Friday, August 14, 2015
The ABA (finally) adopted a resolution that encourages state bar licensing entities to eliminate questions about mental health on bar applications. Many of us have advocated for such elimination for years due to the potential damaging effects that these types of questions may have on law students. The stigma that these questions produce may discourage law students from seeking much needed mental health treatment or therapy while they are in law school. By eliminating these questions, law students do not need to fear the character and fitness/bar application process if they do decide to seek mental health treatment.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
This week, the Justice Department filed a landmark consent decree to settle claims that the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) practices violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Many of us work with students who may have been affected by LSAC’s “flagging” practice, which identifies applicants who received extra time on the LSAT. This decision not only helps to remedy past discrimination, but also helps ensure that applicants with disabilities are protected in the future. This excerpt taken from the Department of Justice webpage lists the details of the agreement.
Under the consent decree, LSAC has agreed to:
- put a permanent end to the practice of flagging the LSAT score reports of individuals with disabilities who take the LSAT with the common testing accommodation of extended time;
- pay $7.73 million to be allocated for a civil penalty, compensation to individuals named in the United States’ and other plaintiffs’ complaints, and a nationwide victims’ compensation fund;
- streamline its evaluation of requests for testing accommodations by automatically granting most testing accommodations that a candidate can show s/he has previously received for a standardized exam related to post-secondary admissions (such as the SAT, ACT or GED, among others); and
- implement additional best practices for reviewing and evaluating testing accommodation requests as recommended by a panel of experts (to be created by the parties).
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
This will be a short post today; I just want to alert readers to an New York Times article about the difficulties facing law students with mental health issues and the bar exam. I think the article brings up a lot of issues we need to think about in ASP and as a profession.
I don't know if I completely agree with the author. I have worked with many, many students with mental health issues and disabilities over my nine years in legal academia. I do believe most law students with mental health issues should be allowed to practice (if they meet all the other qualifications for the bar). I think the question posed on many character and fitness evaluations discourages law students from receiving the mental health assistance they need, and I think the question should be removed. I am troubled by the tiny, tiny minority of students (I can count them on one hand) who do not have their issues under control, and then threaten to sue under the ADA when their "deeds" (to use the same term as the author) lead to their removal from law school. Their "deeds" are a function of their mental illness, and they argue they should be allowed to continue because they are being persecuted based on the label, not the deed. The threat to sue stops law schools from acting in the best interest of the student and their peers. The threat stops some law schools from notifying the bar that the student may need assistance before they are fit to practice. This tiny minority of students use their diagnosis as a defense and a weapon. It is unfair that a fraction of law students with mental health issues cause disproportionate harm, but the bar needs to consider the threat lawyers can pose to the public.
I know that I will receive a number of angry comments because of this post. However, I am not discussing the students who have their issues under control, and I do think that the vast majority of students have their issues under control; I think we need a better way to help and support students with mental illness. I am questioning a blanket ban on inquiries stemming from mental health issues.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
Leah Christensen, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, has recently published a book entitled, Learning Outside the Box: A Handbook for Law Students Who Learn Differently. The book covers specific strategies for law students with learning disabilities, reading disabilities, ADHD, Asperger's, or other learning differences. The author notes in her introduction that other law students can also benefit from the strategies. I just received my copy in the mail today and am looking forward to learning additional ways that I can help my students who learn differently. (Amy Jarmon)
Monday, April 4, 2011
Each year I have a few law students who work with me as they adapt to disabilities that are either new or newly discovered. A new disability might occur when a student has lost an arm in a car accident. A newly discovered disability might occur when a student is diagnosed with ADHD or learning disabilities after successfully compensating in earlier education but under-performing with the overwhelming amount of work and one-exam system in law school.
Depending on the timing of the new or newly discovered disability, some students will be adjusting to the diagnosis itself still as well as trying to determine different strategies for their studies. They may have some hurdles to get over before they are comfortable with their circumstances.
Some students are shaken by the fear that they are "no longer just like everyone else." They are not certain how to proceed. As time progresses, I see them grow more comfortable in their new circumstances. They learn to manage the disability, whatever it is, through physical therapy, medication, accommodations, and other appropriate methods. Some turn to our university counseling center for assistance in their adjustment. Later in the year, they will often tell me that they have accepted the circumstances and moved on from the initial uncertainties. They also comment that they have rediscovered themselves and realize that they are just like everyone else, but have a unique circumstance to manage.
