September is fast approaching. In light of this, I thought it apropos to write a post regarding accommodations for students with mental health issues in a post secondary setting.
Creating accommodations help students who have mental illness reach their academic potential. Whether you’re advocating for yourself, or helping to advocate for someone else here are points to keep in mind.
1. Accommodations are a right, but are negotiated.
2. Determine what changes would be most effective for your specific illness or illnesses. It may take some experimentation.
3. Role-play asking for the accommodations to gain confidence before actually requesting them.
With few exceptions, teachers and schools are very amenable and experienced in accommodating students with disabilities. As part of the American Disabilities Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act, they have an obligation to fulfill reasonable accommodations requests.
Dr. Sarah Helm, Diversity and Inclusion expert, cites “according to the National Center for Education Statistics, individuals with depression, mental, emotional, or psychiatric conditions now represent approximately 24% of college students with disabilities and have become the largest cohort of post secondary students who identify having a disability” (Helm, 2012; NCES, 2009).
Despite this, fellow students and teachers still can lack understanding, sensitivity and patience. The more comfortable you are with your mental health needs the easier it will for you to communicate with teachers. In the classroom, you are not required to disclose what illnesses or disabilities you have. But you will need to be able to discuss what accommodations will be helpful. You can, if you choose, to disclose voluntarily. But that is a decision that is very personal, and should be made carefully.
There are both informal accommodations (strategies students can implement on their own) as well as ones that are formalized through disability services on campus. Two people with the same condition may not need the need the same classroom strategies. Here are a few examples of formal accommodations:
– Due date extensions
– Time extensions on exams
– Quiet and/or alone place for taking tests
– Ability to complete work at home
– Advance notice of course expectations
– Study buddy or academic coach
– Alternative forms for assignments
– Alternative types of study resources
– Pre-arranged breaks to get fresh air and move around
Dr. Helm explains “counseling centers and disability services offices have been increasing their level of support for students with psychiatric disabilities; yet despite these existing support structures, students are not seeking assistance from disability services offices due to fear of disclosure and the negative stigma” (Collins & Mowbray, 2005; Helm, 2012).
So it is imperative students with psychiatric disabilities understand they have a right to reasonable accommodation as well as protection from discrimination stemming from stigma. Colleges need to recognize that insidious stigmatizing attitudes towards those with mental illness have subtle yet far reaching ramifications. On-going dialogues about mental health and mental illness on campuses are crucial so stigma and it’s consequences are lessened. In doing so, students can be propelled from the fear of disclosure and requesting support to the freedom of accommodation and academic success.
An excellent resource is the Higher Education Support Toolkit: Assisting Students with Psychiatric Disabilities from Boston University Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.article continues after advertisement
© Victoria Maxwell
Helm, Sarah PhD Career Development Experiences and Employment Concerns of Job-Seeking Students with Psychiatric Disabilities PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2012 http://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_graddiss/1304
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2009). 2007-2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS: 08). Computed by the Data Analysis System (DAS-T) Online Version 5.0 on June 29, 2009
Collins, M. E., & Mowbray, C. T. (2005). Higher education and psychiatric disabilities: National survey of campus disability services. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 75 (2), 304-315.