Last night I taught the first session of HIST 233: Disability in American Life.  One of our initial activities was to discuss our “Class Rules.”  To begin this discussion, I asked the students what were some typical Class Rules that they’d had in other courses at Chapman.  The listed the following:

  • No bathroom breaks
  • No eating/drinking/gum chewing
  • No technology
  • No talking
  • No perfumes

We then had an interesting discussion about how each one of those rules could be problematic for class members who might have a disability.  We went through each one and discussed why this might be the case:

  • Frequent bathroom breaks can be necessary for medical reasons
  • Eating and drinking can be important for some medical conditions, and gum-chewing can be a comforting habit or can be a necessary accommodation for someone who needs gum-based medication
  • Assistive technology can be integral to the learning experience of some students
  • Not everyone can control when they vocalize
  • Scent can be an identity marker that is important to some people, or scent can be used to defuse anxiety

It was interesting to me that the students all listed rules that began with “No…” and that each of these rules seemed to flag behaviors that could marginalize students with specific physical needs and conditions.  It underscored to me the concerns that I have about the ways that the bodies of students (bodies that might experience low blood sugar and anxiety and chronic pain) can be marginalized by all-too-typical class rules.  And, I will certainly return to this list when we discuss exceptional and unruly bodies later this semester.

I then prompted the students to come up with some class rules that were more positive, things that they wanted to have happen in our class.  Together we came up with the following:

  • Participate
  • Active Listening/Respect for others who are speaking
  • Bring tech
  • Come Prepared to Class

And as we closed this discussion I encouraged the students to help me be aware of any needs that they might have that would help me to create a more welcoming class environment.  This is important to me because I can remember when I was a student with a disability in a college classroom before the ADA, before it was common to request accommodations.  I know that my learning experience often suffered as a result of my not being able to explain to a professor what I needed to be successful in their class.