Objections to the ADA Accommodations Process Before I Give Consent
1. In my experience (18 years, four different academic institutions), the ADA Accommodations Process is generally considered a process for students. Why.
2. Students need accommodations. Faculty should not need them. Why.
3. Faculty are presumed nondisabled. Where does this assumption come from?
4. Architecture: Classrooms are built with a presumptive nondisabled professor in mind. Lecterns presume nondisabled height. Many buildings on campuses require disabled people to enter at the back of the building. Yes. At the back of the building. This is, of course, segregation. When I ask universities why I have to use a segregated entrance, I’m told the stairs at the front of the building must stay because “it’s a historic building.”
5. Productivity and Time: Academia enforces unrealistic productivity benchmarks for nondisabled faculty. Academia has no idea what productivity benchmarks might be for those of us with chronic illnesses and neurodiverse and Mad brains. What if I forget your name? Will I be grievanced? Or will you recognize that my brain is managing pain? And while my brain was managing pain, I could not recall your name. Plus, there is a clock ticking. From the moment someone signs a contract, the clock ticks. Appear on this and this day of the week. Here is the meeting time. Be on time. As Alex Haagaard writes, “We live in a society where productivity is a tacit requisite for personhood, and machine-like speed, efficiency and regularity are prized virtues. To imagine temporal accessibility is to imagine the dismantling of capitalism.”
6. Universities are beginning to improve their accommodations process for students. Even so, these processes remain unnecessarily complex and require a certain kind of disabled student who is confident, has enough motivation/energy/time/resources, and has learned the skills to self-advocate.
7. Universities are nowhere near improving accommodations for faculty.
8. Universities prioritize “compliance” with the ADA because a University’s fidelity is to the University and to the law. So, I find the process rather dehumanizing. I find the language of “reasonable” and “unreasonable”—per the ADA—varies drastically based on whether I am speaking with a disabled administrator or a nondisabled administrator. Who says what’s “reasonable”? Who defines that word?
9. Universities often expect disabled faculty to teach them, for free, about any number of topics. This labor is not in the job description for the disabled faculty member, but the disabled faculty member will usually do it in hopes of gaining goodwill and access to our civil rights from the office that legislates such things.
10. Disabled faculty members, therefore, may find ourselves teaching:
- disability cultural competency, which most Universities do not have;
- nuances in the 2008 Amendment to the ADA and how these nuances advance our civil rights;
- what the law means in the present; what is the law, what is the spirit of the law, and what is common decency toward marginalized faculty who experience disability as one among many identities; words we disabled people no longer prefer, such as “person first” language, or the word “compliance.” Disabled intellectuals question the word “compliance” because it replicates medical model language (doctor/patient, the “non-compliant” patient) and because it implicitly co-signs on an ableist system that would require “compliance” in a transaction for civil rights.
I am thinking of Laura Hershey, Robin Stephens, Tanis Doe, Carrie Ann Lucas, Corbett OToole, Bill Peace, Ingrid Tischer and Patty Berne. In particular, Berne’s working draft of disability justice.
11. How to be a high-risk disabled professor in a pandemic? What is priority? And what is not? For me, starting the ADA Accommodations Process is low priority. I am trying to stay alive.
12. Given that I have tenure, I have the privilege of declining the ADA Accommodations Process, if I wish. I recognize this privilege, along with my whiteness, my capacity to pass as straight—though I am queer, my cisgender identity, my Judeo-Christian upbringing, my English-as-First-Language status, my couple privilege—though I am a relationship anarchist, and my middle-class status.
13. I am willing to engage with the ADA Accommodations Process. But it is not imperative to me. I am used to finding “work-arounds” independent of any system that wishes to re-impose the medical model on me.
14. Since we’re in a pandemic, and staying alive is my priority, I would only engage in the ADA Accommodations Process right now if I felt the process could guarantee:
- an attentiveness to my dignity as a human being;
- open-mindedness about my requests;
- trauma-informed care while moving through the process;
- no re-traumatizing by asking questions about my medical history;
- recognition that medical is not the authority; I’m ontologically more sophisticated than medical at my own access needs;
- recognition that while I might consent to the ADA Accommodations Process at one point in time, my consent is revokable. I may revoke consent and discontinue the process at any time, for any reason.
