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Can We Talk?
by p.l. frank

There is something that needs to be said aloud. And by "aloud" what I mean is that there is really something that needs to be said publicly....outside of the privacy of one’s own home. And yes, I know that many of you have been saying it too. (In all likelihood, with your doors and windows tightly shut and the television blaring to obscure your words from anyone who might be "sensitive".) What is this thing only the boldest of us dare to discuss? It is the fact that as a culture we have apparently taken the "disability-sensitivity issue" to the n-th degree. Infinity-plus-one, if you will.

Now those of you who are regular readers know full well that this writer is far from being insensitive. Quite the opposite, in fact. I am highly sensitized to people with any sort of physical challenge (I have a few of my own) not to mention those folks with reading and learning disabilities, math anxiety, and, well, I can’t even remember how many things I’m sensitive to, but let’s just acknowledge that I am. I lived in Berkeley, for God’s sake.

That said, let’s just come out and say what’s going on these days. One of the best examples of disability-sensitivity gone amuck is today’s college classrooms. For those of you who haven’t been inside for awhile let me catch you up to speed. (Uh, that is, unless you have a problem with speed, in which case, feel free to print this article and take as much time as you need.)

In the past couple of years I have had students ask and receive special concessions because they have the disability of alcoholism (Could I make sure that I not look in their direction when discussing this topic?) and drug abuse (Could I please speak slowly and write all the key points of the lecture on the blackboard.....years of tooting on a crack pipe had adversely affected the reaction time to digest material) and PTSD (they needed to have less required reading, never to be called on in class, and shorter exams in order to reduce the stress of the college experience).

College faculty are also required to accommodate people with an array of mental illnesses these days, expected to do everything from eliminating certain topics when teaching subjects like Abnormal Psych., to giving tests with no one supervising and no time limits, to lowering their speaking voice in lectures so as not to "jar" the students with fragile psyches.

This has really gotten out of control, folks. The majority of students in the classroom are oftentimes being cheated out of a challenging and invigorating educational experience in order to cater to a handful of people who, in previous times would have been told, "If you can’t keep up, college isn’t for you". Last week I was informed by a student that she had a disability that prohibited her from taking multiple-choice tests. Really? Are you sure? How did you get in here? Are the folks at the SAT board now offering oral-only versions of the standardized college entrance exams? Probably.

Nonetheless, I was suspicious. In order to be fair and consistent in the grading process, I would have to require the entire class to take the planned essay exams on the critical-thinking portion of the material and then test every one of them orally on the fact-based portion. With this in mind I let it go for a few days and then told the student I would need to verify I.D. for her special-conditions disability.

Did she have a drivers license? Yes, indeed she did.

And, say, how did that happen? Did the DMV give her a special Oral exam for that license?

No, they did not.

So then you took a Multiple-Choice test for this license and passed it? Hmm.

Well, it’s a selective disability.

Oh, I see.

Well, excuse me, I have to say this. Out loud. Outside the privacy of my own home. A few years ago such things were not referred to as a "learning and testing disability". It was called being "stupid" and no one would be encouraged to change the course of education or the workplace for it.

As for me, I apparently have developed my own disability. And you can bet your boots I’m going to see if I can get special concessions for it. I’m sure the ADA office will support me. I’ve developed a tolerance-disability for idiocy.


b i o
P.L. Frank enjoys writing both nonfiction social satire and funny, thought-provoking novels.  Dr. Frank has been a researcher in the field of Behavioral and Social Sciences since 1983, and has worked as a university professor and therapist. 

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