I watch as the 33 other students in my class put away their laptops, take out their pencils and prepare to take their exam. The room is silent and I try to stand up quietly, but everyone watches as I take a sealed envelope from my professor and head to Duke 108.
The problem is not the extra exercise, but rather the feeling of 33 sets of eyes on me as I walk out the door. I, as well as many other students, embrace the accommodations Elon University offers, but being a college student with learning disabilities is not easy.
A common misconception is that students with learning disabilities are lucky. I’ve heard countless times how fortunate I am to be prescribed medication for my Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and to be granted extra time to finish my exams. I’ve often been questioned, rather than praised, after receiving a good grade on a test. Others frequently attribute my accomplishments to testing accommodations and medicines instead of hard work.
Another Elon student with ADD and dyslexia shared that she, too, feels that others aren’t always understanding. Many students find it unfair that she gets accommodations, but she recognizes that the university provides her with what she needs to have a fair chance to succeed.
Others hear about peers with extra time, but they don’t see the additional time it takes to study and complete assignments, as it takes a lot longer for us to focus and process information. With enough determination, we prepare ourselves for exams, and the accommodations we receive give us the opportunity to achieve results. The issue here is equity, not necessarily equality.
Assistant Director of Disabilities Services Tina Kissell explains that students must meet all entrance criteria to be accepted into Elon, so students with learning disabilities are “intelligent, motivated students who have already acquired compensatory skills to offset their learning challenges.” The use of accommodations can just “level the playing field” and allow for the acquisition and communication of information to occur for students with disabilities.
In 2008, 19 percent of post-secondary students reported having ADD, and the percentage has been growing since then, according to the United States Accountability Office. The negative stigma associated with learning disabilities results in many cases going unreported.
In a study conducted by Bucknell University’s Kelsey Lisle, participants were given a hypothetical description of another individual. Results showed that, compared to those without a learning disability, participants perceived individuals with learning disabilities as “less attractive, less successful and less emotionally stable.” Society has created an atmosphere where people are ashamed of their struggles – an atmosphere where people who are willing to speak up for themselves are doubted and where others are too embarrassed to even speak up at all.
There is a wide range of accommodations, of learning disabilities and of Elon students’ beliefs. There are many among us who do not criticize or judge, and even some who offer a helping hand.
The goal is not sympathy, as that is no better than antipathy. Instead, it is to spread awareness. I hope for others not to look at those with learning disabilities differently, nor resent us for the accommodations we are granted. Our needs are real, and we’ve gone through extensive testing prove it. As philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer states, accept the things you cannot change, and have the courage to change the things you can – your attitudes, actions, and beliefs towards your peers, regardless of the disadvantages they may have.