Self-Advocacy for Accommodations in Higher Education
by Vejas Vasiliauskas
College brings about a number of brand new experiences. While it goes without saying that meeting new friends and trying clubs are important, it is even more crucial to stay on top of schoolwork and make sure students’ accommodations are being met. Not doing so could easily lead to a person falling behind.
My name is Vejas Vasiliauskas. I just graduated from Loyola Marymount University as an English major. This fall I will be starting a Master’s program in rehabilitation counseling at Cal State LA. I had a very positive experience with LMU’s disability services, but I had to advocate for myself more than in elementary, middle and high school.
I should make it clear that when I was younger, my parents had to work very hard to provide me with the Braille materials and the additional instruction I needed in Braille and cane travel. When parents advocate for their childrens’ needs, as they must, it can come as a bit of a shock to the student when, as adults, the services they used to have do not magically happen… because they never magically happened in the first place. When you’re applying for your college’s disability services, you are essentially asking for accommodations from people who know very little of your history and what worked or didn’t work for you in the past.
I would advise incoming college students to apply for their accommodations as soon as they know they are accepted. Until accommodations are approved, students have no accommodations and have no access to priority registration. Before starting at LMU, I needed to take two placement exams, one for math and one for Spanish, but in order to take them I needed the exams, as well as the study guides, in Braille. I got the review material I needed in relatively quick time, but I also learned the important lesson that the only reason I received them was because I asked for them.
If you end up transferring colleges or seeking further education, your accommodations may vary based on what you feel your needs are. Therefore, while the idea of “starting from scratch” can seem daunting, remember that when you start over, you are working with people who will be less likely to judge what accommodations you used previously. Here I will share some of the accommodations I used at LMU:
- Alternative testing. This accommodation should be used for anyone needing to test in a private room, with or without a scribe. This accommodation should also be used for anyone who needs extra time with testing.
- Braille. It’s important to note that not all campuses have the facilities to provide materials in Braille, and my school did not receive their Braille printer (also called an embosser) until the second semester of my freshman year. Because I have a Braille notetaker, I was able to receive most of my material via email or online, but occasionally had to have some assignments read to me.
- Deadline extension. Even though I never ended up using this accommodation, I felt it was worth having, partly because if I did not receive assignment instructions on time, I would be at a disadvantage to my peers.
- Electronic submissions of material. Some professors prefer when assignments are printed and a paper copy is handed in, but this accommodation allowed me to either submit the assignment to the professor via email or hand it to them as a Word document on a USB stick. Occasionally, if I had to upload an assignment on an inaccessible platform, I could also email it to the teacher, although this was done on a case-by-case basis.
- Notetaker. I take my own notes with my Braille notetaker, so I only used the notetaker in a few classes. I usually reserved this for classes with more visual elements, or if I felt the teacher was difficult to hear. If you are reading this and are able to take notes for others, you can also often get paid by your school’s disability office for notes.
- Reader. I only used my reader accommodation for classes that were diagram-heavy, since I always had the textbooks in electronic format. Typically I would meet with the reader once a week to review diagrams. If we had spare time, we would sometimes move on to the next chapter’s or section’s diagrams, so sometimes I didn’t need to meet with the reader at all.
Another thing to keep in mind with regards to accessible electronic textbooks is that traditionally, if you want your disability services office to scan your books, you need to buy (not rent) them and show them the receipt so they can cut it. Some electronic textbooks are also available on Bookshare.org, a Web site for students who are blind or have other reading disabilities.
Now that I am going into graduate school, I will have to get used to a new system, and am currently in the process of obtaining my accommodations. They are mostly the same as I used in undergraduate school, but I have asked for one more: because I have progressive hearing loss, I have requested to sit in the front of the room for every class so that I can hear the teacher more effectively.
Requesting accommodations should not be stressful, but it is very important to know what is involved. Once your accommodations are granted, though, you won’t have to re-apply for them again.
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