Some students worry about using accommodations because they fear accommodations mean "having an unfair advantage" rather than "levelling the playing field." They do not want others to resent them because they get extra time on exams, laptop use in classes where they are banned for others, or note-takers in class. It is sometimes hard for them to realize that the accommodations are very fair - after all, that is why they are given. Even if some other students' reactions are negative, those reactions merely indicate the immaturity of those other students. After all, none of those other students would opt for the disability; none of them would give up accommodations if they had the same circumstances.
Some students are concerned that accepting accommodations will mean that "everyone will know" when the disability is otherwise invisible. This concern is often harder for students because it resurfaces the concerns about not being like everyone else and being open to criticism from students who react negatively about accommodations for disabled students. Most students realize, however, that achieving their true academic potential is ultimately more desirable than hiding their disability. (An added aspect is that many boards of law examiners will look at accommodations in law school to determine accommodations on the bar exam.)
Each student adapts differently to a new or newly discovered disability. For some, the adaptation occurs rapidly. For others, it takes a bit longer. And, for others, it is an on-going process.
How can we help as ASP'ers?
- Listen carefully. There is often a sub-text if we are alert to it.
- Provide a safe environment. Allow the student to talk about concerns and fears as well as study habits.
- Work with the student on specific study strategies tailored to the disability. Often the doctor or testing report will suggest specific strategies. Brainstorming can assist the student in selecting possible strategies.
- Make referrals. Support from your university's student disability services, counseling center, or doctors can be valuable to the student.
- Turn to the experts on your campus if you need more information about a disability or suggestions on how to work with a student on study strategies.
All law students have adjustments to make during 1L year and throughout law school. And they make the adjustments at different speeds. By layering on a new or newly discovered disability, the students may need some additional time and assistance. (Amy Jarmon)
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Below are two job listings related to ASP, but not in ASP. Disability services are often a part of an ASPer's duties, and these jobs require a working knowledge of the ADA and FERPA.
Assistant Director of Disability Services, Suffolk University
Suffolk University is seeking an Assistant Director of Disability Services. Our office works with approximately 350 undergraduate and graduate students. The position is available immediately. For more information please follow this link. http://hire.jobvite.com/CompanyJobs/Careers.aspx?c=qg19Vfw5&page=Job%20Description&j=od1FVfwy.
Coordinator, Student Life/Disability Services for Students, University of Rhode Island
This is a fulltime, permanent position. Visit our website at https://jobs.uri.edu to apply and to view complete details for job posting (#6000422). Applications for electronic submission will end on April 7, 2011, and will require two attachments in PDF format: 1) a cover letter, and 2) CV which includes the names and contact information for three references, one of which should be a previous supervisor. The University of Rhode Island is an AA/EEOD employer and values diversity.
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
I thought this was interesting, especially as so many of us are preparing students for finals.
"I see adults with ADHD who are in medical and law school or running companies, and at some point, they hit a ceiling. Their coping mechanisms aren't effective anymore," says Peter Jaksa, a clinical psychologist who works with ADHD patients in Chicago.
Many people in law school are incredibly smart, and managed to succeed in college (and sometimes a prior career) because their intelligence overcame their inability to focus or concentrate. No matter how naturally smart someone is, reading cases and fact patterns requires prolonged focus and concentration, which is why many students "hit the wall" when they get to law school.
However, it's sometimes very difficult to get a sense of what the real issue is with a student. I don't know any MD ASPer's, but most of us aren't qualified to make any sort of diagnosis, only suggest testing by a specialist. Students who don't like law school, who find the cases boring and work monotonous, can have similar "symptoms" as students with undiagnosed ADHD. It's not our place to diagnose students, just give them their options and suggest testing. ASPer's should not feel like they have to have an answer for every student issue. Sometimes what we are seeing is more than an academic issue, and has a medical cause. (RCF)
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Every once in a while I will recommend an article or story to students that has nothing to do with law school. The article usually reflects on what it means to really appreciate everything they have, even in a terrible job market, with debt, with grade-anxiety. I think that taking a look outside the law school (and legal market) echo chamber to read about real struggles and real triumphs does not diminish their concerns, but reminds them that they still have reasons to smile. Law student concerns are real, significant, and can be debilitating, but it is also good to remember that the world is much bigger than their law school.
There are not a lot of articles that I believe fit the bill; many are just depressing (and law students don't need any more reasons to be depressed) or have a negative tone. I seek the rare article that discusses a real challenge, where there may not seem to be a lot of hope, but perseverance of spirit makes all the difference. It doesn't need to have a traditionally happy ending, but it needs to remind students that the basic things in life are, indeed, things not be forgotten.
