AT THE RISK OF SOUNDING ABLEIST

At the beginning of every term I get a number of letters from the Disabilities Office telling me that this student or that has an unspecified disability that entitles her to half again the time allotted to other students to complete an exam. Each term the number of students to be thus accommodated goes up. The reason, I suspect, is that, disabled or not, students aren’t stupid. Eventually they cotton on that only at her peril would a Disability Officer deny a student’s request for disability status. So yes, in some cases it’s a scam. But the scam cases have to be tolerated if the university is to accommodate – as clearly it should! – those cases, even if they’re in the minority, that are legitimate.

I have two problems with this. First, I have no doubt that, given enough time, pretty much anyone could solve a binomial equation, or in the case of Logic 1000, check a symbolized argument for validity and consistency. But what I want to test for is the alacrity with which a student can do so. If it takes one student half again the time it takes another one, I have no way of reporting that in the student’s grade. And one’s grade, presumably, is the professor’s report on that student’s command of the skills the course purports to develop. Well, one measure of that command just is her alacrity at the task in question.

The second problem is that the proliferation of these letters of accommodation is a case of how to boil frog. If everybody gets time and half, time and a half of what? If I had thought the exam could be completed in 30 minutes, but everyone now has 45, wouldn’t I just add half again the number of questions to be answered?

Or worse yet, suppose all but a half dozen students have an accommodation letter. Having redesigned the exam in the manner noted above, for all intents and purposes those half dozen students are now being penalized for not being disabled.

The worry, of course, is that this same argument can be and has been used against  affirmative action programs in general, and in particular the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion programs that are being implemented in virtually every university and college here in the West, including mine. Call this, if you will, the Problem of Shifting Minorities. For example, whites in America aren’t worried that by 2050 they’ll be a visible minority. They’re worried – and rightly so – that because they were once the majority, their demand for equity and inclusion will be dismissed. 

Well, counters the SJW, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The problem is that for my non-disabled students we already have come to it. And that it’s a problem for them is becoming a serious moral challenge for those of us who desperately want to treat our students, abled and disabled alike, fairly. 

Perhaps what I should do is share this challenge with my students, at least one of whom will surely take my doing so to the Dean. After all, she’ll argue, the disabled, not unlike Black and gay and transgendered people, have suffered enough without having to defend a demand for an end to that suffering. Maybe she’s right. Maybe some advocates just shouldn’t be burdened with defending their advocacy, whereas others, I guess, should. Hmm …         



Categories: Everything You Wanted to Know About What's Going On in the World But Were Afraid to Ask

3 replies

  1. Viminitz said, “So yes, in some cases it’s a scam.”

    The following article, inspired by the US college Admissions scandal*, provides some interesting findings on the matter of scamming — including, “Feigning in Canada.”
    (*Rich parents getting disability diagnoses for their kids to give them an advantage on College Entrance Exams.)

    Scott White, “U.S. college admissions scandal means more skepticism of genuine invisible disabilities”, The Conversation, Canada, May 13, 2019, accessed 24 January 2022,

    https://theconversation.com/u-s-college-admissions-scandal-means-more-skepticism-of-genuine-invisible-disabilities-115502

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  2. I teach biology and I write a final exam that, in my experience, any student who has come to class and studied can complete in two hours, even if they read and write slowly. However, I give the students the full scheduled three hours to write it. Effectively, everyone gets time and a half. That’s using universal design, no? Giving the extra time to doesn’t make too much of a difference anyway – either students know the material or they don’t.

    However, even if all the students have what is basically time and a half, the accommodated students still get the extra, extra time, so their exam is scheduled for four and a half hours. It’s not my problem as they write at the disability office. I just find it interesting.

    I have never had a student use anywhere close to 4.5 hours.

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  3. That should say “giving the extra time to everyone…”

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