Monday, January 08, 2007

It starts again

So today was the first day of class. Nothing special.


I had meant to write about this earlier, but I never had time to.

During exams, everyone sits in the same room and types their exams on their laptops. The only ones missing are those crazy few who decide to handwrite their exams and are in a separate room, lest listening to others type distract them. And then, there are a few more who are missing, those special few who have secured special accommodations.

I have no issue with people who need special accommodations for real disabilities. People who have cystic fibrosis (there's one in law school), people who are blind, people who are missing an arm and can't type as fast as the rest of us, etc. Giving them extra time and/or special accommodation equipment to take their exams is the right thing to do.

And then there are the people who claim ADD. And many of these people who claim ADD I have seen in class pay perfect attention to what the professor says. They are part of the generation where parents shop around for a mental health professional willing to diagnose little Johnny or Mary with ADD (a very subjective diagnosis to a very subjective condition, as I recall from Psych 1) so as to earn their little princess or prince an added advantage in class. A school will accommodate their "disability" and give them more time on the exam, since a school will not want to appear to discriminate against the disabled. They get extra time in high school. They get extra time on the SAT. They get extra time in college. They get extra time on the LSAT. And the accommodation continues into law school. And in an environment where everyone is graded on a curve and the extra time can only help them spot more issues than others, such unneeded accommodation is unfair.

My problem with those who claim ADD: Okay, so they finish law school and let's say their accommodation helps them get a job they otherwise would not be able to get. What do you think would happen if they ask the partner at White, Old, and Rich, LLP for extra time to finish a memo because of their "disability"? Or ask a judge to postpone a hearing because they need more time to prepare? MOTION DENIED. (I'm sure, however, that a request from someone with CF or a blind lawyer will be granted.) If these ADD folks can and will suck it up in the workforce and work on the same time schedule as everyone else, why can't they do so in law school? Sooner or later, their "disability" will no longer be accommodated, and it might as well be sooner.

Luckily, at least at UCLA, professors are the ones who ultimately say yes or no on whether to grant an accommodation. There is at least one professor who will grant extra time only for what he believes to be real disabilities (read: not ADD). But most grant them, because they don't have any vested interest in the matter.

Sure, I recognize that ADD can be severe enough that I might be willing in those cases to look favorably on an accommodation request. But in the majority of cases, these students have no trouble concentrating on movies, video games, reading trashy magazines, or surfing the Internet (read: fun things) and claim to be distracted only on academic matters. These cases seem like people trying to game the system.

Last point: I recognize that some people will think of my position here as inconsistent with my position on affirmative action in the last post ("Hey Fox, you're willing to give an advantage based on race but not on disability"). Not so, I counter. I am likewise opposed to those 1/8 Native Americans or those "my great-grandmother was born Cuba" types but who identify only with white suburbia and try to game the system. I'm in favor of AA only for those who make a good faith effort; likewise, I support accommodation for those who really do have a need.

Post if you disagree with what I just said. Or email me if you don't feel comfortable commenting publicly.


Blogger Mel Woods said...

Oddly enough I agree with both your positions. Affirmative action seeks to put disadvantaged students on a level playing field. Disability laws are over utilized by rich whites who can afford to doctor shop and threaten to sue (as happened at my last school).

The threat of a law suit will continue to unfairly advantage those with bogus disability claims in the workplace, especially in California. Unfortunately it is often too difficult to sort who is deserving from who hired the right doctor.

7:24 PM  
Blogger buffalodawg said...

I think you stated it all pretty well. I'm a former special ed teacher and am pretty familiar with the students with ADD gaming the system.

7:54 PM  
Blogger angela said...

This is random, but I've always wondered what would happen if you broke your hand or wrist right before finals and could neither write nor type. Would they put you in a seperate room and allow you to dictate your answers to someone typing on your behalf or what?

8:45 PM  
Blogger 1L @ UT Law said...

angela, a friend of mine at john hopkins med broke both wrists (what are the odds of that?) the week before med school finals. there were no accomodations but i think your idea of an oral exam would be fair.

fox, i wrote a post on my own blog a while back re students in my LSAT classes playing the ADD card. i agree with your post, the system gets seriously abused with that diagnosis in particular. In addition to the examples you provided, I also can't imagine a client paying upwards of $200 maybe $300/hr for his/her attorney agreeing to allow an attorney extra time for an ADD disability.

12:59 AM  
Blogger Lily Graypure said...

As a person with ADD, I believe it's absolutely NONE of your business how severe my ADD is. And just because there is little accommodation in the "real world" for ADD doesn't make it right.

That said, I've never asked for extra time because it's 1) a bureaucratic nightmare to get, which is time better spent studying and 2) Extra time would only occasionally help me. Sometimes it would stress me out more and make me do worse. There's no way for me to tell ahead of time.

I'm thoroughly disgusted by the attitudes I've seen here. You are not an expert. Since when do lay people get to decide that something exists or doesn't exists when a doctor makes the diagnosis? Professionals, experts, make the diagnosis. You can't see it yourself, so you think it's not real? For shame. Keep your nose out of my business.

