Accommodations Process Complicated, Inaccessible

With the semester coming to a close and final assignments ramping up, I’ve started reflecting on what will now be my first full year of college-level work. As someone who struggles with learning difficulties, I’ll concede that a lot of what I turned in this year was done predictably close to the deadline, in one long, uncomfortable sitting, and with the aid of caffeine and prescription stimulants. Like many first-years, I’ve found the shift from high school to college to be a difficult one. Unlike in high school, my teachers no longer intervene when I don’t meet a due date, nor do their grading schedules force me to acknowledge the immediate consequences of late work and missed assignments. In the fall, the difficulties in adapting to these changes were exacerbated by the long and arduous process of acquiring academic accommodations, which took until Winter Term.

I’ll admit that I should have been more proactive about the whole process during my summer prior to arriving on campus. I had wrongly assumed that I would be able to submit to Oberlin the same material that provided me with accommodations in high school. However, when I reached out to the Office of Student Accessibility Services in late August, I was told that documentation of my disability had to have been done within the past three years to ensure it was done with adult scales. By the time I understood the lengthy process of obtaining all the necessary requirements to qualify for accommodations, I knew that it would be impossible for me to complete the process at home.

I reached out to disability resources directly in the hopes of getting a more straightforward plan, only to be hit with a roadblock that probably should have been made more clear online. Despite my understanding that I would be able to get tested for ADHD by the Counseling Center, when I phoned OSAS I was told that I would have to be tested off-campus. The person I spoke to on the phone was very helpful and emailed me after the call with a list of practitioners I could go to. One was in North Ridgeville (out of the question, since it’s about 14 miles away and I don’t own a car), another was completely virtual, and the third required me to pay out of pocket. I consider myself very lucky that I’m in an economic position that allowed my family to pay for the full price of the test, although this should not be necessary to receive essential services.

As I began the testing process with this service, I also reached out to the Counseling Center about the possibility of having my medication prescribed to me through the College. Thankfully, this process was relatively painless. Now that I had my more recent diagnosis, the College was able to schedule an appointment for me with a registered psychiatrist about a month into the new year. I’ve been using this resource ever since.

I’m incredibly grateful for the help that the College has provided me, and considering 2021’s influx of first-years and the effects of the pandemic, it’s not hard to understand why services such as OSAS might be overwhelmed. However, having now finally figured out how to manage learning disabilities on campus, I have some suggestions both for students and for OSAS.

To those students considering getting academic help that requires paperwork: start during the summer! Start when you have a little time, are not miles away from your parents and doctors, and have a good chunk of free time to make phone calls and reply to emails. I know it’s awful and soul-crushing, but I promise it’s better than wishing you had done things in advance in the middle of a test that you don’t have extra time on.

An anecdotal warning about medication: over the summer, my California pediatrician fully convinced me that she would be able to call in my prescription to the Oberlin CVS, only for me to find out that there was a problem with the prescription of medication over state lines while on the phone with the pharmacy. Cover all of your bases. If something can go wrong, it very well might.

To the College: not everyone has a recent diagnosis ready and waiting. I thought I did, and apparently I was wrong. Getting a diagnosis can be very expensive  — anywhere from $300 to $5,000 — and time-consuming, and many people haven’t done it since middle school. It took me several emails and appointments to find out how to get a diagnosis while in Oberlin — something that is not explained on the Counseling Center’s website. The OSAS web page should have a big “If-Then” column that tells you exactly what you need to do. IF you have been diagnosed with ADHD within the last three years, THEN you should follow this link to submit your relevant psychiatric forms, and email this person to begin setting up an appointment to obtain a prescription.

Obviously it’s not as simple as that — campus services dealing with laws surrounding disability rights and established medical practices can’t afford to be simplistic — but I do think there can be a middle ground. Students should know exactly what resources are available to them and how to use them. At a certain point last semester, I found myself in a Counseling Center office speaking to a ​​social worker about what options I had for seeing a psychiatrist in Oberlin, and she said something that I still consider to be a spot-on interpretation of the issue. To paraphrase: “It’s almost like you’ve already proven that you have ADHD if you’re having trouble getting help.”