By Leanne Libas
Accommodations. What is your first impression of this word? Does it bring relief? Or does it bring back some unsettling memories? For me, it reminds of the memories of being curious and having contempt towards the word and the idea of having them. Prior to discovering my autism diagnosis, I did not know why I had accommodations nor what accommodations were.
Accommodations – any change or adjustment to the way things usually are done that would allow an individual with a disability to perform job functions, or enjoy equal access to benefits available to other individuals.
After discovering my autism diagnosis, I understood why I had accommodations but I still did not understand what accommodations were. So, what happened? Well, the accommodations were a part of my Individualized Education Plan (IEP), however, I did not use them. I aspired to be like my classmates who completed their school work without having any accommodations. I wanted to fit in. I never wanted to stand out. Besides, I was not prepared to answer some of my classmates’ questions because I still did not understand what accommodations were. I knew I had accommodations because of my disability, yet I could not explain what an IEP is. I thought that people may not like how I would get extra time on tests and they would say how unfair the system was. Most importantly, I did not want to be treated differently.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences.
When I went through the Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities, I gained a better perspective of what accommodations were. I am not going to lie, it took a while to rid myself of the ableist stereotypes that I had, especially when it came to accommodations. I remember internally rolling my eyes during my last IEP meeting when my former speech pathologist told me to sign up for my college’s disability services program so I get accommodations.
Ableism – (also known as ablism, disablism, disability discrimination, and handicapism) is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled
Her reasoning? She told me that a four-year university’s disability services program would not take in a disabled community college transfer student who did not sign up for their school’s disability services program. I am not sure what she told me was true or not but I decided to follow her advice, much to my chagrin. I yelled internally, “Fine! I will sign up! It’s not like I am going to use them at all!”
Eventually, I realized that I had to use accommodations. My epiphany occurred when I took my first math quiz during my undergraduate freshman year at my local community college. I knew the material, yet I was nervous because I heard my classmates talking about the quiz and saying how nervous they were. For those who know what autism is, I am going to tell you right now that the stereotype of how a/Autistic people do not feel empathy is a lie! I was still extremely anxious when I was taking the quiz. I honestly do not know how I got through that quiz but I made it through by trying to breathe.
In the end, I did well on the quiz but I realized that I had to use my accommodations. The last thing I wanted was to become nervous each time I took a quiz or an exam. Don’t get me wrong! It is perfectly natural to be nervous! However, when your anxiety takes over your body to the point where you are unable to control it — that is when you realize that you have to find a way to calm your senses so you are able to succeed. In this case, the best solution for me was to take the quiz somewhere else. In the end, I immediately spoke with my math professor in regards to the quizzes and my test-anxiety. She accommodated me by letting me take the quizzes in the math and science division office prior to coming to class. This accommodation actually helped me and I ended up passing the class.
I am grateful for having accommodations. If I was in a sticky situation similar to my math class scenario, then I am confident to know that I am accommodated. I learned that it is okay to admit that you need and do not need accommodations. Why did I say these two things that are contradicting each other? What I mean by this is how some people may need more accommodations than others, and there are some people that do not have and/or use accommodations at all. And you know what? That is completely fine. It is important that the person is comfortable with their environment, whether or not they need the accommodations. For me, the accommodations that I use the most are having extra test time, recording lectures, and sitting in front of the classroom. However, the accommodations I do not use so much are leaving the room and the app, Kurzweil Firefly. In addition, I do not have accommodations when I work or volunteer because I feel completely fine when I am completing my tasks. However, if I need accommodations then I will address it to my supervisors.
Overall, we, as disabled people, have the choice to decide what works and does not work for us. We are capable of creating successful lives for ourselves, whether or not we have and/or use accommodations. Nevertheless, all of us must recognize how limiting accommodations are equivalent to the lack of accessibility. And you know what? Let’s just not just make accommodations specifically for disabled people but for everyone.
Leanne is currently pursuing higher education in hopes of becoming a teacher. When she’s not busy, she likes to write, watch lots of YouTube videos, and take naps.