It Matters - Vol. 2, No. 3 - October 2012
Invisible Disabilities: About the Individual
When the term "disability" is mentioned, the first image conjured up by most people is the International Symbol of Access, the profile image of a stick figure in a wheelchair that denotes reserved handicap areas. This is not surprising because the image appears everywhere, and we see it daily. However, while this symbol emphasizes the impact of some physical disabilities, it does not accurately represent the majority of disabilities -- those that are "invisible" and, therefore, abstract.
Most individuals who seek reasonable accommodations through the Office of Disability Services (ODS) have invisible disabilities. These hidden conditions are often difficult to recognize or acknowledge due to lack of visible evidence. The wind is a suitable metaphor: we see the effects, proving its existence, without seeing the natural force itself. An invisible disability can have as significant an impact on an individual as one that is visible and results in the need for reasonable accommodations.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), a person with a disability must have a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include, but are not limited to: caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working. The operation of major bodily functions, including, but not limited to, functions of the immune system, normal cell growth, digestive, bowel, bladder, neurological, brain, respiratory, circulatory, endocrine, and reproductive functions are also major life activities.
ODS serves individuals who have chronic health conditions (e.g., seizure disorders, diabetes, sleep disorders), learning disabilities, processing delays, mental health conditions (depression, Bi-polar, PTSD) and/or sensory loss (e.g., low vision, diminished hearing).
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA, reasonable accommodations are determined on an individual basis and are intended to minimize the impact of specific limitations caused by a disability so that a qualified person may have equal access to programs, services and activities. Many conditions are lifelong and non-varying; therefore, individuals use reasonable
accommodations consistently and in multiple environments, including classrooms, residence halls and workplaces. Other conditions are more episodic in nature and reasonable accommodations may be used on an as-needed basis as the impact may wax and wane or be intermittent.
Here are several tips for working with individuals with hidden disabilities:
If the image of that stick figure in a wheelchair pops into your head with the mention of a disability, remind yourself that this symbol represents only a very small portion of the population of individuals with disabilities.
Individuals who use reasonable accommodations due to a disability should never be questioned as to the validity of using accommodations in one environment and not another. If the impact of a disability is different in different settings, the need for accommodations may be different as well.
When discussing reasonable accommodations with an individual, focus should be on access to programs/activities rather than on what the diagnosis may be. In most cases, the diagnosis is irrelevant.
The same diagnosis may render very different reasonable accommodations for different individuals; thus, the emphasis on individual. For example, ten individuals with attentional disorders may have completely different accommodations. One student may need to utilize a laptop for note-taking in class which allows the student's fingers to record notes while his or her eyes remain trained on the PowerPoint being displayed at the front of the room. For some students with an attentional deficit, the traditional method of organizing handwritten notes by glancing up and down and back and forth would be inadequate, and the temptation to doodle may be enormous. Another student with the same diagnosis may find taking notes on a laptop actually to be more of a distraction than a tool for access as they would be tempted to play around on the computer. For this student, a laptop for note-taking would not be a reasonable accommodation for access.
Most of us like to be asked for clarification in matters that are directly pertinent to us rather than have others assume "who you are" and "what you need." Individuals with hidden disabilities often feel the same way. If you are unsure of what the impact of their condition might be in a particular setting, ask them. "How can I help you gain access in this setting?" or "Do you have any ideas?"
If you are in doubt about how to apply an individual's reasonable accommodations to a specific circumstance or setting, contact ODS. The ODS staff can assist faculty, staff and supervisors with providing accommodations to individuals who may not otherwise have appropriate access to programs and facilities.
Title IX and Sexual Violence
This semester alone EDC has produced emails, fliers, rack cards, posters and newspaper advertisements about Title IX. Next year, we will do the same, and more. The focus of this article is about one aspect of Title IX: sexual violence.
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, as amended, says, "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance..."
Title IX is most often associated with sports, because the early court cases involved secondary and post-secondary schools that did not offer as many team sports for girls/women as for boys/men. However, the reach of Title IX goes far beyond athletics to require educational institutions that receive federal funds or financial assistance to prohibit discrimination based on sex in ALL programs and activities, including, but not limited to, academics, activities, admissions, athletics, employment, financial assistance, housing, and recruitment.
The sexual harassment of students, which includes sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX.
Reports of sexual violence occurring in colleges and universities all across the country are increasing. Statistics show that one in four women will be sexually assaulted while she is in college. The majority of these assaults are not reported, and only a fraction of those reported are prosecuted. If a sexual assault is reported to campus authorities, Title IX requires the institution to take immediate action to eliminate the harassment, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects.
In response to a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights against Appalachian for alleged acts of sexual misconduct that occurred during the academic year 2011-2012, Chancellor Ken Peacock appointed a Task Force on Interpersonal Violence composed of members from across campus and charged them to:
- Collect and analyze data on interpersonal violence at Appalachian and nationally;
- Examine nationally known best practices involving prevention, education and support services;
- Evaluate existing services at Appalachian which support victims of interpersonal violence;
- Recommend short and long-term strategies, practices and policies regarding sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence; and
- Respond to the following initiatives by February 1, 2013, as outlined in the Office for Civil Rights resolution agreement:
- Design and implement a climate survey to assess the presence and effect of harassment based on sex at the university and students' awareness of their rights under harassment reporting policies and procedures;
- Make recommendations to address sex-based harassment;
- Provide recommendations regarding strategies for preventing sex-based harassment and ensure that University students understand their right to be protected from discrimination, including harassment, on the basis of sex and to be protected from retaliation for reporting alleged discrimination; and
- Evaluate programming presented during new student orientation to determine if it is reasonably designed to prevent the establishment of a hostile environment based on sex for University students.
The task force is co-chaired by J. J. Brown, dean of students, and Linda Foulsham, director of the Office of EDC.
Every institution that receives federal funds must have a Title IX coordinator. At Appalachian, this is Linda Foulsham. Contact the Title IX coordinator under the following circumstances:
- when you wish to understand your options if you think you may have encountered sex discrimination or sexual misconduct – including sexual violence;
- when you learn of a situation that you believe may warrant a university investigation;
- when you need help on how to handle a situation in which you are indirectly affected;
- When you need guidance on possible informal remedies or administrative measures to de-escalate or alleviate a difficult situation; or
- when you have questions about Appalachian's policies and procedures.
If you need help, call the Title IX coordinator at 828.262.2144 or email email@example.com.
For more information about sexual assault, please visit http://sexualassault.appstate.edu.
To read Appalachian's policies on harassment and discrimination, please visit the links below:
- Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation (Applies to Employees)
- Harassment and Discrimination (Applies to Students)
- Improper Relationships between Students and Employees
All policy links can be found on the EDC website.
Office of Equity, Diversity and Compliance
123 I.G. Greer Hall
Boone, NC, 28608 USA