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To:            Donna Shea, Instructor, et all

From:        Philip Fournier

Date:        Sunday, August 28, 2005

Subject:   WR7: Americans with Disabilities Act and its impact on Adult Education


The ADA was legislation spearheaded by former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1990.  For schools, the law means ramps must be in place everywhere there is a staircase; water fountains need to be a certain height; desks must be provided for those in wheelchairs, and handicapped-accessible bathrooms have to be in place.  ADA Title II includes requirements for public school districts to make their programs, facilities, and services accessible to people with disabilities. These requirements cover facility design as well as "auxiliary aids and services," such as information in accessible formats and sighted guide assistance.


The difficulty in the legislation is the ambiguity in the words “equal access.”  The interpretation of that has fallen on the shoulders of school administrators and by extension, ourselves as educators.  In reading through the CSUSB website, I am impressed that CUSUB wants to go beyond the letter of the law in providing “equal access.”  The law seems mainly concerned with physical barriers for the blind, deaf, wheel chair bound, and so forth.  The university seems genuinely interested in attracting disabled students to the campus because of its “above and beyond” approach to disabilities.  As an example, in searching through the ADA, I didn’t see anything relating to learning disabilities.  Yet CSUSB offers a wide variety of services such as note taking, special test-taking accommodations, and even typing services.


I notice an interesting discrepancy, or what I would consider to be a discrepancy, between the ADA and the CSUSB policy with the SSD department.  The university policy (identical to the policy of the community college where I teach) says “The student must provide Services to Students with Disabilities (SSD) with disability-related documents from the appropriate licensed professional to certify a student as having a disability and to determine reasonable accommodations.”  Yet the ADA defines the disabled as follows:

  • Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  • Has a record of such an impairment; or
  • Is regarded as having such impairment.

It’s the last one that to me seems to be stronger than the school’s policy, which requires much more than simply being regarded as having impairment.  I make the point because of what happened in one of my own classes.  I had a student with a 90% hearing loss.  He was a lip-reader.  If you have ever lectured to a lip-reader, believe me, it takes special concentration not to speak while writing on the white board or when looking away from the student in question.  In any case, I often use video training materials because they help demonstrate procedures for which we do not have the equipment and because they offer an alternate voice in the classroom to my own.  The SSD department offers closed captioning of video tapes to instructors but only if the student with the disability presents himself at the office with his medical certification obtained within a certain time period.  My frustration was the attitude of the SSD department towards a student so obviously deaf.  His speech was such that it was very easy to ascertain that he could not hear.  Because he did not have a current medical certificate of his deafness, they would not accommodate him or me as far as help with the video tapes.  I simply had to choose between giving them up as an instructional aid, or leaving him out altogether when showing video tapes.  I gave up the tapes and so the whole class paid the price to a certain extent.

It was indeed the student’s responsibility to get the medical certification, but this particular student was working full time and getting to a doctor was a struggle for him.  It is not unreasonable to ask the disabled student to bare the burden of proof.  But when it is abundantly obvious, it is tragic that there is no flexibility to waive a rule that should not apply in such a case.

It is interesting to see that the University has made some good rules about how far it is going to go with aids such as interpreters and note-takers.  The university and the instructor are not required to wait indefinitely for a student to show up to class.  After 20 minutes after the class begins, the interpreter is free to leave.  The student is required to advise of such absences in advance.  Accommodation in test-taking should never give the disabled student an unfair advantage over the non-disabled.  Students with mobility problems have access to the use of the school’s electric cart.  But it waits only five minutes for them to show up, not indefinitely.  The goal is “equal access.”  It was not designed to be an affirmative action program.

The most helpful thing I found for myself as an instructor was the etiquette tips.  These two I found particularly insightful:

1.      Don't "talk down". Avoid responding to persons with disabilities out of "gratefulness" for not having the disability yourself.

2.      Be considerate. It might take extra time for the person with a disability to say or do things. All disabilities are not readily apparent.

I have had very few disabled persons in my classes over the years, my profession and line of instruction not lending itself well to people with disabilities.  But I can appreciate the usefulness of understanding the requirements of the law, as well as the requirements of common decency towards individuals who might have those physiological and mental barriers that would limit their academic success.