing some kind of game that involved cards or a board. Once a year, even in high school, I would be given some kind of assessment. I never knew exactly what it was for, but the test involved the tester saying a word and me picking a picture that best illustrated the meaning of the word. I’m pretty sure they were testing my vocabulary, but no one ever verified this for me. Then again, I never asked. I don’t even know who was interested in the results of this particular assessment.
As I got older, I found I didn’t need as many accommodations. I gradually stopped doing speech therapy, and note taking was something I used in moderation, if at all. I used note takers once or twice in high school, but I found it too time consuming tracking down the note taker and getting notes from them. That, and I always felt bad having someone else take my notes for me. The extra time on tests was something my advisers felt I needed on big state tests like the ACT and CSAPs (Colorado Student Assessment Program). I ultimately discovered I didn’t need extra time on tests, so that was dropped. Closed captions were only used in middle school for a short time as they proved to be unreliable. As for the microphone, I used it my junior year and maybe part of my senior year (I can’t remember), and it was pretty cool because it made it seem like the teacher was right behind me. However, it was provided by the school, and it was expensive, so I only got to use it for a short time. My classes were pretty small in college (no larger than 35 students), so I didn’t use the microphone much in college.
Speaking of college, my accommodations changed a little at that point. Part of it had to do with going to a new place with new advisers and new situations. At first, the disability services office tried to dump a bunch of accommodations on me, which included a special attachment for my dorm phone (never used, so I gave it back. This was in 2005 when cell phones hadn’t quite taken off as much as they have now). It also included the microphone (which I also gave back when I saw how small my classes were) and letters to give my professors (which I stopped using my sophomore year because it was too much of a hassle and it was embarrassing).
My favorite accommodation was being allowed to pick my classes first before the rest of my class. To some, this may be seen as unfair, especially if they didn’t get into a class they really wanted because they had to pick last. Yet, for people like me, getting first pick allows us to get classes with good professors, and it allows us to have a chance to be on par with the rest of the students.
About half way through college, I was told that due to the fact that I wasn’t using any of the accommodations I was entitled to, I was no longer eligible for disability services. I was told this after I had already been kicked out, which annoyed me greatly. I really wish they had discussed it with me before making such a huge decision. While it would appear that I didn’t need accommodations anymore, getting rid of everything without informing me was unfair. I didn’t want to get into it with them though, and frankly, it was nice to be able to be on the same level with my classmates without obvious gadgets and assistance. The main downside, and the biggest frustration, was not being able to pick my classes early anymore. This resulted in not getting one or two classes that I really needed and wanted to take. Despite that, I got through college with a 3.9 overall GPA and honors.
Sometimes accommodations are wonderful and truly helpful, but sometimes I think the advisers and experts overcompensate for us and end up making us feel embarrassed, smothered, and babied. Yes, there are things we clearly cannot do, but there is a lot more that we can do. Disability does not mean inability.