Student encounters difficulty seeking CSAS accommodations
When Kaitlyn Counter was diagnosed with ADHD during spring of her sophomore year, it became apparent to her that her condition was affecting her academic performance. She turned to TU’s Center for Student Academic Support, which offers accommodations to students with students with disabilities including ADHD.
“I had just gotten my ADHD diagnosis from my psychiatrist, and I took it to CSAS because everybody talks it up like they’re really going to help you,” Counter said.
“I gave them everything that they needed, I got a letter from my psychiatrist stating the accommodations that I need, what he thinks would help me … he did all of his paperwork that they gave me to give to him. Basically they laid it all out for me and they were like ‘this is what you need,’ and I brought it back to them,” she explained.
Counter’s case was taken to CSAS’ Eligibility Committee. According to the CSAS handbook, the committee “includes staff from CSAS, a trained staff member from the student’s academic college and staff from the counseling center,” and “reviews the documentation and makes determinations about appropriate accommodations,” before notifying the student of the committee’s decision in writing.
“I got an email that was like ‘we are not granting you accommodations … we don’t have sufficient evidence that you’re impaired enough,’” Counter said. She explained that when she asked for elaboration, she was not given a clear reason as to why her ADHD diagnosis from her psychiatrist was not sufficient evidence to grant her accommodations.
The CSAS handbook, which can be accessed on TU’s website, lists the following documents as necessary for acquiring accommodations: “procedures followed, the instruments used to assess the disability, the test results, and the interpretation of the results.” Also required material are “recommended academic accommodations,” “individual’s present achievement level … dated no more than three years prior,” test results for criteria including intelligence, reading rate, and processing skills, and any “additional testing … as determined by the Eligibility Committee.”
“The gist of it was that I did not have enough ADHD to constitute getting time and a half [on exams], which was all that I had asked for. So I’ve been basically battling with them since mid-[spring] semester and then all this semester,” Counter said.
When Counter asked what she needed to do to receive the accommodations, she was told by CSAS officials that she needed to take a 6-8 hour formal assessment with a licensed professional, which included an interview and a series of aptitude tests. The cost of the assessment was $2,000.
“I asked if they had any resources or if they offered that testing — and they didn’t point me in the direction of any places that would offer it, but they said that they could give me the names of some psychiatrists’ offices. And I was like ‘well, I have one of those.’”
Counter was told by her employer that the True Blue Neighbors Behavioral Health clinic offered the assessment she needed for free, so she contacted the clinic. The True Blue Neighbors clinic is TU-affiliated and provides mental health assessment and treatment services to people in areas near TU.
“They made it sound like they could do the test, and they obviously offer it,” she said. “I got a call a week or two later saying they actually wouldn’t do it because they saw that I wanted my results sent to CSAS.” The clinic stated that it would be a “conflict of interest” to provide the results to CSAS, and that CSAS would not accept the results.
“I just don’t even know what to say to that,” Counter said. “Because they have the resources to give students this assessment that they require for ADHD accommodations, and they just don’t allow you to use it, essentially.”
“So here I am, praying that I have professors who are accommodating … I feel so bad,” she continued. “Because I love TU, I love the professors because all of them have been super nice to me and they’ve been really accommodating. But it’s just stuff like this that just doesn’t ever work.”
Counter commented that “it feels like specific discrimination against people with ADHD and learning disabilities because we’re the only two that are listed on their website who have to go through … special guidelines to get accommodations.” She said that she has spoken to students with bipolar disorder and depression who have been offered time and a half on exams by CSAS.
“Why don’t I get that?” she asked. “Why do I need to spend $2000 in order to get my accommodations when this person has what I have, which is a diagnosis from a psychiatrist, and they’re cleared?”
The CSAS handbook states that “In order to qualify for accommodations, students provide documentation of their disability to CSAS. Depending on the type of disability, there is different information that will need to be provided by the student’s diagnosing professional.” Though the handbook does note that a variety of documentation (i.e. different assessments) may be required depending on disability, it doesn’t specify which types of documentation are required for certain disabilities.