15. This college has not inspired my confidence that this college is doing everything in its capacity to protect disabled and nondisabled faculty, staff, and students from dying.
16. This college has communicated that windows in buildings are glued shut and cannot be opened. This is patently false for the room where I teach. We opened the windows. So either we are in one exceptional room or this college misrepresents very important information that could mitigate COVID risk.
17. This college’s options for course delivery give students the right to protect themselves, but faculty must teach in-person.
18. This college’s map of what faculty are to do, in various situations, is unreadable, unreasonable, and uncompensated additional labor.
19. This college does not have a handle on the situation. That is clear.
20. This college is placing my graduate students in an extremely compromised position, as graduate students teach large classes of undergraduate students who are often not using masks and, furthermore, at times become aggressive when asked to mask. I do not know how to protect my graduate students from COVID exposure nor from any aggressive behavior and this weighs on me.
21. I began the accommodations process at this college—although verbally—during a phone call in 2020. During that phone call, I asked specifically for these accommodations:
- Additional, designated disabled parking spots (formerly called “handicapped parking”) close to the building where I work. The chair, a white man, consulted with the dean, a white man, and they decided: No. I trusted this meant that there was adequate parking.
- Given my request was denied, I then asked for a dedicated parking spot near the building where I work with my actual name on it. Their answer was: No.
- I trusted that the chair and the dean knew the parking situation better than I did, specific to the building where I work.
22. Praise: In the Summer of 2020, I realized there was no way I could move as a high-risk disabled person in a pandemic. I needed this college to change my start date. I am extremely grateful for the compassion and leadership of the interim chair, a Black woman, and the dean, a white man, who changed my start date.
23. This college’s police assist me in moving furniture into my office. I am grateful for that assistance. I am also grateful when the college’s police advise me of a security app. The app makes me feel safer as a disabled faculty member who cannot physically “run” nor “fight back” should a situation arise.
24. I find out there is not adequate parking near the building where I work.
25. I park in a service van spot and I am advised by one office that I could be towed. I call the police to tell them I am parking illegally because I am affirming my civil rights under ADA law. The dispatcher puts me on hold, confers with someone, and returns to the phone to say, “We are not ticketing today. You’re safe.”
26. I attend a welcome party for new faculty. It is a compulsory standing event. There is seating but only outside the tent in the hot sun. Under the tent, there is no seating. I sit down on the concrete ground directly in front of the president of this college and the provost of this college. I sit down because I physically cannot stand for that long and I refuse to sit outside the tent, which feels both segregated and is too hot. I am sitting on the concrete.
27. Nobody asks if I would like a chair. Nobody provides a chair. Nobody joins me on the ground. Nobody does anything.
28. TW: suicide. One of my favorite professors was the political scientist William H. Moore. I took many classes from him, including (1) International Human Rights and (2) Political Violence. He was white and had long hair and wore glasses. He used the Socratic method. He called out our names and asked highly nuanced, sophisticated questions of us. Some students called him “too hard.” It was the first time I ever read the texts for a class: not once, but twice. I wanted to be prepared for his class and I wanted to absorb the material. I took an independent study with him because I knew he was radical and ambitious and I wanted to be radical and ambitious. He taught me superlative research skills. For one assignment, I sat in front of a microfiche machine and searched international newspapers for data on a method, used against women, to win a war. I carry what he taught, and how he taught, and his compassion for his students, with me. He died of suicide. I had no idea that he was disabled. I was his disabled student, but he never said that he was a disabled professor. His suicide note discloses his Autism and describes his feelings of inadequacy about needing “to produce.” I want to go back in time and change academia for my former professor. I want academia to be a safe place for professors to disclose our disabilities.
29. Professor Moore felt like an outsider. He felt like he did not belong.
30. I am doing this work, now, with you, so that every disabled person at every college feels like we belong. We belong here. And with pride.
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About the Author
Anonymous thanks Wordgathering for making space for this manifesto.