Accessibility and pedagogy should be seamless, but accommodations remind us that these two categories are not as intertwined as they should be. As a student enrolled with Accessibility Services, I use accommodations. As an English student, the word “accommodation” troubles me. In fact, I don’t like it. A scroll through the Oxford English Dictionary’s entries for “accommodation” deepens my dislike of the word, particularly when the term is used in the context of accessibility and education. To accommodate means to adapt a “system to something different from its original purpose” .
If we apply this logic to the educational system, we can infer that pedagogy does not include accessibility within its original purpose. Accommodations aren’t created for students who need them; they are created for the existing structure that doesn’t accommodate these students in the first place. When a school system does not weave accessibility into its core fabric, accommodations become a seemingly optional add-on to the curriculum.
The optics of optional accommodations could explain why some professors don’t accept a student’s letter of accommodation as a valid excuse for an extension, or why these same professors don’t mention accessibility in their syllabi. Different learning needs, however, are just as important as the content covered in the course.
Thinking about accommodations as the frayed threads of a seam — extra bits of fabric barely connected to the main material — gives us insight into the language that contributes to the exclusion of Disabled students. Accommodations are designed with us in mind, but school curricula are not. We need to question this existing structure in academia, and an analysis of specific language affords us that critique.
What if curricula were designed with disability at their cores? What would happen if accessibility was woven into academia, and not treated as an afterthought? Accessibility would be more accessible. I’m not thinking about specific flaws in the educational system. I’m thinking about one word — ‘accommodations’ — and how we need to rethink its use. I meditate on this word because change is incremental.
Word by word, stitch by stitch.