A regular topic of debate in the area of special education is whether or not special accommodations made for students with disabilities impedes their ability to grow in ability and independence.
Byrnes (2000) argues for making accommodations for students with disabilities because they remove the barriers that impede learning. A disability is defined as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Key in choosing the correct accommodations is gaining an accurate understanding of the student’s disabilities. Once the disabilities are defined then work can be done in developing a plan on how to address those disabilities through accommodations. The purpose of selecting accommodations for students is to open up “access” to students Accommodations must be selected keeping in mind that the best type should be least cumbersome for everyone, while helping to move the student toward independent function.
Kauffman, McGee, & Brigham (2004) take side on the other side of this issue. They argue that the move toward making accommodations takes our inclusion programs for students with disabilities in the wrong direction. Their idea is that when students are prevented from being exposed to the true requirements of what it takes to succeed, they will be set up for failure later in life. They are taught to depend on accommodations being made for them, which leads them away from independence and also robs them of opportunities for accomplishment.
I think there is some common ground that links both of these issues. I agree with Kauffman et al in that there do exist situations where students with disabilities are given too many accommodations, often without clear reasoning. This comes across as overprotection and can damage a student if they are not given apt opportunities to rise to a variety of challenges on a regular basis.
The solution, I believe, lies somewhere between these two issues. I think that in our society it is healthy to recognize when another fellow human has a disability and to question whether there is any way to help them overcome it in order to reach their true potential. Think about all the great individuals in human history who excelled in one area or another despite their disabilities!
What is important is making sure we make accommodations for students but we do not make too many that are unreasonable or not well-suited for their specific needs. The importance of applying the concept of “zone of proximity” comes to mind. Zone of proximity is defined as the difference between what a student can do with and without help. As teachers we should provide accommodations for students with disabilities, but we need to carefully construct their learning programs so they can experience success and failure on their own volition. We want to increase their access to learning, but we don’t want to impede their learning by giving them too many accommodations they could have functioned well without. And if we can accomplish this we will be doing our part to ensure students with disabilities are truly given fair and equitable opportunities in our public school system.