My group’s tentative research question is “Who falls in the gap of unaccommodated disabilities at University and why?”
I felt that the best place to start with this question would be at the source of all documented requirements for disabilities–the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was lead to this source after some research. I tried to find evidence and instances of people with disabilities being denied accommodations under the presumption that their disability was not covered in their University’s accommodation mandates. However, I found it hard to find this information without truly knowing what accommodation mandates were average and where these gaps in accommodation might lie. And so I tried widening the scope to focus on education policy for disability accommodations so that I would not be stonewalled by the difficulties of finding such specific information. However, even this was hard because the results I was getting varied from college to college, state to state, private to public institution, etc. This led me once again to the problem of not knowing what the norm was for accommodations in universities. Countless documents that I read on the subject referenced the Americans with Disabilities Act as the reason they had the mentioned accommodations. And in regards to the few sources I found on students being denied accommodations for their disabilities, they all cited the Americans with Disabilities Act as their reasoning for why they had the right to accommodations. I finally came to the conclusion that the only way I could start my research is with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, the only way I could start this paper is by giving my audience the background information they needed via an overview and analysis of this crucial legislation.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was put into law in 1990 and it prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The legislation, amongst other things, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Note that this does not mention schools and universities, but that schools are vaguely mentioned later in the document only to say that schools must be accessible–not accommodating. The law also requires all public locations to be accessible. The law was signed in by George H. W. Bush and was introduced by Senate member Tom Harkin. The law was amended in 2008 by George W. Bush in order to broaden the definition of disability by changing the description of those deserving of accommodations from “severely limited” to “substantially limited.” Both, I would point out, are extremely vague. Obtaining the document was relatively easy, I simply googled “Americans with Disabilities Act” and several unsummarized and summarized versions of the legislation came up. I decided to mainly rely on the unsummarized version because it is a primary source and therefore more reliable. However, I do have my tabs open to some summarized (though credible) sources in order to help me understand the legal jargon presented. These summarized versions would be considered secondary sources.
I think this source helps our question in a multitude of ways. First, it allows us a wider scope on national policy so that we are better equipped to see the gaps in University policy. Second, it allows us an opportunity to relate this issue to not just a University, but to the country. What I mean by that is if we for instance make an argument that a University’s policy on accommodation is not sufficient, that might be intriguing to a sampling of people. But if we were to then relate that insufficiency to similar problems we see in lack of accommodations in this nation, or even suggest that it is this nation’s lax policies that allow for such lax University policies, then we might make a case that is interesting to more people. For example, if we see that a University is not offering accommodations for students with disabilities that present infrequent symptoms, we might point to the Americans with Disabilities Act for not setting up more clear and specific protocol in order to protect these students. And from that point, we could ask our audience “if this is what one University’s results are from this vague policy, what might be the ramifications of vague legislation on a national scale?”
Furthermore, studying the Americans with Disabilities Act opens up possibilities to study court cases in which the legislation was mentioned, challenged, or used as support. There are already a few cases with disabilities and accommodation in universities that specifically call on the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, the court case of Michigan Paralyzed Veterans of America v. The University of Michigan.
Also, I know my group member Yixuan is writing about an article which details a Canadian university’s views on accommodation. And so knowing the national policies of American disability accommodation might be helpful when drawing comparisons to other countries.
This source is obviously just the tip of the ice burg and there is much more to go through before our group has accumulated enough information to start writing. We need to find specific instances of accommodation or non accommodation in Universities, not just legislation that sort of mentions how they should probably accommodate obviously disabled people. Moreover, we need to explore the “why” end of our question. I don’t think this research has complicated or changed our answer thus far.