How ableism at SU pushed me to change my major
Salisbury University is no different than any other university in America – all part of the same oppressive system. It’s no surprise that SU is a breeding ground for ableism, including but not limited to: faculty, staff, students and the Disability Resource Center itself.
The Western world and capitalist society focus on “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps”, shaming anyone who asks for assistance.
But we are all human beings going through something.
When someone asks for extra help, they probably need it. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to even ask for help.
I struggle to walk to each class, much less multiple classes scattered across campus. I don’t have a mobility aid or an absence accommodation through DRC because my official diagnoses do not align with predetermined standards. The diagnoses I do have, including mental health conditions and scoliosis, are apparently not worthy of accommodation.
This is an issue for a few reasons:
– It can take years to get an official diagnosis for any disability.
– Many disabilities are not outwardly apparent, leading to ableist comments like, “you don’t look disabled."
– There are no accurate statistics on the disabled community's scope.
– People with invisible disabilities are often excluded from statistics which only report on “significant” disabilities (which affect over 16% of the world, or 1.3 billion people).
The lack of data on the disabled community demonstrates systemic ableism and the impossibility of determining individual accommodation based on standards. Each person, on a case-by-case basis, should receive the help they feel will benefit them.
Nobody is going through the trouble to ask for help because they don't need it.
SU's DRC ignores mental illnesses with direct and indirect impacts physical health, the comorbidity of conditions, those who cannot afford to see a doctor for diagnoses, the shame and stigma that come with labeling oneself disabled, the difficulty of documenting disabilities and the notion that everyone loses abilities with age.
Constantly self-advocating becomes exhausting.
The cycle of asking for help and then rarely being given that help when needed; needing to document with the DRC; waiting for the DRC to accept or reject accommodations; knowing professors can deny some accommodations anyway – it's draining.
I have been upfront the last three years with the majority of my professors about my mental and physical disabilities. But many classes grade based on attendance.
A professor who knew about my disabilities and the details of my trauma met with me mid-semester to devise a plan for making up missed classes and the professor asked what else I felt was needed.
I asked if I could attend class via Zoom on discussion days when I didn't feel physically capable of going in-person, but the professor said this was not possible.
I soon missed another discussion after seven previous absences – two in response to personal safety risks and the rest related to chronic pain worsening with PTSD. Most of the missed classes included weekly activities that could be done remotely.
The professor's accommodation still required me to attend each lecture (presentations I could have read myself online) before leaving when the class started the weekly activity, which I would do at home.
After the last absence, the professor asked me to drop the class entirely, despite having a 95% A and turning in all my assignments. They explained I missed out on the “in-class experience” – where half the students are disconnected on their phones anyway.
I changed majors completely because this professor taught numerous classes in my previous program. I would not stop being disabled any time soon and there was no point in wasting costly credit hours.
I’ve asked a handful of professors to attend on Zoom— a classroom tool widely accepted and utilized since the pandemic's start. Some professors agreed, but only one took the initiative to suggest it.
Starting a Zoom call is an extra step for professors, but tuition is between $24,054 and $34,748 (excluding course materials) and I’m trying to learn as much as I possibly can while living with disabilities.
As a solution, SU could require professors to allow attendance via Zoom or do away with attendance policies. When a student misses class, the consequence is missing that day's course content or in-class assignments.
If students pay to miss out on information, that’s on them and they will fail. But if someone doesn’t have an equal opportunity to attend class, it doesn't mean they aren't trying.
Attendance requirements vary in reasons – none of which I really care about. Students should not be blamed for their disabilities – especially considering the other stresses of life.
SU must be more compassionate and willing to listen.
By SUMMER SMITH
Featured graphic courtesy of Summer Smith