The first article I recommended to students was more than a few years ago, while at was at Arizona State. The article was "The Ballad of Big Mike" about Michael Oher. Michael Oher story's is now in movie theaters as "The Blind Side" with Sandra Bullock (I haven't seen the movie).The article made me cry, but made me happy to be human, an American, to be blessed with so many things I don't think about (like a bed or parents). Law students concerns don't go away when they read a story like Michael Oher's, but it can remind them that law school, as well as friends, family, and health, are tremendous blessings not to be ignored.
This week I read an article that I will pass on because it had the same effect on me; "Would My Heart Outrun It's Pursuer?" by Gary Presly. The author is a quadriplegic, at both the beginning and the end of the story. It's not about miracle cures or treacly sentiment. It does, however, remind the reader of why friends are amazing things, limbs that work are a gift, and why we need to believe in ourselves, even when we have real reasons to think we are not worthy.
I don't feel that I am preparing students for careers in the legal profession if I don't help them remember their humanity and their worth. Right now, law students are in a pressure-cooker, and positive news in a law school is rare. But theirhumanity, their spirit is something that needs to be nourished no matter what the economic conditions look like, no matter how many exams they are facing. (RCF)
Monday, November 23, 2009
There has been considerable attention on secondary stress disorder (SSD) in the past few weeks as a result of the horrible, tragic events at Fort Hood. SSD is common in caregivers who work with people who have survived traumatic events. Care givers can take on the stress of the people they are caring for, and sometimes suffering PTSD as seriously as the people that are trying to help.
SSD relates to ASP in two ways. As ASPer’s, some of us work with students who have experienced considerable pain and suffering in their lives, enough tragedy to interfere with their learning and bring them ASP. SSD also effects our students who are care givers, who may not have suffered the tragedy themselves, but are spouses or widow(er)s of service men and women, or are caregivers to sick parents or children.
In both cases, we need to recognize that SSD is real, and it does make an impact on learning and working. SSD is not recognized among the general population, and it is particularly pernicious when those around people with SSD don’t understand or don’t believe that it is a real issue. Not everyone is effected to the same degree, but ASPer’s who spend their days one-on-one counseling students can’t help but absorb some of the stress that surrounds them. (RCF)
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
For those of you interested in articles dealing with learning disabilities, you will want to read the article by Suzanne Rowe in the most recent volume of the Journal for the Legal Writing Institute Volume 15, Issue 1. The article is entitled Learning Disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act: The Conundrum of Dyslexia and Time. Suzanne is an Associate Professor and Director of Legal Research and Writing at Unviersity of Oregon School of Law. Thank you to the Legal Writing Prof Blog for the link. (Amy Jarmon)
Friday, October 3, 2008
Most of us work with multiple students who have been diagnosed with ADD, ADHD, or learning disabilities of some type. In fact, with each new 1L class, our Student Disability Services usually sends letters of accommodations for at least 5 or 10 students.
Those numbers reflect the students that we know about first semester. The numbers increase the second semester as grades come out, and additional students come forward. A few more students come forward at the end of the first year when further probations and academic dismissals are announced. I suspect even then that we have seen the tip of the iceberg, and some other students may hover just above our academic minimums without being identified.
I am always glad to see accommodations letters from Student Disability Services before fall semester begins or during that semester in time for at least exam accommodations if not classroom accommodations. It means that those students have a level playing field in place. The Associate Dean for Students and Diversity meets with them, and many students will follow up for discussions with me.
It is the students who go through the procedures to gain a level playing field after bad grades that concern me greatly. The damage to their self-esteem, the stress of probation, and the academic hole from which they have to dig out exacerbate their situations. With new accommodations and hard work, we see them succeed at new levels. But some are unable to turn it around because of the extremely low grades before they received accommodations.
Occasionally a new diagnosis is made for students who surface after bad grades. The problem never showed up in prior education because the student could compensate and do very well. Let's face it, the national statistics tell us that high schools, colleges, and universities often have grade inflation and require little work for bright students to excel. When undiagnosed students start law school they suddenly come up against an overwhelming amount of reading, the need to stay focused for longer periods of time, course grades based on one exam, exams with strict time mangement requirements, and competition from the best and the brightest. It is no wonder that they get surprised by bad grades.
