A Professor’s Perspective on the Participation of Students with Disabilities on Campus throughout her Career.

This blog is the result of a conversation with a retired college professor from a state university who taught full time for almost 30 years and who taught part time at a private college for close to 10 years.

How do you compare the diversity of the student body now with the student body when you began your career as a professor, particularly with regards to students with disabilities.

 I believe that students with disabilities are a lot more represented on campus today than when I started teaching more than 30 years ago. When I started teaching you would see a person in a wheelchair here or there but they were mostly male veterans trying to finish a degree. But as we know there are disabilities that are not apparent/evident, so I would not be able to tell you if there were people with some hidden disability attending college at that time that I did not know about, either in my classroom or on campus. But as a group people with disabilities are a lot more represented on campus today than more than 30 years ago.

 Did you have students with hidden disabilities in the college classes you taught that the school identified for you or that they identified themselves?

 I do not recall having any student with a disability that would have been identified as such by the university or that would have identified herself/himself as such.

 Do you recall how the university granted accommodations to students who needed an accommodation in the past?

 Looking back I do not recall the university notifying me of a student with disabilities in my class or of me having to provide a classroom accommodation for a student. During the early years in my career the student with the need would go to the Dean of Students and probably the counseling office under the Dean of Student would make the arrangements with the student needing the accommodation. The university will make the arrangement with a tutor, mentor or company providing the technology to help the student that requested the accommodation. As far as I can recall, as a professor I was totally out of the loop in that respect.

On a couple of occasions I had a blind student in class and I knew about it because the condition was evident, although both times they came to me and talked to me about the accommodation they were receiving in my class. They did not come to me to ask me to make a contact to provide an accommodation for them. In both instances the blind students had been assigned someone to accompany them to class to take notes and read out problems in handouts or books.

 During my last few years teaching, I recall receiving a notification from the university disability office (which did not exist at the time I started teaching) that I would have a student that I was to grant extra time to in the tests. I did not receive the identity but it was a notice to expect receiving some paperwork from the student who would then identify herself/himself about the accommodation.  

 Thinking back to your experiences with students with disabilities in your classroom, do you think they performed the same, better or worse than your students without disabilities?

 Thinking back, the two blind students passed the class within the average performance for their group section. They were very responsible, and seemed to work harder and care more about receiving material for practicing at home than the other students in the class. When you have to deal with a personal issue that is beyond the regular issues that you face as a student you have to be highly motivated and resilient to succeed.

 I believe that the key factor for any college student (with or without disabilities) to succeed in college is to enter college with the basic skills that will serve as the students’ platform to add layers of knowledge to. I must say, regretfully, that during my last few years teaching in college the students that I received in my classroom knew less of the basic concepts and skills they needed to pass a college level course. Any person aspiring to get a college degree must have some basic knowledge and skills from high school to launch her/his college career.


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