It's because the damn things are graded on a curve that makes it so important to allow people with ADD to have extra time if they need it. It's not as though you're getting less time than the professor thinks you need. But the student with ADD is getting less time than they need. If they could write just as good of an exam as other students of similar ability and training who don't have ADD if the student with ADD had just a little bit more time, it hurts no one to give them the time.

The rhetoric of "what happens in practice" runs dangerously close to an intolerable kind of discrimination which has no place in a system of justice.

10:18 AM  
Blogger The Fox said...

Here’s my response-

(FYI, I was diagnosed by two doctors as having moderate ADD during elementary school, but then this third one was of the homoeopathic persuasion, and a) believed that ADD could be controlled, if not cured, and b) without the use of drugs. I’ve since learned to control it so that it doesn’t affect my life at all.)

Like most things in life, and especially in the law, there is no black or white answer, and I believe that everything is nuanced in shades of gray. I’m not that heartless to take an opinion that we should not accommodate disabilities or ADD. If you read closely, I’m against 1) those who really don’t have it but shop around for doctors willing to say they do have it and then pay lawyers to threaten to sue if they don’t get the accommodations and 2) those who have a slight form of it but pay doctors to exaggerate the severity of it.

An analogous situation: Someone without a mobility disability but paying a doctor to say they have difficulty walking in order to secure a handicap sticker on their car so they can park closer to the building or someone with say an amputated toe who pays the doctor to exaggerate his symptoms walking.

I explicitly say that I would support accommodations for severe ADD. My freshman year roommate had the worst attention disorder you could imagine. He would play Xbox for 5 minutes, hit pause, go IM for another 5 minutes, and then decided that he would do pushups, always constantly moving around, even with A MONSTER DOSE OF ADDERALL.

I think our biggest point of disagreement is how it plays out in practice…I guess I’m a realist. I concede that “the rhetoric of "what happens in practice" runs dangerously close to an intolerable kind of discrimination” is true in many cases, especially in cases of race, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination of the past and the present. While people intuitively feel that all people should be treated equally based on race or gender, I think that people also intuitively feel that no one should be guaranteed an associate position at Rich, Old, and White, LLP or be guaranteed a job as an investment banker, and that if one can’t hack it, they shouldn’t be there. And realistically, I think that people with disabilities where accommodations are not mandated by the ADA also realize that the prospects of getting the boss to give them an accommodation is slim and chances of winning in a handicap discrimination trial is also slim, and hence a) either suck it up or b) don’t do the big-law firm route altogether. Hence, I disagree that using the “custom” and “practice” defense is wrong, since it is reality and most people intuitively feel that it is fair.

In closing, what I was trying to argue is more or less what I view policy aims should be. I’m also enough of a realist to realize that schools are litigation-adverse, and hence, will continue to offer accommodations (that one professor I mention aside) to all who present a doctor’s note, whether legitimate or not.


4:28 PM  
Blogger Counsellor in Cultivation said...

the thing that REALLY pisses me off about the ADD/extra time thing is that they're getting DOUBLE the help as everyone else.

Kids with ADD are medicated. AND they get 6 hours to my 4. one or the other, MAYBE acceptable in extreme cases. both???? This is like giving a baseball player steroids and a weighted bat.

however, i just sit back and laugh. you make an excellent and agreeable point about the realism of this situation. when these people are in the real world, they will not get special treatment.

but they'll still have adderal.

maybe i shouldn't laugh.

Anyway, that said, i would prefer NOT to have extra time on law school exams. I found that 4 hours was plenty and any more i would simply freak myself out. (This being said before grades are out... eeee) but still the underlying principle of additional time for "disabilities" such as ADD is extrememly unjust.

6:21 PM  
Blogger KT said...

"If they could write just as good of an exam as other students of similar ability and training who don't have ADD if the student with ADD had just a little bit more time, it hurts no one to give them the time."

I don't believe that's true. I think it hurts both the student and it hurts their future employers/clients.

It hurts the student because to give them this extra time is not preparing them for what it's going to be like when they are actually working. Unless they are very lucky, their bosses are not going to give them extra time to complete assignments. And for sure, no judge is going to give them extra time to file pleadings or make arguments. Allowing such a student to get used to working at their own pace will leave them stranded when they graduate and suddenly have to begin working at everyone else's pace.

And allowing these accomodations also hurts employers/clients who are paying a certain salary or certain billable rate when someone else could work faster (i.e. more economically), unless the student commits to making a lesser salary, or working more billable hours than their peers, or charging their clients a discounted rate, which I have never heard of happening.

I'm not saying students with disabilities like ADD should be ass out of luck, but I think the focus should be on programs that help these students learn to work under "real world" time constraints, rather than simply throwing extra exam hours at them, which is only a short term fix, not a long term coping strategy.

1:54 AM  

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