Reasonable Accommodations

August 4, 2014
Chelsea Budde

My family and I are on vacation.  We are visiting theme parks and family, splitting up when we need to for the well-being of our kiddos on the spectrum.  My 15-year-old son in particular has a number of "rules" he's self-imposed to protect against sensory assaults and general violations.  One is that he cannot get his shirt wet.

When you're in Florida in the summer, you WANT to get wet.  (It's 100 shades of hot down here.)  So as much as my son wanted to get wet in a theme park on a ride with water features, he could not tolerate sacrificing the dryness of his shirt for the cooler sensation.  In anticipation of boarding the ride's transport, he removed his shirt.  The attendant informed him he'd have to put it on for the ride.  I flashed our accommodation pass and told the attendant that my son had autism and could not get his shirt wet for sensory reasons.  He insisted that if his shirt were off, he could not be in the park.

We graciously bowed out of the line after waiting for a stifling 35 minutes, watching the rest of our party enjoy the ride.  And I tweeted my discontent, believing that this inflexibility was denying an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) promised "reasonable accommodation".  The response was, "we only allow this [men's shirts off] in the Water Park to ensure comfort for all guests". Sure -- all guests except those with autism and sensory issues.

Here's how this applies to you: Be flexible. I am not sure there would have been a person in that ride transport who would have been uncomfortable with a shirtless teen boy -- certainly not if we were willing to communicate the reason for the (potentially offensive) upper body nudity. But the park had decided that it's better to deny access than to be flexible for someone with a disability. Don't get me wrong; the park policy to be accommodating for people with mobility impairments and neurological differences is in place when it comes to boarding rides. It just doesn't extend to attire regulations.

So when it comes to the rules of your classroom and the expectations of your school campus, understand that the spirit of the ADA should allow for reasonable accommodations. Maybe it's realizing that your incoming kindergartener is going to need to hang onto his favorite comfort item for transitions. Perhaps it's allowing your middle schooler to choose a different Phy Ed uniform than the routinely issued one. It could even be that your student needs to demonstrate her competence in an alternate assessment. These are all reasonable accommodations. They are not safety infractions or otherwise illegal.

And if another student or faculty member challenges the accommodation, remind him or her that, "Fair isn't everybody getting the same thing. Fair is everybody getting what they need in order to be successful."

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