Navigating disabilities in the classroom

By Caitlyn McTier
Staff Writer

TUSCALOOSA, ALA – Navigating a classroom space can be difficult for any student when it comes to learning, taking tests, and feeling comfortable in their environment. For students with disabilities, there can be added challenges to success in education. 

According to the Office of Disability Services at The University of Alabama, about 10 to 11 percent of the United States population has some form of a disabling condition. This translates to around the same percentage of UA students. Currently, ODS sees around 2,200 students annually with the number changing daily due to their rolling applications for services. 

Brittany Gregg is the assistant director of the UA Office of Disability Services and works year-round with students to provide accommodations in the classroom. 

“When a student starts school at UA, it is their responsibility to reach out to us, and we call that self-identifying,” Greg said. “Sometimes people think that we would automatically know every student that has a disability, but we have to wait for the student to tell us their needs.” 

ODS accommodates students with both visible and non-visible disabilities. They work with UA faculty to organize everything from desks for students in wheelchairs to extra time or flexibility on tests for those with extreme migraines.

Ebony Ivory is a senior at UA who is hearing impaired and has used their office. For the classroom, Ivory has extended time on tests, a personal captionist to help read the professor’s lips, and a student note taker. 

“ODS coming in as a freshman was phenomenal. I have used accommodations in the classroom for my entire educational experience, and ODS by far has been the best department I have worked with,” Ivory said. 

In her four years here, most of Ivory’s teachers have been helpful and adaptable to her unique needs. However, not every teacher has extended the same courtesy.

“There was a teacher that didn’t want to put captioning on a video so I could follow along with class because they thought that it wouldn’t ruin the experience for other students,” Ivory said. “He suggested that I just not come to class at all and that he would send me the video with captioning to watch from home. He tried to exclude me from the education experience of being in the classroom simply because of my disability.” 

Although Ivory has expressed some concerns with the lack of flexibility of some professors, some students have had issues with getting properly registered with ODS. 

Amanda Allen is a sophomore at UA with complex regional pain syndrome and attention deficit disorder. She has consistent pain which requires time-consuming management techniques. She finds it difficult to stay focused on reducing her pain with the added ADD.

With documentation in high school, she received accommodations for tests like the AP exams and ACT. However, her documentation was not valid once she got to UA. Needing to visit face-to-face with her doctor in Utah, she has been unable to file for the accommodations she has needed this semester. 

“It’s been way more difficult for me to stay focused with my ADD over Zoom,” Allen said. “I actually even got flagged for academic misconduct on one of my [online proctored] tests because I was doing pain management techniques.” 

Many students struggle with getting the documentation they need or don’t know how to find ODS. Gregg has worked to make the ODS office more visible for students to see. She said that many students don’t want the help of their office and want to navigate college without the extra assistance. 

“There are some students that are eligible for accommodations and may not be aware that they qualify for assistance,” Gregg said. “But then, there are students out there and may not need accommodations or the classroom accommodations may not be what’s helpful for them,” Gregg said. 

Whether students opt into needing help from ODS or not, Gregg, Ivory, and Allen agree there is growing awareness between both students and staff of the struggles of students with disabilities. Although much progress has been made, each of the individuals believes that there should be more support from students and faculty. 

“I’ve found professors to be extremely helpful,” said Allen. “I think it’s important for students with disabilities to reach out to their teachers when they are struggling because it’s harder for professors to know when they need extra help in a virtual space.” 

“At the end of the day, we can all work to be more open-minded and excepting to all people,” said Ivory.