I feel like after my last post about the struggle to get a class moved to a different room, I needed to talk about how my law school has handled my disability as a whole.
Now, one of the interesting things I have to point out here when talking about how my law school handles my disability is that my law school is semi-autonomous from the greater university. It creates an…interesting…situation for disability accomodations. Not bad entirely; it’s had pros and cons for me. The way getting accomodations works for me is like this: I bring my doctor’s letter to the law school’s disability coordinator, who we’ll call W. The disability coordinator faxes the letter over to the university’s disability resources center. ( I officially have a file there and a counselor, but I’ve only really interacted with her over one issue.) The disability resources center sends back its evaluation of what accomodations I’m to be accorded. W and the law school student resources secretary then arrange for the accomodations.
Now, it’s definitely had upsides for me. When I first came to law school, I was sick with a mystery illness that was causing me extreme fatigue and pain. I didn’t get any answers on ANYTHING until January of my first year, so that first semester, I was operating completely on my own. I had no accomodation letter, no documentation to suggest I needed assistance, nothing. Despite the fact that the Disability Resource Center could do nothing without documentation, because it’s a semi-autonomous entity, the law school was able to give me a couple of accomodations: they gave me a keycard to the accessible door, they retroactively reset my status to part time so I didn’t have to accept ‘Withdrawal’ or Fs on my transcrips, and they arranged for me to have extra test time and a little room to myself. These may sound like small things, but especially that retoractive part-time status really helped me that first impossible semester of law school and fibromyalgia.
On the whole, the set-up has been convenient to me. The law school is in 2 buildings, one short block apart. I know exactly where W’s office is. I don’t have to try to make it over to the Disability Resources Center, which is halfway across campus. W is in general a very nice, very helpful person, as is the secretary for that office. The dean of students has been willing to get involved, which has mostly been a very good thing for me – it was her influence that got me changed to part-time retroactively my first year, and her influence that got me a mentor when I struggled academically.
It’s not perfect. In my first year, I had an incident with a professor. She said something that I read to be making fun of the way I walk because of my disability, because I was late returning to class after a break. She never did that to anyone else who was late returning. I went to W and to the dean of students, and crying I told them about what had happened. What she had said. The way she had stood there in silence, with the whole class’s attention drawn to me, as I hobbled with my pained little half-steps to my seat, before she resumed her lecture. The another student in the class who was a person with a disability completely agreed with my reading of the situation – that she had made fun of my disability and deliberately subjected me to the staring of my classmates, who were already viciously unfriendly to me because of the way my disability made me different and because I knew too much. My counselor/case manager at the disability resource center was appalled by what happened, and said that she would love to write a letter to the professor detailing the problems with what she had done…except that the relative autonomy of the law school and the existance of a disability coordinator there meant she’d be doing some serious stepping on people’s toes. People whose cooperation I needed for my accomodations, for assistence with professors, so on. So I had to let go the possibility of a strongly worded letter that took my side, because offending the people whose help you need is never a wise idea. The dean of students eventually told the professor how I’d taken things, and the professor told me she hadn’t intended things that way. I still don’t believe that and now, nearly three years later, I still avoid her – step out of hallways she’s coming down, avoid meeting her eyes and opening the potential for a conversation, moving away from her at Women’s Law Caucus events that we both attend. It’s hard to forget people who have held you out for social opprobrium and shame. People who mock the way you move because of your disability.
Anyhow, I’m sorry for that…sidetrack. It’s hard to explain how badly I felt that I’d been failed by W and the dean of students at my law school without going into the details about what happened.
That January, I finally got an accomodation letter and we started playing with ways to help me with one of the issues I had an accomodation for. To their credit, they were willing to try several different approaches I suggested before I decided that the one they’d suggested to begin with was going to be the best.
Since then, I’ve gotten a handful of new accomodations, and things have been gracefully managed on everything but this latest snafu with the classroom change. They haven’t been able to do anything for me about professors’ attendence requirements as long as those requirements don’t exceed the 80% required by the American Bar Association (which has withstood challenges under the Americans with Disabilities Act), and I’ve yet to see a professor who required more.
To be honest, on the whole they’ve been thoroughly helpful and friendly, and a good place to go for advice. I hate to think that you all have this image of a difficult and uncaring office because of this latest exchange. To be honest, this latest exchange seemed quite out of character for them, which is part of why it upset me so. They’ve done a good many things that were inconvenient for them on my behalf, and to have them suddenly react as if what I wanted was a nuisance and an inconvenience…well. It was quite an unpleasant surprise.
Edited to add: I just realized that I had forgotten one of the BIG things that the disability liason and the dean of students had worked out for me. Right before the fall exam period for my second year, I fell and sprained my back. Because of that, I couldn’t sit up for more than an hour or so at a time, and then needed a significant amount of time lying down flat. Even that hour or so was only on my extremely comfortable couch – anything less than that, and I’d get half that time. I couldn’t get set up in a position where I could have my laptop on the bed with me without causing at least as much pain as sitting up with it. So they allowed me to take exams without time limits, and from my own home. It was an enormous break in protocol, and it was all that allowed me to take my exams that semester. They had no obligation to do such a thing, since it wasn’t a permanent state of affairs, but they did anyhow and I am very grateful for that.