I just started a new school semester and have devoted all of my energy on this Math course which is the only class I need to take in order to graduate. I have learning disabilities and it mostly affects Math, in fact I passed every other subject with flying colors, I have about a 3.5 grade average. I excelled at writing papers and in my counseling, class was one of the few students to get an A in one of the hardest classes offered by the degree program. So not to pat myself on the back but I feel like I’m a pretty smart guy. So back to math, my degree program in human services disabilities, Math has nothing to do with my chosen career and yet it’s forced up upon me.
So, I signed up for what’s called a DMA course, that means that it’s a class that designed to get you up to speed so you can pass 1 college level math course. It is not designed for those that specifically have learning disabilities despite that the name of the course implies it. I was actually given a scholarship so I could finally get my degree after many years of attending this community college. I took all the precautions; I talked to a disability counselor and managed to get accommodations (although not as many as I had hoped). The class requires that I not use a calculator until I can pass the midterm test, I tried to waive that but the counselor told me there was nothing that could be done. But she did give me the option of taking the tests in the testing center with more time and that is pretty much the only accommodation that I have right now. In addition to class time, there is a tutoring class which was offered, it consists of student volunteers that help guides you. It is not individualized or designed specifically for those with disabilities.
So, I got to the class and it isn’t even a classroom, it is an open computer area and all the lessons are done online. So basically, you sit in front of a computer and the teacher and her assistant try to help you with questions and sometimes they are of help and sometimes they aren’t. You have taken these little quizzes based on videos and an online textbook. I haven’t taken math since middle school and due to the trauma of losing my brother and having mental health issues, high school is a blur, I didn’t learn much. Needlessly to say my math skills are very limited, I can barely do long division and multiplication without a calculator, so to take away the one tool that COULD help me succeed is almost cruel. Sometimes during class, I’d just jot down notes or stare at the screen because I couldn’t figure it, I felt so stupid, seeing everyone figure it out and I was stuck on the basics. I felt helpless.
I decided that I had to take the tutoring courses, which were offered at two campus. At one campus, the class was in an enclosed classroom but there were 4 or 5 students with one teacher, I couldn’t get the amount of attention I needed because she kept jumping to help every other student. She explained some things here and there but it wasn’t enough for me to fully understand, even if I wrote it down. The other tutoring session was in the same area of the math class but was in an open area, above a lobby where many students gathered, there were 3 volunteers to help me but it was noisy and I couldn’t concentrate, she was trying to help me solve a math problem but I was so frustrated by all the noise that I just gave up for the day. I also have ADHD and I was furious, I wanted to ask someone to do something, I was trying to learn and this was impeding on my learning process. You’d think tutoring would be a private and quiet area, right? I just shake my head at how many obstacles this school sets up for those who struggle with learning disabilities
So, on top of the class, I could do schoolwork at home which at first was nice, I was in my own space, I could concentrate and really think about the problems. But I found myself studying for hours at a time and still not understanding. I was getting angry and frustrated and stressed out, I couldn’t sleep and it has taken up all my thoughts. And doing it at home is difficult because all you have is a computer program, they don’t have a person explaining it to you, step by step, which is helpful to a person who has disabilities. An online video can can only help so much. Mentally and emotionally, I am totally drained, I have been so frustrated, as if I am a kid again and I’m being forced to learn something that I cannot understand, until eventually they stopped teaching me because it caused so much distress.
So, I have a midterm due and I have done almost every quiz except for one, I have tried and tried and cannot get it right. I actually went through all the videos, wrote an example of each concept, twice, my notebook is completely full and I have looked at this math concept every which way and still cannot figure it out. So, after 2 or 3 days of little sleep, I threw my hands up and decided that I cannot do this, this is unhealthy. I will take the test tomorrow, that way they can’t say that I didn’t try and afterwards I am contacting my disability counselor and telling her I cannot continue. They can either waive this class so I can finally graduate or I don’t get a degree, all those years of hard work down the drain because they don’t recognize that my disability severely impedes me from passing this math course.
But here’s the thing, this is a wonderful opportunity to advocate not only for myself, but for others who will come after me, those struggling with disabilities that try so hard and fail because of the school’s refusal to adapt to their needs. So here are some of my suggestions. The first is that if a student has a history of documented disabilities (makes no difference if it is specifically in math) and has passed all of their other classes and has made several attempts at math and failed and math is not a part a specific part of their degree program then they should be able to waive that math requirement. The second part is that if they are adamant about forcing math on those that are learning disabled, then they should have a class geared specifically for those with documented learning disabilities; with instructors that can meet the needs of the learning disabled; with the attention and guidance they so desperately need. And the last suggestion is that there should be individualized one on one tutoring for students with learning disabilities. There is no reason why a learning-disabled person can’t get more individual attention, our needs are greater than most students and we do require more attention and time to understand certain courses. I can’t see why this isn’t possible with this school. It’s all about ensuring that students with learning disabilities succeed, when the disabled students succeed, so does the school. So instead of getting angry and feeling sorry for myself. I use this has an opportunity to educated the school and the public as whole about better adapting to the needs of those with learning disabilities in higher education.