Going into class any class is hard, but STEM classes are even harder. Why? Because there is already a huge assumption that if an able-bodied person can’t handle the pressures of the STEM, they should either change their major or learn to live a life of solitude. For me, hard classes become harder when I’m not given the support I need. I usually provide a list of accommodations after attending the first day of class, but often the list is not enough. As a STEM student with physical and mental disabilities, here are five simple ways that teachers can better support me:
1. Send me a PDF of presentation slides, so in class, I don’t have to try to keep up with what’s written on the slide and what you are saying.
Providing chapter material information at least two weeks in advance allows me to read or take notes on my own time without stress. Several times STEM teachers have also been able to provide presentation slides that fit me better as a visual learner, like painting the picture of what an atom or a certain compound chemical looks like for easier memorization.
2. Allow me to use a tape recorder or smartphone to record lectures.
Recording the lecture is helpful so I don’t have to constantly concentrate as the teacher is speaking. People remember things in different ways. For example, in music the word “F-A-C-E” is helpful. I like to listen to lecture recordings and try to draw a visual picture of the particular subject material.
3. Give me an alternative assignment when the teacher has selected something like hiking to record animals in a certain area, which is not possible due to my disabilities. Don’t count it against me as if I’m not willing to participate.
My teacher actually picked a hiking trip and said I could be fine because a person with a knee replacement had been on the trip before, and she had walked the trail herself. In the end, the only path that was okay for me to get through was blocked until a local asked the construction workers to move so they wouldn’t be blocking my only path in. My teacher literally said, “I’m surprised you’re here and your team is already done, so I’m not sure if they want you to do anything.” I felt so bad and she didn’t want to give me any points. I ended up with a zero in the grade book.
4. Don’t make assumptions about my accommodations based on a previous disabled student.
In my experience, teachers seem to think disabilities are only depression and anxiety because those are the main two talked about in school. But as someone with chronic pain, I like having things accessible to me because sometimes I can be really well and finish work in one day, and sometimes it might take me a week to complete two assignments. Each disability and accommodation is unique to the person.
5. Don’t assume I can’t handle things such as projects, research, and other extra assignments unless I’ve come told you myself.
It’s frustrating to hear a teacher say “I didn’t think you could handle it” and constantly give other students opportunities, especially when I have an A in the class. When I asked to be a part of something, my biology teacher was always surprised and told me she wouldn’t sign off on my project the day after the deadline. Further, I missed opportunities because the only person I knew well in the science department wouldn’t accept me because she was more concerned about holding the “title” of her students always winning than including me.
Overall, teachers should accept disabled students, not shame them for their disabilities, and let students know you’re okay with whatever they need to get their work done.