Academic Accommodations For Disabled
Dev Datta Joshi
Education is a potential instrument for the overall development of individuals. Every international human rights legal instrument states that education must be equitable, accessible and of good quality. The right to education is essential to achieving other rights such as freedom of expression, right to equality before the law and the right to work.
Nepal is a state party to several international human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. On 13 December 2006, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and an associated optional protocol.
The adoption of the UNCRPD has been hailed as a great landmark in the struggle to reframe the needs and concerns of persons with disabilities in terms of human rights. The UNCRPD undoubtedly spells out the right to education for children with disabilities in international law in much greater detail than has hitherto been the case. Article 24 of the UNCRPD requires states parties to ensure that children with disabilities “are not excluded from the general education system on the basis of disability” and that they have access to “inclusive, quality and free primary and secondary education on an equal basis with others in the communities in which they live.”
The Convention requires that governments have to provide reasonable accommodation and ensure that persons with disabilities receive “individual support required within the general education system, to facilitate their education …Consistent with the goal of full inclusion.”
Accommodation addresses the removal of barriers which are not essential aspects of the learning process. It does not address treatment or remediation of the primary structural or functional impairment. Academic accommodations are intended to facilitate equal participation in the learning environment and the demonstration of knowledge, to enable students to perform the essential requirements of their courses or programmes, unobstructed by participation restrictions resulting from the interaction of the person with environment.
At no time should academic accommodation undermine or compromise the bona fide academic requirements that are established by an academic staff member of the academic institutions.
Participation as a student often requires sustained sitting or standing, listening and concentrating, fairly continuous handwriting or keyboarding, and reading fine print, distant projections or blackboards, and computer screens. Laboratory work poses additional requirements for positioning and dexterity.
Library research requires reaching overhead to handle heavy texts, prolonged reading and visual scanning of the electronic documents, standing in line to print/photocopy materials, or accessing reserve readings in a limited time period, among other tasks. A structural or functional impairment can affect these or other academic tasks, restricting a student’s participation in their curriculum.
The question of fairness often arises in providing some students with alternate means of performing academic tasks. Accommodations for a disability are never intended to give an advantage, but to provide an equal opportunity for the students who need to do certain tasks in a different fashion. Students must still meet the essential requirements of the curriculum. They must gain the required knowledge, demonstrate that knowledge to the satisfaction of the instructor and apply that knowledge appropriately.
Accommodations are designed to meet various needs posed by different disabilities. What is appropriate for one student may not be appropriate for another as disabilities are individually unique. The accommodations discussed below are the ones that are widely accepted by academic institutions. In situations where standard accommodations do not address the disability-related barriers, non-standard accommodations may be put in place following consultation between the students and the academic staff member.
There are three main types of accommodations: (a) Test/Exam Accommodations (b) Classroom/Course-Related Accommodations and (c) Campus Accommodations.
Test/exam accommodations pertain to the environment, format, and testing method for tests and exams while the classroom accommodations pertain to the physical environment of the classroom, instructional strategies, and alternate formats of the course materials and requirements. Likewise, campus accommodations are related to physical accessibility of and transportation on the campus.
Thus, it is important to promote a climate, which values diversity and includes all members of the academic community without discrimination on the basis of disability. That climate is affected by informal violations of the students’ right to privacy, such as discussions in labs or other group settings where a student may be exposed to pejorative remarks about “Special Needs students.”
A student’s dignity is violated when comments of this nature are made, and it undermines the climate for everyone if some members are made to feel unwelcome. In addition, students who are disabled feel ostracised and harassed for needing to do certain tasks in a different way. Discussions with or about students with disabilities should be conducted in private, according them the same respect as a colleague with a medical condition or other private matter requiring individual attention.