Teachers with Disabilities: How to Actively Pursue Reasonable Accommodation

December 3, 2015 Updated December 2, 2015

I was recently reading a post on the community forum at Edutopia about how a teacher can appropriately explain her disability on a job interview. A big assumption about disability is that you're disabled your whole life. You are born disabled and you die disabled. As someone who works with disabled students and young professionals every day, I want to highlight the spectrum nature of having any disability and how teachers, and not just students, can more vigorously and with more acute knowledge, advocate for their own accommodations.  

First, begin a transparent dialogue with your employer. When I started in the workforce many years ago, I was worried about asking for certain accommodations thinking that there would be an impressive bias against me when partners were handing associates casework. So I kept quiet. Although I was able to secure a better work, it came at a cost. The nature of chronic illness--and a lot of disabilities--is that it is ever in flux, which both makes it difficult to accommodate and difficult to discuss.

Don't be afraid of the accommodation. I have always instructed people just to ask for the accommodation as soon as possible and not when they are getting sick or their disability is somehow worsening. Find someone in your administration with whom you can have a dialogue about the nature of your disability and what could be an accommodation if your disability is to worsen. Speak candidly about the range of accommodations that you may need. It may be as simple as easy access to your classroom, no heavy lifting, or something purely of a physical nature. 

Think about the spectrum of your disability and outline the accomodations that may be needed. I have even advised people to write a list of accommodations based on the stages of their disability. As a woman with lupus who has been in remission for 10 years, I know that there's a strong likelihood that I will never need accommodation again, but I always begin with the strangest accommodation, which is that I cannot be in sunlight.

A little known fact about people with lupus is that they are photosensitive and cannot be in the sun, so I always have told school administrators that if I were to cover recess for lunch duty that I would need to be the indoor monitor. Although this is easily accommodated, administrators have always applauded that I have thought through their job for them, and I have been able to self advocate and self accommodate. I have also been able to discuss invisible disabilities with various classrooms, which has helped other students with invisible disabilities accommodate and feel comfortable in their own difference.

Finally practice radical compssion to yourself. The most important accommodation you can give yourself is a bit of self-forgiveness as you cannot control everything. Be a transparent advocate of your own situation but then trust your administration, your students, and your parents to surprise you and teach you about compassion and touch your soul. Through this process you will be able to more and possibly model compassion starting with yourself.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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