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viewpoint

Students with disabilities

| Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dear colleagues,

As a longtime faculty member here at Notre Dame, I have been concerned to hear from some of my students that faculty often respond to requests for reasonable accommodations due to documented disability/chronic illness with disbelief and resistance (an example from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Chamaign was in the news just last term). In fact, such requests should be honored on the grounds of compassion, ethics and the legal obligations mandated by federal disability law. I leave aside the longstanding problem of Notre Dame’s lack of responsiveness to faculty and staff requests for enforcement of federally mandated accommodations/accessibility). Students tell me that some professors have questioned their documented medical diagnoses and accommodations — such as using a laptop to take notes, recording lectures for personal use or taking tests in an alternative location, for example — causing them unnecessary stress, additional labor and/or unequal access. Other faculty and advisors have worked hard to ensure that students can learn alongside their peers.

Students with disabilities/chronic illness already face particular challenges in pursuing their education and, as a group, they have some of the lowest rates of college attendance in the country. When students do the right thing and approach professors proactively to ensure a successful experience in the classroom, we should work with them to achieve that success. We are not always going to get it right, and we all have a lot to learn, but we should be facilitating their efforts and celebrating their accomplishments, not undermining and blocking them.

I call on faculty and graduate student instructors to educate themselves as to their obligations by drawing on the Sara Bea Center For Students With Disabilities, which stands ready to advise in all such cases. In turn, the Center should continue to reach out to faculty and graduate student instructors with more information on the rights and responsibilities of students and faculty in these cases (and the larger legal situation that demands our action), including by being given multiple fora in which to do so adequately. I call on the University to reassess the funding for disability services if it is insufficient for the task, as it may well be. I further call on our deans, chairs and directors of undergraduate and graduate studies to reinforce these points to the instructors in their programs. I call upon my faculty and graduate student colleagues to listen, to learn more and to act in accordance with the law and with the spirit of Notre Dame.

 Sarah McKibben

Associate Professor

Department of Irish Language and Literature

Jan. 17

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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