However, I have found more and more that the students were previously diagnosed with one of these disabilities and had prior accommodations, but decided not to ask for assistance as law students. Some students (with their doctors agreement) decided to discontinue medication before law school to be "like everyone else." Other students decided to forego accommodations because they did not want anyone to know. Some students decided that dropping prior accommodations would create a level playing field because it would be unfair to other students if they had accommodations.
I can understand these students wanting to be like everyone else and not wanting anyone to know. However, the potential damage to their academics makes these desires high-risk for some of them. Because they do not realize the many ways in which law school will be a different academic experience, they make their decisions on insufficient information. There is a summer communication to all students about accommodation requests. In orientation, an announcement is made to all students to encourage disabled students to apply through Student Disability Services for accommodations if they have not already done so.
Some undiagnosed students or students who had initially decided against accommodations will be identified during the first semester. Our Legal Practice professors often recognize problems because of the intensive writing assignments and the small class sizes. Others are identified by doctrinal faculty or administrators. Timing is important if accommodation requests are to be processed before the semester ends (especially for undiagnosed students who must also undergo testing) .
A new twist has developed regarding identified students who have acommodations for laptops in the classroom. Several students have told me that even though a laptop helps their learning they will not use this accommodation if a professor has banned laptops. Other students will realize that they must be disabled if they are allowed to have a laptop when everyone else cannot. It is very sad that students who need this legitimate accommodation have to make this decision. The banning of laptops is vogue right now, but the consequences for students with disabilities (and different learning styles for that matter) are not always recognized.
As an academic support professional, I can refer students for accommodations, work with students on strategies to improve their learning, and advocate for them. Hopefully, more students will self-identify or be discovered before the semester results in bad grades. (Amy Jarmon)
Thursday, March 13, 2008
The Learning Differences Conference at Harvard was great. Although it was designed for Pre-K-12, there were a number of excited ideas and trends in teaching all students presented at the conference.
1) Most studies on ADHD have not been on all children; they have been on boys. We know very little about the science of ADHD on girls, and what we do know is the brain develops in different ways and in different developmental stages in girls. This will have ramifications on the accommodations and modifications for girls (and women) with ADHD. As women cross the 50% mark at most law schools, we need to learn more about ADHD in female law students.
2) The mind and body are connected. Some people need to move in order to activate the brain to think. This is not isolated to children. We need to think of ways to teach that includes movement--even if it is just switching seats--to truly use the learning moment in class.
3) We need research on the needs of professional and graduate students with learning differences. I avoid saying "more" research because there is virtually nothing out there on students over 25 with learning differences. If we want to provide the best legal education, we need to know how to teach all students, not just the best and the brightest, who may be the most easily adaptable, but not really the brightest.
My next update will be from the SALT Conference in Berkeley. This has been my crazy conference week (3 conferences in 10 days in 3 cities, on 2 coasts) and I will be back posting 2-3 times a week when I am home in Vermont.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
I am reporting from the Learning Differences Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Lynn Melzer, PhD, of the The Research Institute for Learning and Development, developed a strategy for students with strong visual preferences to map information. Called the “Star Strategy”, this strategy would be wonderful for our visual learners to use as a case briefing method.
(I can't add the visual of the Star Strategy, but it is a Star of David or interlocking triangle design, where each open point is space to write. The center of star is the rule, and each point would be labeled
1) Procedural History--Time
2) Procedural History--Place/Jurisdiction
* For those interested in the visual for the Star Strategy, please email me and I will send a email@example.com)
For more information on the Star System in general, see Strategies for Success: Classroom Teaching Techniques for Students with Learning Differences, 2nd ed., Melzer, Roditti, Steinberg, Biddle, Taber, Caron, Pro-Ed Publishers
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My younger daughter has epilepsy and takes anticonvulsants
every day. This is a medical condition
and I know that she has no conscious decision-making capabilities when it comes
to having a seizure or not. I know what
she would choose if she could. So
despite any misgivings about putting potent chemicals into her body every day
for the last three years, we do it. We
also educate her teachers and friends about this and make sure to avoid the
pitfalls like overtiredness and the flu as best we can. Why do we do this? Because she is seven and we are her
parents. But, as maternal as my ASP
style has been noted to be, I am not the parent of anyone in this building; and the most I can hope for (and would be appropriate) is a nurturing role.
