An Unfair Advantage?
By Ann Chiappetta
Did you ever encounter a situation where no matter what you try, something gets in the way? I know, you’re thinking, oh, no, she’s going to try and pull off an Andy Rooney-like rant. If it sounds like it, feel free to go on the next article, but if you stay with me maybe we’ll both get something out of it.
To be brief, I’m registering for a licensing examination in New York State. The first step was to fill out the application. This I couldn’t do myself, as it is still a hand written submission. The process took two weeks from start to finish.
Three weeks later, I’m contacted by the person who processes the applications for the State Board of Higher Education and Licensing via email informing me that most of the auxiliary documents are in order and I’ve been approved to proceed to the examination registration. She asks for proof of my disability and I provide a form letter from our State agency for the blind, but she says that’s not good enough. I say it’s signed by a New York State rehab counselor, the very same State, in fact as the one she works for and if she can’t trust a sister agency, that’s pretty sad. So she accepts it.
Next, she wants to know why I’m asking for a reasonable accommodation, when, in fact, I did not request any while attending college. When I asked why that was needed, she answered that her job was to make sure I did not, “have an unfair advantage over my sighted peers,” before, during or after the test taking process. After a week of being very pissed off and feeling discriminated against, I got over it, wrote a letter stating how my vision had declined since then and that all my needs were addressed by outside agencies serving me. I added that if they wanted proof, to contact the rehab counselor who wrote the proof of disability letter. I concluded the letter by saying I thought asking for proof of my past needs was in no way relevant to what I required presently and that I found it an invasion of my privacy and insulting.
They, of course, moved on to a higher level of ignorance.
Next, the person says that since I’m legally blind, the testing facility can offer a screen magnifying program. I say I cannot use it because I no longer have useable sight. I describe the screen reading program I use (JAWS) and that I’m requesting to use it during the exam. They respond by saying, no, they do not have JAWS, nor will they obtain it, but they will, however make a reasonable accommodation by providing a human reader for the exam.
I ask if this is the first time the testing site has provided services for a blind candidate and, to their credit, no one responds to my question.
So, after ping-ponging with the woman and her superior, I fight for and receive approval for both a reader, responding person to take down answers, and double testing time. I receive a confirmation via mail instructing me to log on to a website to register and pay for a testing date and location. I go to the website and click on the PDF for instructions and guess what? It’s not accessible. I email them and guess what? The email is bad. So, this is what I mean by barriers. I’ve done it all correctly, crossing every t and dotting every I and I am still being denied equal access to something my sighted peers take for granted. We know who really has the advantage here, folks, and it’s surely not me.
The higher I go the more I find uncompromising attitudes. The simple folk are easier to deal with; I'm not quite sure why that is but it seems to be my experience.
In any case, I have to call the person and verbally recount my findings and hope they will not ignore me or it's off to the Dept. of Justice with an EEO compliant. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever get my license.