Discrimination as a Disabled Student

By
Leah Whalen
Published on
September 22, 2021
Girl in a wheelchair sitting at a desk

Our attention has been called to racial discrimination and sexual abuse in recent events, but have you ever stopped to consider the abuse and discrimination that disabled students face?

Disabled students face the same abuse and segregation that is demonstrated with all other minorities except it is taken far less seriously by people, judges, and in this case, school faculty. A change needs to be made to ensure the safety, and success of disabled students.

As someone with a disability myself, I have experienced discrimination and abuse over the past three years. These experiences are nothing new to disabled people though, even in 2020, it is still powerful and hurting people of all ages.

We live in an age where minorities are finally using their voice. Where people are given more opportunities and change is finally being made for our society to be more inclusive. This should be stretched to not just the minorities whom you hear about the most, but also the people who never make the news and whose story never gets told.

I know first hand what the discrimination is like, but it is important to remember that what I have experienced is mild compared to what other students face with more severe disabilities and require more work on the school's part. Unfortunately, the authorities in our schools who are supposed to look out for us are just doing the minimal amount of work on their end, even if it causes their students to suffer.

For three and a half years, I have suffered from daily chronic migraine-like headaches, which is almost my entire high school career. Therefore, I have been in my fair share of 504 meetings and have dealt with many uncaring teachers.

A 504 plan is intended to be shaped in collaboration between the disabled student and the school administration to put the student on the same playing field as the rest of the students. Yet, after informing my principal what I needed on my 504 plan, he laughed at me.

What was the result? Extended time on homework. I ended up with a 504 plan meant for someone with ADHD, which I don't have, and the only overlapping accommodation being extra testing time. This testing time only applied for school or state-administered tests. Since my guidance counselor withheld my SSD number for my SAT and AP tests, I failed to have extra time on those exams.

In addition, I was told I had accommodations that were not put into my 504 plan. I wear noise-canceling headphones, which all my teachers were made aware of. In several instances, I was told to take them off. One of my teachers even asked me if they were hearing aids.

While taking my NYS Regents exam, a protector forcefully took away my headphones because they were not on my 504 plan. All of the administration had been made aware I needed them. However, that didn’t stop the protector from ripping out something I needed to function properly.

Speaking of accommodations I was told I had, let's return to the extended time on homework. I requested this accommodation, after originally being told I had it and had used it the year prior. When trying to use it in the new school year, my teacher told me that was not something I was entitled to.

Just so that we are clear, accommodations carry over to the new school year until you have a meeting with the administration to update the 504 plan. After talking to one of my teachers from the year previously, I found out I never had it. I just got lucky with understanding teachers who were willing to give me extensions. I realized my luck had run out.

I am a student who is completely school-oriented, like most of us, I value myself based on my grades. For context, I had been absent for about eight weeks for medical reasons and was now playing catch up. I had a 100 average in AP Language and Composition and 96 average in AP U.S. History, when I was told by my guidance counselor that I had to drop the class.

The school gave me home instruction (which you are entitled to if you are absent for ten days or more). One of my home instructors didn't even teach APUSH, yet was teaching me it. I was not given adequate time to make up my work, therefore my guidance counselor told me she would be removing me from those classes since she decided the workload was too much for me. It wasn't.

I am extremely lucky to have a therapist who works in a middle school and knows my rights, helping me advocate for myself.

With her help, and a lot of arguing, I was given until the end of Christmas break to make up months of work, when I could only meet with each home instructor once a week, therefore I did it on my own. (AP scores just came out, and although they aren't flawless, my 3 in APUSH and 4 in AP Lang seem to agree that I could handle the class).

These are only some of the problems I have experienced and I will admit they are mild. I did not experience any physical abuse as so many kids do.

For those inexperienced with 504 plans, it is so easy to be manipulated, and I had resources that told me I deserved better. A simple google search will tell you stories from disabled kids that will make you nauseous.


We disabled students are not asking for much, just to be seen as capable, and to be heard. Listen to the disabled kids around you, hear their stories.

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