Accommodations for students with special needs is a necessary practice in order to provide access to education that is equitable and unbiased. Critics argue that provision of accommodations is actually unfair and preventing the development of independence for the student, but what they do not seem to understand is that the starting line for students with special needs versus those without is not the same. Students with special needs are approaching learning from a far different space than those without, and accommodations are simply helping them to approach from a more comparable perspective.
Mary Ann Byrnes defines an accommodation as “an adjustment to an activity or setting that removes a barrier presented by a disability so a person can have access equal to that of a person without a disability. […] Appropriate accommodations provide the opportunity for a person with a disability to participate equitably in a situation or activity” (Evans, 2008). Notice what an accommodation specifically is not: it is not an advantage, it is not a leg up on the competition. In fact, it has nothing to do with competition at all. Accommodations are simply adjustments that make learning accessible to all students, rather than only those who are more naturally wired for it.
In his opposing viewpoint to providing accommodations, James M. Kauffman et al. seems to make it clear that the purpose of special education was and should be to provide ‘normalcy’ and assimilate every student into the same path of general education. This is interesting to me because this goal is not seeking equity, but rather equality. The problem is that equality cannot exist without equity. Students, indeed all humans, are simply not the same. We cannot, nor should we, hope for a mainstream, general education classroom in which all the learning looks the same. And yet disposing of accommodations would be doing just that – blindly applying the same conditions for every student and hoping for the same results.
It is true that some accommodations can appear to be unfair. However, as Byrnes explains, the vast majority are aimed simply at removing a barrier to the overall intention of learning. This can be done through more informal teaching methods of differentiation, or with more formal use of specific devices or behavior practices. The selection of accommodation should always match the intention of the learning. When this is done correctly, the actual learning itself, as well as the evidence of the learning, will not only be fair, but will be accurate and equitable.
Evans, D. (2008). Taking Sides: Clashing Views in Teaching and Educational Practice. McGraw Hill: New York, NY.