• Tanner Shields

The Problem with Disabilities and Education

Tanner Shields

Student at Brigham Young University

Imagine you are sitting in class, working on a paper for an assignment. The whole class is seated quietly writing, and suddenly the student next to you leans over and asks you how to spell an elementary level word. You sit there with a confused look in your eyes, waiting for some dumb punch line to a joke or something. Time slowly goes on, and you soon realize that this poor student isn’t kidding at all and doesn’t know how to spell the word in question. You answer their question quickly, and they thank you and turn back to their paper, and you can tell that they are embarrassed by the whole situation. Now, this might not be a situation that you have ever had your entire life, but this is something that kids like me struggle with daily. I have a learning disability called dyslexia. Dyslexia is defined by the International Dyslexia Association as a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” Now, if you had a hard time reading and understanding that, imagine trying to do that with a reading disability. Growing up with Dyslexia, I am always surrounded by people who don’t know what it means, and I get bombarded by questions. In high school, I once jokingly told a physical education teacher that I was unable to run the mile that day because my dyslexia was terrible that day. To my shock, the teacher looked up and said: “Oh, I am sorry about that you don’t need to run today. Let me know when you are feeling better.”. My joke ended up revealing how little my teacher knew about dyslexia. My hope is to help educate people on disabilities and their effect on a student. 

Having a learning disability has made school hard and challenging for me. As a kid, I felt stupid, and that something was wrong with me. I’ve been bullied by both students and teachers because of my challenges with reading and spelling. Through all my years in school, I have had to deal with things like this. I have a fear of handing my assignment over to another student because I don’t want them to see how bad my handwriting and spelling are. I have a fear of being called to read something out loud in class and not being able to read a word right and embarrassing myself. Ultimately I am worried that others will think there is something wrong with me and that I am broken, stupid, a failure. Fast forward to today, near the end of the first semester of my first year in college, and just when I thought things like this were past me, it comes right back up. My professor projected a picture of a note someone had written about the schools’ honor code. The whole class and professor who disagreed with their opinion pointed out the poor spelling and lousy handwriting and connected it to their “lack” of intelligence. I sat there and felt like the dumbest person in the room because my handwriting and spelling is much worse than that of the person they were all attacking with their harsh words. Now I do not think for the most part that these are mean people and that they are trying to make me and others feel bad about our disabilities I think they are uneducated on the matter and students with disabilities are not prepared or equipped with the right tools to handle these situations and be open and honest with their struggles.

Like many other students with learning disabilities, I am given accommodations to help me in school. For elementary through high school, this consisted of teachers giving me tests verbally and allowing me to use technology to help with assignments and use audiobooks. I never really used many of these at school, because I didn’t want to stick out. I felt like all the other students would look at me differently. They would think that the accommodations I go