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The following article was originally published in the Spring 1996 issue of The Blind Teacher. While Dana Nichols is not an attorney and the views expressed in her article should not be taken as legal advice, they do, nonetheless, provide a good layperson's interpretation of "reasonable accommodation." This is an important concept and one with which every administrator as well as every blind or visually impaired teacher or student should be familiar.

What Is Reasonable Accommodation?

Dana Nichols

Recently a newly blinded teacher phoned me with questions about what assistance visually impaired teachers usually received. After I told her, she had one last question. "So I wouldn't be out of line to ask for any of those things, would I?" The school administrators were apparently being inflexible, having a narrow idea of what accommodation was reasonable.

The layman's definition of reasonable accommodation seems quite clear, but administrators are notoriously muddle-headed. Accommodation is just a change in the work site or in the method of doing a job which allows an otherwise competent disabled person to do the job. It's reasonable when it doesn't cost too much.

The cost is relative to the budget of the school system. In a rich district, it might be reasonable to ask for a classroom aide. In a poor district, this would be unreasonable. However, the blind teacher should be permitted to use volunteer classroom aides from outside or inside the school. Some teachers get volunteers from local churches or from parents' groups. I've used students from senior honors classes when I needed a proctor for tests. That's reasonable.

A blind teacher may not write on the chalkboard as much as a sighted one, but should be able to use substitutes. Many teachers get students to write for them; many others use handouts or overhead transparencies. These are all reasonable accommodations. However, if the class was in penmanship, they might not be reasonable.

A blind teacher shouldn't expect the school to pay for a reader to help grade papers. That's one of those things, like getting oneself to work, that is the responsibility of the worker. The school must allow the use of readers, however. Sometimes a bargain can be struck.

My school agreed to pay my reader as long as it could stipulate that he or she be college-educated. Fair enough.

Sometimes, too, the school might do something for a blind teacher which would also benefit other teachers. The company that makes Scantron machines will furnish a machine to a school free as long as the school will buy $500 worth of Scantron forms a year. One blind teacher couldn't use that many forms, but an entire school could do it easily, and everyone's grading burden would be lighter.

As for other equipment, in most cases, it is unreasonable to expect the school to pay for a computer and a scanner. The exception might be at a university where professors were expected to do research and grind out publications. Otherwise, a teacher is on his/her own for the purchase, but remember, the school can't stop you from using your equipment in class. So if your speech synthesizer will work on their computer, use it.

The thing to remember about accommodation is that most administrators would rather you retired on disability. So understand what you need in your classroom to do your job, and ask for it, but no more. Then hold your ground.

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