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FBI college fraud investigation: why faking disability accommodations is so damaging

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In the first paragraph of the affidavit explaining the college fraud scandal that broke Tuesday, one sentence in particular stood out to me. Of the 33 parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who were accused of engaging in elaborate bribery schemes to get their kids into elite schools, several of the parents allegedly “extended time for their children on college entrance exams … including by having the children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the [necessary] medical documentation.”

As someone who is disabled, my blood boiled. I thought about all of the shame and embarrassment I had felt for needing, and sometimes using, accommodations for the ESPA, GEPA, ACT, LSAT, and bar exam. While I am no longer ashamed about needing accommodations, I do feel deep contempt for the people abusing these accommodations so they can succeed in a system that is built for them.

Right around my 11th birthday, I had my first “grand mal” seizure. These are the types of seizures that people imagine from the movies where you are on the floor, having full body spasms. These experiences were not scary for me, as I was unconscious, but they were disruptive of my life and my academic experience.

In addition to getting my first stick of deodorant that year, I also got a diagnosis of epilepsy. I spent the next couple of years trying almost every medicine on the chart of anti-epileptic drugs in my neurologist’s office. Between the doctor’s appointments and the seizures, I missed a fair amount of school.

I also developed a tremor, likely a side effect from one of the medications, that made it hard for me to take timed standardized tests that required handwriting. We spoke to my doctor, who recommended requesting accommodation for my next standardized test. When I took the ESPA, or Elementary School Proficiency Assessment, that year, I was separated from my classmates and brought to the room with the students in special education who had no time limit to take the exam.

I remember looking at my peers in the room and feeling embarrassed I had needed accommodations the same way students with serious developmental issues did. It made me wonder if people thought my abilities were impaired in some way.

I didn’t understand then that accommodation is not a judgment of your intelligence — it was a way of providing access so that I could accurately perform on the test the same way my peers without a disability could. I didn’t understand that activists have fought for over the course of centuries for me to have that right. Instead, my embarrassment was so great that the next year I stopped using the accommodation, saying that I was fine and just did the best that I could on the standardized test with my tremor.

Almost a decade later, during my first-year constitutional law exam at law school, I had a grand mal seizure. After that, student services asked me if I wanted to use accommodations during exams. When I resisted, they noted that accommodations can be challenging to get for the bar exam without prior documentation. But I was so afraid of being separated out from my classmates again that I refused.

When it finally did come time to study for the bar, my biggest concern was having a seizure. I devoted myself to working out ways to regulate my breath during the test, developing a system where I would take a meditative break after half an hour of answering questions. This meant I had to plan to work faster than people who would have access to the full amount of time allocated. When I eventually passed the bar exam, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders, most of it coming from never having to spend an enormous amount of energy regulating my disability during standardized tests ever again.

The Americans with Disabilities Act ensures that individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to fairly compete for and pursue opportunities including college, graduate school, and trade professions that require licensing exams. It does this by requiring testing entities that offer the exams to do so in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. The goal, according to the federal Justice Department’s technical assistance requirements, is to ensure that people with disabilities “can demonstrate their true aptitude.”

There is still so much work to be done to ensure people with disabilities have to access both individualized education plans in grade school and educational opportunities after high school. This is due to the complicated web of laws that make knowing your rights challenging, accessing evaluations costly and time-consuming, and enforcing them an uphill battle.

On top of all of the practical challenges is the stigma that far too often accompanies being labeled disabled. Our society’s biases cause people to think that having a disability means that you are less capable, rather than understanding that people are often disabled not by virtue of their medical condition, but by a world not built for them. Now that this cheating scam has captured the public imagination, students with disabilities could face heightened barriers to accommodations and suspicion when requesting them. The suspicion and barriers will impact most acutely those who are also marginalized due to race, socioeconomic status, sexuality, or gender identity.

Through my academic career, I was in the privileged situation of being able to pay for test prep, having time to study for these tests, having access to medical care, being able to afford to take tests multiple times. I had teachers and professors who respected my self-advocacy and didn’t try to deny me access to my education. Yet still, the shame surrounding my condition prevented me from seeking accommodations later in my schooling.

My story is not the story of most people with disabilities. I know many people who have conditions that they can’t manage. And they shouldn’t have to. Accommodations are there to provide access and level the playing field. But people who abuse them create barriers for those of us who really need them.

Aditi Juneja is a lawyer, writer, and activist. She is the co-founder of Resistance Manual and host of the podcast Self Care Sundays. She currently works for Protect Democracy.


First Person is Vox’s home for compelling, provocative narrative essays. Do you have a story to share? Read our submission guidelines, and pitch us at firstperson@vox.com.

