Greg Long: Some professors may have revealed student disabilities publicly

By Ian Gough

Title two of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that public entities are legally required to provide accommodations for disabled students, unless doing so would drastically change the nature of the program for everyone involved.

However, not everyone knows about or understands the ADA.

“I once asked my COMD 200 class, with 300 students enrolled, how many of them were taught about the ADA before they reached college,” said rehabilitation counseling professor Greg Long. “I’d say three or four people knew.”

The problem with this has become apparent through recent issues: several students have told Long their professors either revealed their disabilities publicly or did not want to provide students with access to the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) because it created more work for them.

Long is also the chair of the Presidential Commission on Persons with Disabilities (PCPD) and relayed the concerns of a few of his students with disabilities to NIU President John Peters, whom Long said was upset.

“It’s an uncomfortable topic for most professors outside the department,” Long said. “A lot of people don’t know how to handle the situation but some just don’t want to.”

According to NIU’s site, students who need accommodations must go to the CAAR office to prove they have a disability and request the forms.

“Some people don’t realize that these CAAR forms are really legal documents,” Long said.

Even though he has been in the Communicative Disorders division for years, Long said he had no idea students with disabilities being disrespected by professors was a persistent issue. Earlier this year, he asked 10 of his students with disabilities if they had ever experienced something like this. All 10 said it had happened to them.

CAAR Director Melanie Thompson said the number of students connected with the CAAR office has nearly doubled in the past two years. Thompson said the main reason students with disabilities come to NIU is because they perceive it as being “disability friendly.”

“We give our students with disabilities fair warning that they will need to develop strategies for learning as well as teaching the same disability-specific skills (such as assistive technology and braille) as everyone else in the visual disabilities program, because we are not providing rehabilitation services,” said Jodi Sticken, director of orientation and mobility. “We are training students for future careers in blind rehabilitation, and we hold all of our students to the same high standards, regardless of ability, but we would never reject someone because they have a disability and need accommodations.”

Robert Uhren, senior rehab services major, was born deaf. Although he commends NIU’s accommodations for students with disabilities, he said he is aware these same students are sometimes disrespected.

“I am positive that the students with invisible disabilities experience much more discrimination than those with visible disabilities,” Uhren said. “Blatant and voluntary discrimination should automatically lead to termination, of course. I was born deaf and am happy I was born deaf. I know I wouldn’t want it any other way.”