“They don’t state it explicitly [in the handbook],” Counter explained. “But I’ve asked them ‘should I have my psych write me another letter,’ or ‘what else can my psych do’ and they said ‘no, you need that testing.’ I was not given any other options.”
The handbook states that “TU is in compliance with requirements under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Students must provide sufficient disability documentation as determined by the 504/ADA Coordinator before services or accommodations will be provided (accommodations cannot be provided retroactively).” It specifies that “It is the student’s responsibility to provide or pay for the cost of this documentation.”
Additionally, the handbook seems to state that service providers cannot be affiliated with the university, potentially explaining the “conflict of interest” cited by True Blue Neighbors: “Documentation must be prepared by appropriately certified personnel qualified to diagnose disabilities including, but not limited to a certified physician, educational diagnostician, learning disability pec list or psychologist. The service providers cannot be associated with the University of Tulsa in a full-time or part-time following documents will be needed: procedures followed, the instruments used to assess the disability, the test results and the interpretation of the results.
So far, Counter has been relying on gracious professors and convenience in scheduling to complete her exams. “I’ve lucked out with my schedule. I have a 9 a.m. and then an 11 a.m. So that gap really helps because … I can come in early, take the exam, like start taking it and then [the professor] will move me to the class and that’s fine.” However, she’s concerned that her schedule might not work out so well in the future. “It basically just depends on how much your schedule matches up with your professor’s.”
The setup also isn’t ideal because it allows Counter to be distracted easily by outside stimuli. With CSAS accommodations, she would be allowed to test in one of CSAS’ private rooms. As it is, “I get to start 20 minutes early, but the tradeoff is I get moved from wherever he has me start to the classroom.”
“There’s almost a certain amount of shame,” she added. “I walk in with my test that I’ve already done. I’ve gotten extra time and it’s apparent. So it’s like, I almost hide my test until people start and then I make it look like it’s been handed to me. Because people get upset about that, they don’t understand why I get special treatment.”
As previously stated, TU is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of disability and ensures equal opportunity for those with disabilities. The ADA covers individuals with mental illnesses, which includes ADHD. Though TU “is in compliance with requirements under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act,” according to the CSAS handbook, the university “reserves the right to determine the most effective and timely accommodation(s) after consultation with the student and appropriate health care providers (with the student’s permission) as the 504/ADA Coordinator deems essential.”
Counter doesn’t feel as though she has been treated in a way that is ADA compliant. With the ADA, “the person just needs to show a reasonable amount of disability, or that their work is affected,” she said. “One of the biggest lines in the ADA is that the employer needs to make a reasonable accommodation, unless it is of high cost to the employer. And the employer in this case would be TU, because the section also applies to institutions,” Counter says, referring to Title I of the ADA.
“So while I can see a $2000 test being an unreasonable cost to an institution, there’s also the fact that there’s this clinic that will test me for free or at a lower cost — anything is better than $2000 — they won’t allow me that service, so that’s a lack of accommodation there,” she continued.
“The fact that they require me to have that test in the first place when I have a letter from my psychiatrist saying ‘she especially struggles in this area, this area and this area because of her ADHD,’ seems very unreasonable. Reasonable accommodations are not being made for me. And that to me does not sound ADA compliant,” Counter concluded.
Counter said that the process has added quite a bit of work to her plate. “It feels like such an unnecessary addition to my workload,” she lamented. “I’m taking 16 hours, it’s technically 18 hours because I picked up a lab, and on top of that I’m trying to get paperwork and stuff … It should not be this much work to get accommodations. I know several people at state schools who have absolutely no issues getting accommodations, people with ADHD … That’s a state school, they have so many students to care for and if they’re able to do that at a state school I just don’t understand why it’s such an issue here.”
Looking forward, Counter plans to take her case to TU administration. “Next step is sending a letter to administration, and if that doesn’t go anywhere then … where am I gonna go with it?”