I went to a lecture yesterday about ADHD and ADD in high IQ students and how that all relates to Executive Function. The gist of the lecture was that ADD and ADHD are chemical problems that have a chemical solution. And while I understand that this is a medical condition that cannot be consciously willed away, I was frustrated by the lecture because I was hoping to gather more insight on how to work with these students in an ASP setting. Without a prescription pad, I am, evidently, at a loss. The only advice that was applicable to my position was that we need to help provide some outside structure to keep these students on track: advice on time management but really more on how to stick to your medicine schedule while away from your real parents.
The lecture was attended by Academic Support type folks from graduate and undergraduate institutions, disabilities coordinators from a bunch of school (Deans of Students and the like) as well as at least one person from a university health services office. But, again, without being a licensed psychologist or having medical authority, I didn’t see the role ASP would play in this area. And yet, we probably see students with these issues (as well as, as our lecturer put it, other comorbidities like depression and anxiety) more than anyone. It was both helpful and then again completely unhelpful to learn that these students are not lazy (I knew that), or lacking willpower (I am pretty sure I knew that too). Why? Well, the skills I can teach a student only work if the student learns and applies them, which may not happen despite however motivated the student may be.
I cannot help a student’s brain chemistry right itself-nor can I force a student to get out of bed and take medication each day. I can cajole students and nag and sometimes even place a well timed phone call to make sure they get to class, but not much more. I have told students that the coping behaviors they engage in to accommodate themselves is far more draining than asking for help at the law school. I tell them that this energy could be better spent reading, outlining or even sleeping. But I cannot, and would not, even if I could, force students to stick to a medicine regime. Not because I don’t believe it would help, I really do think that the medication is a wonderful thing, but more because my students are adults and I need to treat them that way.
Now, let’s see if I can remember that when my children go off to college. (ezs)
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A reader suggested to me today that this blog devote some discussion to the difficulties faced by law students with ADHD. I think the suggestion is a good one. Let me begin, at least, with a recommended article. Professor Robin A. Boyle recently published "Law Students with Attention Deficit Disorder: How to Reach Them, How to Teach Them," 39 J. Marshall L. R. 349 (2006).
Among other things, the article gives a helpful overview of empirical research concerning ADD and ADHD, as well as the implications of that research for law school pedagogy. Included in those implications are twenty-five insightful, practical suggestions for more effectively addressing the needs of law students with ADD and ADHD. (dbw)
Sunday, February 26, 2006
The most recent (March 2006) issue of the ABA publication Student Lawyer includes (see page 34) a conference notice of interest. Quoting from the magazine ...
"The ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law ... in conjunction with ABA president Michael Greco and the EEOC, is sponsoring a National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities. Participants will discuss ways to further the employment opportunities for and promote the hiring of recent law graduates and young lawyers with disabilities."
The conference is on May 22 and May 23. "The conference," the notice continues, "encourages law students to attend the conference. To support student participation, the commission will offer a reduced registration fee as well as scholarships to students demonstrating need."
Encouraging news: "With proper accommodations and open lines of communication, lawyers with disabilities have proven themselves to be as successful as their peers without disabilities."
In the academic support field, most of us work with students manifesting a variety of disabilities (visible and invisible); and many of us contend with comments by students, faculty and lawyers along these lines, "Why is she even going to law school? Who is going to hire a lawyer with (fill in the blank)?" Oh, that gets to me. Between your school's Career Services office and its Academic Support office ... somewhere ... we need to be able to provide accurate, up-to-date answers to these inquiries ... not only for those who ask the questions above, but, more importantly, for those who ask this question: "Will I ever get a job if they find out about my _________?"
For detailed conference information, visit the commission's web page. (djt)
Saturday, February 4, 2006
I highly recommend Professor Jennifer Jolly-Ryan's recent article, "Disabilities to Exceptional Abilities: Law Students with Disabilities, Nontraditional Learners, and the Law Teacher as a Learner," 6 Nev. L.J. 116 (2005). A professor at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, Jolly-Ryan has put together an insightful, practical, and inspiring article that may change the way you think about students with disabilities.
Beginning with a brief overview of disabilities law and its relationship to law schools, she demonstrates the increasing presence in law schools of persons with a variety of disabilities and the implications for law teachers. She then explores the dynamics of disabilities in the law school setting and the obstacles disabled students face in school and later in the profession.
But then she turns the discussion on its head. She postulates that disabilities, when properly understood, can actually be assets, both in law school and in the profession. She challenges professors to stop focusing merely on the disabled student's difficulties and start focusing on the strengths such students bring to the field of law. She includes an inspiring section on people with disabilities who have excelled in the law and explains that, in reality, disabilities foster skills and attitudes that are essential to success in our profession.
