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Gillian Starkey's picture

On how "disabilities" are treated in educational settings...

I mentioned in my post last week that I'm really interested in how the topics we discuss pertain to issues of education, so I'd like to take this opportunity to pose some questions about how "disabilities" are handled in schools. While I realize that people generally disagreed on how to define a "disability," it seemed that the some of the class was comfortable with the idea of a disability as a difference that a person shows in comparison to other people from their culture, and that is debilitating in some aspect of their life. For the sake of this post, I'll use that as my definition of a disability. The first example that comes to mind that must be handled in educational settings is an attention disorder.

Schools consider this a disability because it impairs a student's ability to learn in a classroom (it would also qualify as a disability with the definition I gave above). Thus, students with attention disorders are frequently placed in "Special Education" classes once/a few times a day that provide them with more one-on-one guidance. But if a student begins taking stimulant medication, they may be able to focus better in their mainstream classroom.

Since the attention disorder is no longer creating a debilitating problem, technically this renders the student no longer disabled. But, in school settings, these students are still treated as disabled, and are usually kept in their special ed classrooms. This seems pretty illogical to me, and I was wondering what you guys thought. What if these students were to be removed from special ed, since medication meant they no longer needed it, and had to spend all of their time in mainstream classrooms? Would this be unfair to the student? Or, would keeping the student in special ed be unfair to the other mainstreamed students because they wouldn't get the additional attention and guidance? Going a little further back, does medicating someone so that they perform at a "baseline/standardized" level (whatever that means) essentially remove the disability, or are they still somehow inherently disabled?


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