Finals week can be a stressful time as teachers pile on essays and exams and the clock seems to be ticking down. For students like myself who are registered with Disability Support Services (DSS), finals week is especially difficult. Even with the legal accommodations from DSS, students are forced to confront each professor to ensure their accommodations are met. Furthermore, DSS accommodations are often only granted for exams, which harms students with disabilities whose finals consist of papers, presentations and projects.
Accommodations for students with disabilities can include many different things such as extra time on exams and assignments, off-the-clock breaks, priority registration, writing directly on tests, testing in a separate room and using a calculator. However, since I started at LMU, DSS seems to place the majority of the responsibility on students with disabilities to fight for their own accommodations.
Talking from personal experience, the process for utilizing accommodation is not as simple as stated on the DSS information page on LMU's website. The website states that students must use the DSS Online Services website to request the courses in which accommodations are wanted. From there, DSS will email the student's faculty with the approved accommodations. The website also says that students should meet with their faculty to discuss their accommodations.
What is not written here is that DSS relies on students to do all the heavy-lifting themselves. While DSS did email all of my professors, they never checked in with me to make sure the accommodations were being applied. Students must constantly approach their professors to actually have their accommodations met and this means every time there is a test, project or essay where accommodations are needed.
This process inherently puts a lot of stress on students. Samantha Siegel, a freshman political science major, explained a major problem she has faced when trying to use her accommodations: “some of my professors simply don’t allow me to use them. I’m not sure if it is because they forget or they think I don’t need them, but it’s incredibly frustrating. I think a big part of it is that my grades show that I am capable of succeeding, and therefore I don’t need them; however, that’s only because the grades don’t show all the extra hours I put into my work.”
It is crucial that DSS starts educating professors on how to approach students and be accepting of accommodations. The University should hold professors to this standard to better include students with disabilities in LMU’s classrooms.
Not only are accommodations hard to utilize, but for finals many times it seems as if accommodations are not even possible, especially with virtual learning. During finals, accommodations for tests are pretty easy and straightforward: you contact your professor once again and ask them to grant you your extra time and other accommodations. However, because DSS will not proctor exams due to COVID-19, students are no longer granted that smaller, quieter space. Additionally, since being online, stop-the-clock breaks are almost nonexistent.
The real problem comes when finals exist as projects, essays and presentations. Due to the pandemic, many professors are switching from tests to these bigger assignments. For instance, last semester, I had six long papers but not a single test. While this is something I was able to do through all-nighters and over-working, my accommodations just could not be applied. Even after contacting professors who were very understanding and respectful, the best they could accommodate me was to allow me to turn in the work on that very last Friday due to the University's grading policy.
To give an even better understanding of the problem here, I should note that I get double time on assignments to accommodate for my four different learning disabilities. Meaning, if a person is given one hour for a test I should be given two. In theory, the same concept should apply for essays and projects. Luckily for me, I have never needed to ask for all of my extra time on big assignments, instead I tend to need just a few extra days.
Even though I do not use the full amount of my allotted extra time, it still should be offered; but sadly, during finals week the University’s grading policy does not allow for a few extra days for students with disabilities to complete their work. Professors must have final grades turned into the registrar on the third business day after exams week. After that time, if a grade is not submitted the professor must officially change the student's grade, which is a complicated process that needs the approval of the department chair and dean of students.
Overall, the process in place to help students with disabilities during virtual learning finals is highly ineffective. DSS help included a small email on April 23 to address finals week, reminding students that DSS will not proctor exams and that students must contact their professors individually to arrange the utilization of accommodations. Additionally, a document was attached on how to speak with a professor; however, these instructions for accommodations only apply to testing, and DSS seems to forget that so many final tests have been switched to papers, presentations or projects to fit virtual learning.
To fix the problems that arise with finals, LMU must change its grading policy to allow for students with disabilities to utilize the full extent of their legal accommodations. LMU either needs to allow students with disabilities to work past the last day of finals week or require professors to produce finals in which all disabled accommodations can be used.
Disabled people have long been forgotten and overlooked. LMU is a university that prides itself on social justice advocacy. It should not leave its disabled students to fend for themselves. It is time for LMU and DSS to take the burden back from students with disabilities and help us navigate the twist and turns of college. In the end, students with disabilities, like me, should be recognized and helped, not forgotten and made to do everything ourselves.
This is the opinion of Jordan Fray, a freshman political science major from Chicago, Illinois. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow and tweet comments to @LALoyolan on Twitter, and like the Loyolan on Facebook.