How The ADA Helped Me

My name is Jane and I was born in Chicago. Soon after my birth, doctors realized I had cerebral palsy.  My CP resulted in physical and cognitive deficits. I have right arm weakness which prohibits me from doing two-handed tasks. My attention deficits, slower processing speed, and problem-solving skills affect my academic and vocational performance if accommodations are not granted. 

For these reasons, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has played a crucial role in my education. Because of the ADA, I was able to graduate from high school, college, and graduate school. Having my CP-related deficits did not make excelling easy. I had to work twice as hard as the typical student without a learning disability and I had to be pretty resourceful to get around my one-handedness in school and graduate training.  

The ADA insured that reasonable accommodations would be made during my entire schooling. As I write, you will see what is meant by “reasonable accommodations.” For me, it began when I began experiencing academic difficulties in fourth grade. After receiving a neuropsychological evaluation that revealed my deficits, I started receiving accommodations. The accommodations included receiving extended time on exams and projects, getting the help of a peer note-taker, and getting access to class material prior to the start of each semester. I needed extended time because my processing of information was slow, a peer note-taker because I was a slow writer, and access to class material would allow me to study in the summer so I would not lag behind the class because of my slow reading.  The accommodations leveled the playing field for me so that I could demonstrate my intelligence and not be hindered by slow processing and reading.  


Image Description: A group of friends watch as one young man, who utilizes a wheelchair, shares an image on his phone with them.

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As I continued my education, my accommodations changed as the program demands changed.  When I entered graduate school to get my masters in Psychology, I needed accommodations that would serve me both in class and in clinic practicums. In class, I continued to receive extended time for exams and a peer note-taker. For clinic practicums, I now required audio recording privileges to take home after therapy sessions. Students in my program were generally not permitted to take home audio recordings of their patient sessions.  The Office of Students with Disabilities (which is responsible for ADA implementation in my program) arranged for special permission for me to take home the recordings of my patients so I could fill in the gaps of my therapy notes that occurred because of my slower processing speed and working memory deficits. Physically, I had to learn compensatory strategies to manipulate testing materials. An occupational therapist taught me ways to maneuver materials using one hand. She taught me to use therapy “sticky mats” to keep things in place and ways to grab materials in a seamless manner during sessions with clients. The occupational therapist also suggested using a suitcase with wheels to carry all my books and materials to the clinic. Again, the faculty recognized by unusual changes in procedures as “reasonable accommodations” since they were protections offered by the ADA. 

The ADA applies to all individuals with disabilities in all levels of education and employment. According to the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division on the ADA:

“This law is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life -- to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 -- the ADA is an ‘equal opportunity’ law for people with disabilities.”

The faculty members in my program were unaware of how the ADA applied to students in graduate school. Most assumed that the ADA only applies to students in secondary undergraduate programs. Their incorrect understanding of the law and reluctance to understand my eligibility for accommodations in graduate school prompted me to seek the advice of legal council. With the help of an attorney advocating for my rights, the faculty began to comply and grant my accommodations. The main reason colleges have a center for students with disabilities is because of the ADA for students. Unfortunately, in my case, my school’s Center for Students with Disabilities was unable to be helpful. Thankfully, the law is there to protect people in my position. 

I am now working at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. I continue to use the same accommodations that I used in graduate school in my work today.

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