Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

ASP and Disabled Students: a moral question?

Attending this past week's AHEAD (Association on Higher Education and Disability) conference in Milwaukee, I wondered about the question of the legal obligation to provide accommodations for students with disabilities and the limitations inherent in rules associated with the legal obligation versus the moral obligation, if any, to provide accommodations.

After "googling" for a while, I found Professor Vernellia Randall's page entitled, "A Proactive and Holistic Approach." The page contains excerpts from Professor Kevin Smith's article, "Disability, Law  Schools, and Law Students: a Proactive and Holistic Approach," which appeared in the 1999 edition of Akron Law Review (pages 1-106).

"In most disability matters," Professor Smith writes, "the law school reacts to a student's request for accommodation rather than acting proactively. After self-identifying and documenting her disability, the student will request one or more ... accommodations .... The law school normally grants the request and that ends the matter. Few people would disagree with placing the responsibility on the student to initiate the process .... A student should not be forced to self-identify and thus disclose non-obvious impairments such as AIDS, an LD, or a mental illness. ... The law protects both the disabled student's right to equal opportunity (by permitting the student to self-identify and request accommodations) and her right to privacy and self-determination (by permitting her to not self-identify or to not have 'accommodations' forced upon her by the law school). But can and should law schools do more than they are currently doing to accommodate disabled law students? Even if not required by the Rehabilitation Act or the ADA, does the status as an educational institution place a moral obligation upon the law school to take a more proactive position with respect to disabled students?" (emphasis added by djt)

Professor Smith's article espouses the proactive position and proposes a model program for assisting disabled law students.

Leaping beyond the legal requirements, Professor Smith outlines "...a model program for working with disabled law students. The nucleus of the program is a written Individualized Accommodation Plan (IAP) for each disabled law student."

The IAPs, he asserts, should not be limited to those students who arrive in law schools with diagnosed disabilities.  Rather, Professor Smith maintains, "The law school should maintain a formal, but non-intrusive screening program for students with undiagnosed learning disabilities [because] ... the student body may contain individuals with undiagnosed learning disabilities. An active part of the law school's disability program will be to screen for these students. Identifying a learning disability in the first semester of law school may prevent the student from ending up in academic difficulty."

After diagnosis, development of an IAP, and development of a supportive network (including support for "practical matters" ... paying bills ... assisting in the maintenance of a sense of perspective), for each student, a program of support should be designed by the Academic Support professional at the school, Professor Smith suggests. "Though legal educators must be careful not to create the double stigma of disability and participation in an ASP, the school's ASP should be made available to students with relevant disabilities. The ASP's administrator, in conjunction with on-campus learning-disability specialists, should modify the ASP curriculum to fit the needs of disabled students, particularly those with LDs, ADD, and ADHD."

Does Professor Smith go too far, or not far enough? 

Your thoughts?  (djt)

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