The Quest for Awareness

Delta Winds cover 2003Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Quest for Awareness

Thu Phan

The most significant disability issue facing college students with disabilities involves interaction between instructors and students who are physically challenged. Instructors have the responsibility to be aware of students with disabilities. A few instructors do not have the skills and the tools necessary to prepare them to interact with students with disabilities and to treat them fairly. This is a continuing problem, and I am obligated to address this issue because I feel that all students who are physically challenged have the right to learn and receive a strong education. Education is the key to self-empowerment and independence.

The majority of instructors are compassionate, understanding, and will accommodate students who are physically challenged. These instructors are optimistic and are willing to challenge themselves to work with students with disabilities. However, some instructors perceive that students with disabilities are deceitful, threatening, incompetent, or burdensome. Some instructors view students who are physically challenged as using their disability to their advantage. These instructors feel uncomfortable having students take their tests in Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) because they feel the students are likely to cheat there.

Other instructors get confused and lose their confidence when suddenly they see a student who is physically challenged in their classroom. For instance, one instructor on the first day of class announced, "They didn't warn me that I was getting a disabled student in my classroom, especially a visually-impaired student." Such instructors are shocked and perhaps feel threatened by the circumstances. Sometimes instructors speak to students with disabilities in an inferior tone and do not give them the same respect they give to students who are able-bodied. These instructors patronize the students who are physically challenged, viewing them as incapable individuals.

Finally, there are instructors who will not accommodate students with disabilities simply because these instructors do not want to tolerate the specific needs of the students with disabilities. In one instance, a student could not attend class because the elevator was broken and she used a walker to help her get to class. An instructor remarked, "Well, you could have found other ways to get to class." The only way she could have attended class was to have somebody carry her up three flights of stairs. If someone did carry her to and from class and if they both fell, who would be liable?

I have encountered one instructor who betrayed me, viewed me as a machine because of my wheelchair, and cheated me out of class participation. A few semesters ago, I enrolled in a civilization class. During the first week of the class, the instructor announced to all students that he would offer extra credit if they participated in a classroom skit the next day. Realistically, I knew the class was going to be difficult, so I wanted to get extra credit to help boost my grade at the end of the semester. Right after class, I approached him and asked if I could participate in the classroom skit. He bluntly replied, "No, your wheelchair would be too awkward." I felt crushed and shocked.

In the same week, I was parking my wheelchair, making an effort not to block the aisle in the classroom. I did the best I could with the little room I had to work with. All of a sudden, he came up to me and rudely said, "You need to move!" There were more incidents like this. My note taker at the time witnessed how he was mistreating me. She told me that she confronted him and told him that if any student with a disability wanted to participate in his classroom skit, he could not deny them. He then stated that he would feel honored if any student with a disability were willing to participate in his skit, and he would accommodate them. When she told me this, I was infuriated. I lost all respect for that instructor as a person because no instructor has the right to lie like that and get away with it. Lying is not part of the instructor's job description.

Of the above-mentioned groups of instructors, some of these individuals are very giving, understanding, and receptive to the needs of students WITHOUT a disability. But why should I, a student with a disability, not receive the same overall level of performance from these instructors? According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), everyone has the right to an education. Why are the students who are physically challenged finding it more difficult to unlock their future?

My solution is to raise disability awareness in order to educate instructors. When instructors, through their own education, learned about different cultures and diverse backgrounds, the departments of education neglected to teach these instructors about the diverse backgrounds of people with disabilities. I propose that all future and current instructors be mandated to enroll in a disability awareness course. The disability awareness course would be strictly to raise awareness about people with disabilities. The course is not to be twisted around into something more. The course is not designed to solve any problems with prejudice that instructors may have. If there is prejudice, this course is not a remedy for it. I do not have the magical power to transform beliefs over night.

However, I do have the power to speak out on this continuing problem. The following guidelines should be incorporated in the disability awareness course. First, instructors need to give all students with disabilities respect rather than view them as an incompetent people who need pity. Second, each student who is physically challenged should be treated case by case. Instructors should not generalize or stereotype. An individual need is an individual need, and instructors should not apply one student's need to that of another student with a disability. Third, instructors need to experience how it is to be physically challenged. It will require a hands-on experience for instructors to never forget the significance of different disabilities. Last, the instructors should learn how to be verbally sensitive and use proper etiquette around students with disabilities. Verbal etiquette is involved when referring to people of different cultures; people with disabilities are no different.

Obviously, bitter, ignorant critics will fight to oppose this idea. Critics will demand, "Why should we waste our valuable time in a frivolous and nonsensical disability awareness course? Why should we change our teaching procedure?" In return, I will state, "Why not? What is it that you have to lose? Knowledge? Your teaching procedure is obsolete, and you have a moral obligation to all students' specific needs today. I GUARANTEE you that you would want a helpful instructor willing to provide you accommodation in a positive manner if you were a person with a disability."

By taking the disability awareness course, instructors will become more rounded and levelheaded individuals. This disability awareness course will build their character and self-confidence. Also, this course will help to eliminate some misconceptions for both instructors and students. Consequently, when students who are physically challenged enroll in a college class, they will have the quality instructor that they deserve.

I feel strongly about this issue. Something needs to be done about it. The more I analyze this challenge, the further I would like this plan to be implemented in the workforce. Being disabled is not a choice; we have no control over it. We live with our disability every day, and if people were more aware, we would have a more understanding society. Having a more understanding society would help to alleviate some of the predicaments that people who are physically challenged encounter every day.