A Letter to the Editor

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Dear Editor,

I have spent this year at Lawrence fighting for academic disability accommodations. I need them due to a diagnosed mental health condition. I have had them since the fall of 2018. When the pandemic hit, and Lawrence switched to distance learning, the accommodations I needed changed. Interacting and communicating over Zoom is extremely difficult for me. I requested new, temporary accommodations to deal with this issue and was vehemently denied by the accommodations coordinator who told me that my accommodation request “was not a reasonable request.” 

According to the Lawrence website, “an academic accommodation is not considered reasonable if it (a) poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others; (b) substantially alters an essential element of the curriculum, program, or University or substantially alters the manner in which a service is provided; or (c) causes an undue financial or administrative hardship to the university.”

The accommodations I requested met none of these criteria. A team of department faculty met, discussed the issue and decided that the accommodations I requested substantially altered the goals of the courses. I strongly disagree with this decision, as I do not believe my requests altered course goals. I spoke with the accommodations coordinator multiple times, provided substantial documentation of my need for the accommodations and was still denied. When I asked if they had any suggestions to help me without accommodations, I was told that if I couldn’t handle classes at Lawrence, then I should be taking them at another institution. 

The Lawrence website states, “accommodations give students with disabilities the opportunity to learn and to demonstrate their learning without undue limitation by factors related to the disability. When accommodations work, they ‘level the playing field.’”

I have not had a level playing field. In some of my classes, professors have been flexible and given me the accommodations I need even if the accommodations office will not. But not all professors are willing to do that, and I do not blame them. I have had to work twice as hard in my classes to do half as well, and frankly, I am exhausted. 

At the end of Winter Term, I reached the end of my rope and filed a discrimination complaint. I have yet to receive a response. It’s hard not to feel like I’m shouting into the void, trying to get help, but nobody is listening. It’s unlikely that I’m the only one who has dealt with this. Lawrence prides itself on inclusivity, but if students with disabilities aren’t given what they need to be fully included in the classroom and around campus, then Lawrence has failed in its mission of inclusivity. 

I want the accommodations coordinator, Joanna Morey, and the administration to acknowledge the problems disabled students face at Lawrence and to take steps to address them. I want fellow disabled students to be able to speak out about what they need to be successful and to be acknowledged and listened to and have their needs met.

My hope is that publishing this letter will draw attention to these issues, and initiate discussion of them within the Lawrence community. 

— Anonymous