Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (Continued) – Part II

Mar 6, 2023 | Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Special Education, Special Needs, Special Needs Child


Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (Continued) – Part II

How Do Students with Disabilities Live?


Students you know may have disabilities that are invisible, and the extra work they must do to succeed in everyday life is also invisible to their teachers and their classmates. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act recognizes 13 categories of disability that students face. With a little thought, you can imagine what life is like for students from each category. Here are a few examples:

    • The brains of people with attention disorders don’t work the same way as the brains of average people. The mother of one student I know—we’ll call him Gary—described her life as “being Gary’s brain” because she had to help him with every single organizational piece of his life. One example would be explaining that, if he had to be at school at 8 o’clock, he couldn’t get up at 8 o’clock; he had to plan enough time to shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and get to school on time. Gary required careful instruction on how to perform the executive functions needed for success in school and in life, functions that the average brain performs without much thought.

    • Unless they receive Braille, Orientation, and Mobility training at an early age, students with vision impairments often have to rely on others to help them. This can delay almost every single task they need to do. One young man whose school district refused to teach him Braille had to rely on a “reader” in college, someone who would come and read him his assignments. Reading aloud takes far longer than a sighted person reads silently or a blind person reads with their fingers. To complicate this arrangement, the designated reader for this young man wouldn’t come if the day was humid because it would make her hair frizzy. Because of obstacles like this, it took this young man ten years to obtain a bachelor’s degree. He finally learned to read Braille but was much slower than if he’d learned it in preschool.

If you think about the variety of combinations and permutations of obstacles a vision impairment could cause, you may just begin to fathom the depth of living with a vision impairment.


    • Or think about the complex obstacles Robyn Silber, a computer scientist and disability advocate, faced in college. She chose to attend a particular university for its nationally recognized disability support services program. Even there, she faced many obstacles thrown in her path by professors who failed to acknowledge her disability and who violated her rights. One of her professors set her up for failure in her freshman year and called her one of the university’s “less capable students.” This treatment caused Robyn to a prolonged downward spiral in which she dropped out of school. After two years of mental health treatment, she found the courage to return. Unfortunately, the trouble continued. Her professors did not always take her disability accommodations seriously. They would often make remarks such as, “I don’t understand why you need your accommodations … You’re the best student in the class.” Professors regularly attempted to deter her from using her accommodations, called them a “special privilege,” or said they didn’t “believe in” granting accommodations—never mind that they were legally required to do so! They didn’t see that Robyn’s education was her entire life and that she spent ten hours every day, seven days a week, studying and doing her assignments.

Despite these and many other difficulties, Robyn persisted … and graduated with a master’s degree in computer science. To do so, she needed the support of her accommodations and “brilliant and compassionate professor” who encouraged her.


Critical to the life of a PWD-person with a disability-is to recognize the truth of the IDEA:

For university students, the Guardian reports:

  • 60% of respondents said there is not enough information for disabled students on university websites regarding accommodation.
  • 30% said their student unions were not in an accessible and inclusive environment.
  • 70% could not access a disabled students society on campus.
  • 30% said their graduation ceremony was in an inaccessible or non-inclusive setting.
  • Just over half have full access to all university teaching rooms, study rooms and libraries

During this month, let’s remember those among us, our family, friends, and colleagues, who have to work a lot harder than the rest of us and who don’t get the positive recognition they deserve.

If your student has a disability and you need help accessing accommodations in school, please call us! The attorneys at Sussan Greenwald & Wesler are here to help.


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