Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Guest Blog on the Pandemic's affect on disability students

I asked my Grad Ramsey Theory class to email me about whatever thoughts they have on the pandemic that they want to share with the world, with the intend of making some of them into a blog post. I thought there would be several short thoughts for one post. And I may still do that post. But I got a FANTASTIC long answer from one Emily Mae Kaplitz. Normally I would ask to shorten or edit a guest post, but I didn't do that here since that might make it less authentic.

Here is Emily Kaplitz's email (with her enthusiastic permission)


Ok so this might be super ranty, (It definitely is.) but I think it is super important to bring up in a blog post written by an academic that will be probably read by other academics. 

The students that are being most affected by this pandemic with online learning are disability students. As a disability student, we carefully cultivate the way that we learn best based off of years of trial and error. This is harder than anything else, we have to face in our lifetime. Most of the time disability students are left on the back burner and that statement is so much more prevalent right now. My friends brother is autistic. He is struggling so much right now because he is at home. Disability students learn what environment works best for them and at home is usually not the best place. We have to split our lives into different boxes that each have different tools to help us get our brains to focus and work well when we need them too. Disability students will rely on everything being planned out, so that they can succeed. Teachers and professors cannot understand the stress and strain that having to work at home puts on the student. Every time I go to another school, it is a struggle to figure out what new thing I need to add into the mix and what old thing I need to throw away. It's exhausting, but when I go from one school to another I at least know that the basics are the same. I sit in a classroom, the professors lecturer, and then I do work at home that is assigned to me. Changing to online changes that dynamic so much. A professor cannot see when a student is visibly struggling with a topic because we'll all behind computers. A neurotypical person might ask, "well why don't you just ask a question? Why don't you just let the professor know that you don't understand". Let me answer that simply. If all your life you've been silenced because of something that you cannot control, is your first reaction to speak out or to stay silent. It is so hard for disability students to ask a question after we've been labeled the dumb kid. Every time we ask a question, we always have the thought of: is this going to make me sound stupid. We've worked so hard to eliminate that word from our vocabulary and from others who will throw that word back at us. Disability students are being left in the hands of their parents and teachers/professors who do not understand us and our needs even if they try to or want to. It is so hard for us to explain what our normal is because we don't live your normal and therefore don't know the difference. Many disability students have their confidence slashed the moment they enter a classroom and realize that they are not like the other kids. Even more so because they don't understand why they aren't. Disability students are one of the most hard-working individuals when we have a cheerleader to cheer us on because it's hard. It's harder than anything anyone has to do. Because no one listens to you when you are stupid and no one cares for you if you're not easy to care for unless they are given a specific reason to. Fighting a losing battle every day is awful. Now imagine all of your weapons that you have carefully crafted over the years have been taken away and you are left defenseless. While we have things like ADS that are supposed to help support us, it's not enough. Just like putting a Band-Aid on an open infected wound will not be enough. Now more than ever we need to learn from this as academics. We need to learn that helping disability students does not only help disability students. It helps all students because all students learn differently. All students if given the chance can excel at any field that we put them in. We just have to figure out the best way to get that student to shine. That is one of the reasons why I am a PhD student right now. I saw in the tutoring center at my undergrad how many students came to me with so much frustration about something they are doing in class. Both students with disabilities and without. These students are constantly apologizing because they don't understand something. In one session by just changing the way that we talk about a subject the student was able to get it in less time than the professor taught it. I've had students come to me after an exam and tell me that the only reason they got the grade that they did was because in their head was my voice coaching them on a subject. We are not teaching optimally. We are teaching the way that it has been done for years and years and years and that is not the best way to teach. It might be the best way to teach the strongest links but really the link that matters the most is the weakest link that will snap under pressure because you can't pull a tractor with a broken link. Disability students think differently. Imagine how many impossible problems we can solve when we have people that think differently. But that's just my two cents as a disability student who is struggling and sees other disability students struggling every day. And really just wants to help all students succeed.

I blame any misspellings, grammar errors, and run on sentences on my speech to text and text to speech. This was a long email and if we were on tumblr, I would post a potato at the end. Since we aren't, I will leave this email with this. Thank you for taking the time to read this rant. Even if you don't include this in your blog post, I believe one person reading this has made the difference.


Emily Mae Kaplitz


  1. pandemic's _effect_

  2. Unfortunately, my feeling as a lecturer is that this is going to be a "lost semester" for many students, both with disability and without it. Long distance teaching is an involved topic, and trying to do it in such a hurry is basically worse than useless. Some students are just naturally talented enough to learn on their own, and some students are communicative enough to use the current system in an effective way. However, it clear that many are going to fall between the chairs.