I can still vividly recall a day many years ago when I was all of 7 or 8 years old. I had just arrived home from school, tossed my backpack on the kitchen table and announced that I didn’t have to do as many math problems for homework as the other kids in my class.
In my mind, while I can’t say this for sure, my mom undoubtedly found a note from the teacher explaining that to make things “easier” for me, I only needed to do 10 math problems instead of the 20 that were assigned.
As someone who hated math, I was thrilled with this new development. Imagine my surprise and horror when, after dinner, I was forced to complete all 20 math problems. I protested vehemently, but for once, mom was more stubborn than me. Thankfully, she won that battle.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my teacher heard from my mom the next day to say that accommodations were only necessary when needed. While I needed large print and some extra time on assignments, reduction in the workload wasn’t necessary for me.
It would take years for me to truly understand the lessons interwoven into my mom’s determination to see me succeed.
I learned that expectations for people with disabilities aren’t just important but imperative to participation in society. I learned that leveling the playing field both academically and in the workplace doesn’t mean reducing standards and expecting less of someone because they have a disability. I learned that the best way to know what someone’s skills and abilities are is to simply ask them and work with them to accommodate the workload. Allow them to be the best they can be instead of making assumptions and expecting less of them in return. I’ve carried these lessons with me throughout my life and my academic career.
A little over a year ago, I embarked on a new journey where these lessons weren’t just necessary but imperative to my success. I’m halfway through completing my master’s degree while working full time at Paraquad. That may seem like nothing out of the ordinary because people without disabilities embark on this journey every single day. The numbers tell another story.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, only 11 percent of undergraduate students identify as having a disability. That number continues to drop as the level of education increases.
We can look to any number of reasons for these low levels of higher education attainment for people with disabilities.
- A system that doesn’t fully prepare transitioning high school students with disabilities to obtain a higher level degree.
- Government programs, which, try as they may, put strict limits on the amount people with disabilities can make while employed.
- College and universities that, in many cases, aren’t fully prepared to accommodate students with disabilities.
The simple truth is that it all comes down to expectations.
When the systems we still rely on today were established, people with disabilities didn’t have a voice. Assistive technology, which allows many people with disabilities to work and go to school, wasn’t even on the radar. Society and technology are creating new opportunities for people with disabilities, but expectations haven’t changed much.
Until something changes, completing 10 math problems instead of 20 will continue to be the prevailing expectation of people with disabilities in our society.
Christy Herzing is the Community Access Coordinator at Paraquad. She can be reached at email@example.com.