Academic accommodations aren't academic advantages

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As an educator employed at a university, Professor Bruce Pardy has an unusual attitude towards student success. It’s one based on survival of the fittest, or in this case, survival of the those without disabilities.
 
The opinions held by Pardy —  who works at the Queen’s Faculty of Law — were published in the National Post. In his article, Pardy shows a deep misunderstanding of exactly what academic accommodations are for and what a learning disability is. He argues throughout the article that accommodations for learning disabilities and mental illnesses give the students who struggle with them an unfair academic advantage over their peers. 
Pardy supports his claim by comparing academia with athleticism. He explains that an athlete who sustains an injury before a race wouldn’t get special treatment in order to compete. If, for example, he was to ask for a head start in the race, it would be dismissed as unfair.  According to Pardy, academic accommodations for students in university are no different than cheating.
 
Pardy consistently writes that students “claim” to have disabilities and mental illnesses in order to get ahead in their academics. He doesn’t acknowledge that like any other illness or injury, disabilities and mental illnesses are diagnosed by professionals. Students can’t walk into accessibility services and demand accommodations. 
 
Accommodations for learning disabilities in Ontario universities are hard won. In order to be confirmed as having a learning disability, an individual must be evaluated with a psychological assessment by a registered psychologist.Extensive documentation of the specifics of the learning disability need to be provided and specific accommodations are determined based on that report. Faking a learning disability for academic accommodations, such as getting an extra hour on a timed exam, is nearly impossible.
 
Accommodations provide things like extra time on exams for those who take longer to focus, or an extension on a deadline for a student dealing with a depressive episode. Rather than guaranteeing a better grade, they give students the chance to achieve a result that reflects what they can really do with their academic ability. 
 
When Pardy frames mental illness as an excuse students use to get extensions, he’s perpetuating a dangerous stigma that surrounds students who struggle with their mental health. He assumes all students who ask for accommodations are lazy or taking advantage of the accessibility system — something that’s simply not true. Making the choice to disclose their mental illness to their school is a feat in itself and making the claim that students fake their symptoms will only discourage students from reaching out for help. 
 
Furthermore, Pardy confuses the terms “mental disability” and “learning disability” throughout his article, despite them being very different things. A learning disability is measured with an entirely separate set of tests than a mental disability and records the differences in how an individual learns and retains information, not their intellectual ability.  
 
The idea that students with learning disabilities aren’t intelligent enough to compete with their peers equally is a harmful stereotype. Educators, especially at the post-secondary level, need to be better educated on what learning disabilities and mental illnesses are and how they inhibit people in their education before they reach the classroom. 
The goal of an educator should be to see their students succeed, not set them up to fail. 
 
— Journal Editorial Board

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