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Accommodations in the School Systems: Language Differences and Disabilities

Jenna Myers's picture

After looking through all of the readings we have done so far in class I decided I wanted to focus on the readings that coverered bilingualism in public schools as well as focusing on disabilities in the public school system. The main focus for this essay is on accessibility: Accessibility for people with learning diabilities or language differences in the public school system as well as accessibility for people in nature whether it’s in natural parks or in playgrounds with man-made structures. For this essay I looked at Lapayese’s essay on bilingualism in public schools, two essays on disabilities, as well as Price’s essay which focused on the idea of access. I also wanted to tie in my own experiences with disabilities and school systems.

In Lapayese’s essay she discussed how bilingual students are negatively affected in the public school systems. She says, “Schools are committing linguistic genocide daily (Darder, 2006). They do it by forcibly moving Latina/o children from one language group to the dominant language group through linguistic and cultural forced assimilation in schools” (Lapayese, 161). So many bilingual or multilingual students studying in the US are forced to learn in classes where the primary language is English. These students are told that they should speak the standard form of English. By preventing students from speaking their native language in classrooms the students start to lose their native language and sense of culture. “By the third generation, only 10% of Latina/o students speak Spanish well, and almost all prefer English” (Lapayese, 161). This type of language loss is seen throughout the world, especially when it comes to endangered languages. People coming from these communities are almost discouraged from using their native language. They are told to learn a more global language or a standard language, that way they will be able to find more jobs. I’m not saying that it is bad to learn a somewhat global or standard language, but people and especially children should keep in mind that they need to preserve their native language in order to keep the language alive. Languages are a part of culture and history. By having a language go endangered or go extinct, you are losing a piece of history. Schools should encourage these languages whether it is a small language that only 15 people speak in the world or if it’s more of a global language that isn’t English. Children now are in a way forced to learn a new global language and forget their native language and therefore the language becomes endangered or extinct. However this mainly is for the small languages that only a small number of people speak (the more “specific” languages). The idea of access to languages comes into play when looking at the job market. Most jobs encourage for people to be bilingual or multilingual because you can connect and work with more people in the world.  

In Freeman and Tranter’s paper they focus on the idea of natural space. In class when we had the silent discussion I was very interested in the topic of access. The group I was in was focusing one the quote “Play spaces for children are becoming increasingly denatured: natural play features such as trees and earth mounds are replaced by sterile, manufactured, garishly coloured, safety-conforming tubular steel structures” (Freeman and Tranter, 166). Our group talked about the issues of access. Having natural parks versus parks that are filled with man-made structures. Our conversation turned into this idea of access and if creating these man-made structures are still accessible. Making playgrounds accessible to people in wheelchairs or making natural areas more accessible to people. Students should be given access to the outside world as well as in school systems. Accessibility is something that should be given to all students, especially to students who might need more of it if they have a disability whether it’s a physical disability like because in a wheelchair or a mental disability.

People are not created to be the same. Some people are more athletic than others, some are more creative than others, and some learn differently than others. In Price’s paper she brings up the word rhetoric and defines it as “the ways we communicate with each other, not only in writing or by speaking, but also in visual ways, like pictures, or even in subtle ways like the expressions on our faces or the attitudes we bring to each other” (Price, 25). Rhetoric is how you present yourself and how you come across to others when you are speaking. Then Price goes into talking about people with mental disability and she brings up a paper written by Prendergast who says that a person with a mental disability means they “are presumed not to be competent, nor understandable, nor valuable, nor whole. We are placed in institutions, medicated, lobotomized, shocked, or simply left to survive without homes. The failure to make sense, as measured against and by those with “normal” minds, means a loss of personhood” (Price 26).

This idea that people with mental disabilities or physical disabilities not being “normal” is absurd because having a disability does not mean you are not normal, you just need a form of accessibility. People don’t choose to be born with a disability that affect the way they learn, whether it is a slower thought process, being deaf, blind, or in a wheelchair. People learn about their disabilities and figure out ways to live with their disability to have this “normal” life. Students can be put into special schools that work with their disability such as going to a specific school for students who are deaf or part of the Deaf community. But most of the time these students are put into private schools or public schools where they are mixed with a variety of students. My high school was a private high school that had a special center within the school that help students with learning disabilities. They are given access to be able to learn on the same level as the “normal” students. Students are given extended time or quizzes, tests, and exams or they are put into a distracted free room. There are special educators that are there to help the students. But what about the students in the public school system that have these disabilities as well? Most public schools don’t give students with disabilities access to learn in a different environment and sometimes those students fall through the cracks and suffer.

I believe it is really important to give all students access to the same level of learning as every other student: Whether you are giving accommodations to bilingual students or students with a disability. But then how do the so-called “normal” people feel about this? While I was abroad in New Zealand I had a heated conversation with one of my roommates about this idea of giving access to students with disabilities. He said things like “Why is it fair to the rest of the class? This student is given extra time on an exam whereas the rest of us have a smaller amount of time to take it. That student should have taken the test in the same amount of time as the rest of us. When that student goes into the real world, they won’t be given extra time to prepare a presentation.” I kept talking to him about the fact that this student was being given an advantage over the rest of the class, they were being accommodated so they would be able to perform on the same level as the rest of the class. He was correct when saying that once you get to the real world you won’t be given extra time on a presentation, but when it comes to an educational environment, people should be given the accommodations to perform on the same level as the “normal” students.

It is important to give all students access in a learning environment so that they can grow into well-educated people. People shouldn’t be looked down for having a disability or a language barrier. The definition of able from is “having the power, skill, means or opportunity to do something.” One of my friends said, “If we had a wider definition of able, there would be fewer people in the classroom would be defined as disabled.” All people are able to do things in life and giving them access is not something that should be frowned upon. I believe that school systems should change especially in public schools when it comes to talking about students with disabilities or language differences. Embrace those differences and give those students access to succeed in life.  


Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. "Words Another Way: Of Presence, Vision, Silence, and Politics in Sign Language Poetry." Lend Me Your Ear: Rhetorical Constructions of Deafness. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet UP, n.d. 201-36.

Freeman, Claire and Tranter, Paul. "Natural Space." Children and Their Urban Environment: Changing Worlds. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 159-78.

Price, Margaret. "Listening to the Subject of Mental Disability: Intersections of Academic and Medical Discourses." Mad at School: Rhetorics of Mental Disability and Academic Life. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, n.d. 25-57.

"(Re)Imagining New Narratives of Racial, Labor, and Environmental Power for Latina/o Students." Social Justice, Peace, and Environmental Education: Transformative Standards. Ed. Yvette V. Lapayese. New York and London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, n.d. 160-73.



jccohen's picture

redefining ability and access


I like a lot your friend’s statement:  ““If we had a wider definition of able, there would be fewer people in the classroom would be defined as disabled.”  It reminds me of an article called “Culture as Disability” (available on serendip: /sci_cult/culturedisability.html) that does an analysis of Deaf culture and “learning disabilities” from the perspective of the idea that it’s our culture that makes people seem “disabled,” whereas actually, as you say, “All people are able to do things in life.”


Although you look here at language, dis/ability, and outdoor environments in terms of access, it’s not clear to me what you’re saying about how this all relates to (problems of) “environmental education.”  I think one way to look at this is:  if we define “environment” broadly, then these different issues of access can be understood as all symptomatic of a fragmented education system…and perhaps access to environment/environmental education could be a key to changing this.  Arreguin-Anderson & Kennedy talk about an environmental program in Spanish, and similarly I wonder about environmental ed with people with specific attention paid to access for various disabilities.  What do you think?