In addition, she points out, the increasing presence of students with disabilities in our law schools will change legal education for the better if we simply pay attention to what we can learn as a result of their being in our classrooms. Offering a host of practical strategies for accommodating the needs of disabled students as well as study strategies students can implement for themselves, she convincingly argues that incorporating those strategies will result in improving the learning of all law students.
Take a few minutes to read her article, and consider passing it along to your colleagues on the faculty and to your students who may be struggling with obstacles to effective learning. I think both you and they will see the world a little differently. (dbw)
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
I spent two days over the break reading exams (construction law, no less!) to a blind colleague. He did not hesitate to ask me for help when he needed it. The stories he told me about going to law school and taking the bar while losing his sight were inspiring. He is a neat guy. When he took the bar he needed a reader and had to fashion his own accommodations at times to get through it. He passed the first time. Granted, he is a very intelligent person, but perhaps his greatest gift was to know when to ask for help. This is a gift I wish to bestow on my students.
Now that the grades are in, I will soon be seeing a new crop of students who performed poorly on their midterms/final. I have a mini-diagnostic sheet I ask them to fill out when they come to see me asking about study habits (did you outline?) and life changes (did you end any relationships just before exams?). At our preliminary meeting, I always ask the students if they have ever had ADA accommodations at school before. A surprising number of them will say yes, but that they did not seek such accommodations in law school. Why? They are afraid of being stigmatized or labeled. They fear that their professors will know that they had extra time and will grade them accordingly.
I always assure them that such accommodations are between them and the Dean of Students. Their professors will never know. Their colleagues will never know either (the hand-writers will assume they are typing and the typers vice versa). Also, the exam answer given to the professor will have only their exam number on it, no indication of any accommodations and will be included in the pile with all the other exams. Still, I find resistance.
So, then I beg students to get the accommodations they need. I tell them they should set a "precedent" for bar accommodations now (although there is no guarantee of accommodations on the bar, it helps to have had them in law school). I try to persuade them that this is no time to be a cowboy about exams. I even stock the forms necessary and pass them out to students who might need them. I have a list of people at student health services and the learning center they can see if their documentation needs updating. Still, some students will not do it.
Eventually, when the students are seeing me because they are on academic warning, I might be able to persuade them to file the forms and get their paperwork to the Dean. It is one of the most frustrating circumstances I encounter in Academic Support when the" academic warning" designation, which will be noted on their transcript, could have been avoided. In the end, the negative label the student feared happened by not taking steps to seek accommodations which would have been confidential.
So, as I am gearing up for my "no cowboy" speeches this semester, I will have more stories in my arsenal about my colleague (and more dog hair on my coat), but hopefully I will also have a little more success in getting students to get help when they need it. (ezs)
Friday, October 7, 2005
Ellen Swain, Academic Success Program Director at Vermont Law School, recently responded to a list-serve inquiry. I am reprinting much of her superb response here in case some of you missed it.
Whether you have to make decisions on granting accommodations or whether you support students with disabilities, the question is whether proofreading a student's work fundamentally alters the academic requirements of law school, and in the workforce, whether a qualified lawyer must be capable of writing grammatically perfect prose without assistance.
I'll throw out some thoughts. I worked as a professional writer before attending law school.
No publication ever published my work without scouring it for grammatical mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and, in some instances, fact-checking. Following the initial checks, another editor did a final proof before publication. Was this done as an accommodation? No, it's just the common sense view that no writer can catch his or her own mistakes. Simply put, it takes a newsroom to write a grammatically correct newspaper article.
When I worked as a judicial law clerk, none of us ever passed along a draft to our judges without having another set of eyes look over the text. The judges would regularly ask me to review their writing for any possible mistakes.
As a practicing attorney in a busy PD's office, I regularly asked colleagues to read through a filing for any grammatical mistakes or to check the logic of my arguments. My colleagues did the same.
Ultimately, helping students to come up with good strategies for proofing their own work - such as running it through a screen reader, which will read back the text in audio form, using the free software, "readplease," or through Kurzweil - is a responsible way to assist students at a level below making a finding of entitlement to an accommodation.
You might also suggest that students print out their papers on a different color paper to do the final edits; it helps to find those mistakes. Now editorless, I use that method myself.
Just some thoughts,
Tuesday, August 9, 2005
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)