The Empowering Nature of Self-Advocacy
Many students with disabilities can attest to the saying “you never get anything if you don’t ask”. Students with disabilities who have letter that outlines their academic accommodations issued by Disability Services have a right to receive those accommodations in their classes. Some students, however, feel uncomfortable and hesitate to approach their professors and make requests for accommodations. Others may be frustrated because their professor may take more time than they expect to complete paperwork related to their accommodations. Self-advocacy skills are essential for being able to handle such situations. Self-advocacy helps college students with disabilities express their needs and contributes to their success (Lynch & Gussel, 1996). The way students self-advocate through requesting their accommodations within their college courses allows them to develop these skills which are useful in other situations such as while requesting accommodations in the workplace.
According to an article titled “Self-advocacy training: Preparing students with disabilities to request classroom accommodations”, students could experience more positive outcomes based on when and how they approach professors (Roessler, Brown & Rumrill, 1998). This research which was conducted on the topic twenty years ago remains relevant even today. Below are a few tips for requesting accommodations and self-advocating compiled from different sources mentioned at the end of this story:
- Timing is everything! Students must find the appropriate time to ask for accommodations, preferably toward the beginning of the semester or prior to the start of their class. Asking in the middle of a lecture or a few days before the exam may appear inconsiderate of a professor’s time on the part of the student.
- Disposition can take students far. While students have rights that are protected under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II (U.S. public colleges and universities) of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the saying “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” is very applicable in making requests for accommodations. If students approach their professors in a manner that explains exactly what they need from them and what accommodations would be useful throughout the semester, they are more likely to have the professor cooperate than if they were to storm into their office hours making demands.
- Everyone is human. Professors can at times get distracted by what is going on within their classrooms or research and may forget to sign a student’s accommodation letter or fill out their testing request form. If this happens, students should keep their cool and simply reinforce their need for assistance via a kindly worded email or quick conversation before the start of class.
- When self-advocating, students must ensure that they understand their accommodation letter and know their rights along with the professor’s responsibilities of upholding those rights.
The Margaret A. Staton Office of Disability Services is here to serve students with disabilities and ensure they receive their approved accommodations. While the office can advocate on students behalf, Disability Services also recognizes the empowerment self-advocacy brings. Disability Services encourages registered students to practice these self-advocating tips when asking for accommodations in their courses and experience the positive effect they can have for themselves.
Lynch, R.T., & Gussel, L. (1996). Disclosure and self-advocacy regarding disability related needs: Strategies to maximize integration in postsecondary education. Journal of Counseling and Development, 74, 352-357.
Roessler, R. T., Brown, P. L., & Rumrill, P. D. (1998). Self-advocacy training: Preparing students with disabilities to request classroom accommodations. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 13(3), 20-31.