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16 Striking Photos That Can Touch Your Heart

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Photos keep our memories safe and every time we look at them we can immerse ourselves in the moments that have been captured in them. They can also help us to understand what’s really important in this world. And it doesn’t matter whether these photos are from your personal album or belong to somebody else. Their messages, feelings, and emotions can be perceived in one glance.

Here at Bright Side, we believe that the following photos will really touch your heart.

This couple has battled leukemia for 15 years since they were children. Now they’re husband and wife.

This fireman gave a cat that got hurt in a fire mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and saved it.

“My dad, who has dementia, trying to remember my name”

His owner passed away but the dog continues to sit near his bed and wait.

This is what depression looks like over 24 hours.

Have you ever seen a blind dog enjoying the sounds of a lake?

An Iranian girl cheers for her favorite football team from behind the fence since Iranian women aren’t allowed into stadiums.

“My mom painted dementia.”

When all you have is memories:

The 3 social classes in The Philippines in one photo

“My buddy, a glass blowing artist, used my dad’s ashes to make a keepsake marble I can take with me anywhere.”

“She gave me the best 11 years of her life and I can only hope that I was able to do the same thing for her.”

“A year ago, my little sister left this world. This weekend her heart recipient met my mom and shared her heart beat.”

“The moment your dog comes out of the fire you thought he died in”

“3 months ago we were told our newborn was blind. 2 weeks ago we found out the doctors were wrong. Today, she got her glasses.”

“I’m just so proud of you!”

Today my daughter graduated from pre-K. After the ceremony, my son walked up to her and gave her a hug. “I’m just so proud of you,” he said. Then, of course, my daughter started crying. As we wiped away our tears, my husband asked her, “Pumpkin, why are you crying?” She responded, “I’m just so happy.”

Each photo has its own story. Which of them touched you the most?

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Komünist Başkan, Aldığı Kararla Sosyal Medyada Trend Topic Oldu

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Mehmet Fatih Maçoğlu’nun belediye başkanı olduğu Tunceli Belediyesi Meclisi, ‘Tunceli’ yazan belediye tabelasının ‘Dersim’ olarak değiştirilmesine karar verdi. Bu karar sonrası Maçoğlu, sosyal medyada Trend Topic oldu.

Tunceli Belediye Başkanı TKP’li Fatih Mehmet Maçoğlu başkanlığında belediye meclis üyeleri toplantısında alınan kararla Tunceli Belediyesi tabelasının ‘Dersim Belediyesi’ olarak değiştirilmesi kararı alındı. Karar tartışma yaratırken ‘DersimdeğilTunceli’ etiketi sosyal medyada Trend Topic oldu.

BELEDİYEDEN AÇIKLAMA YAPILDI

Belediyeden yapılan açıklamada Dersim ibaresiyle birlikte Zazaca ve Türkçe beleriye hizmetleri verileceği duyuruldu. Açıklamada şöyle denildi: “Kentimizin kültürü, tarihi ve inanç biçimini yaşatmak adına belediyemiz hizmet binasında bulunan tabelada yazılı ‘Tunceli’ ibaresinin değiştirilerek yerine ‘Dersim’ ibaresinin yazılması oy çokluğuyla kabul edildi. Haber

https://www.haberler.com/komunist-baskan-aldigi-kararla-sosyal-medyada-12077127-haberi/

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15 Random People Who Look So Much Like Celebrities, You May Want to Take a Photo With Them

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It’s not an easy goal to meet a real celebrity in our everyday life. Sometimes they are too busy with their activities or simply prefer to avoid public places. But when you see one right in front of you, don’t be too quick to jump over the moon and ask for a photo. Try to check their IDs first, because we are ready to show you that there are too many ordinary people who look just like stars and who probably wouldn’t miss a chance to pose and giggle afterward.

We at Bright Side compared photos of celebrities to their clones to demonstrate that this isn’t a joke. IDs first, photos after.

15. Kylie Jenner and Kristen Hancher, but which is which?

14. “My dad actually does Jack Nicholson lookalike work in Hollywood as a hobby.”

13. Breaking news! It seems Kim Kardashian has cloned herself.

12. “This fella lives in my house. I think James Franco and he follow each other on Instagram.”

11. “My sister always gets asked if she’s Julia Stiles.”

10. Nope, those aren’t just 2 pictures of Steve Buscemi!

9. Here’s chance for those who are upset that Michael Fassbender is married.

8. We’re just interested to see if Meghan Trainor’s double has the same talents.

7. We know this is pretty unexpected for Taylor Lautner, but we can’t unsee it.

6. This girl claims that she gets compared to Katy Perry daily.

5. When Chuck Norris is on vacation.

4. “Never mind, I’ll find someone like Adele.”

3. If Cobie Smulders doesn’t want to shoot How I Met Your Mother 10, there’s a perfect replacement out there.

2. Wait, so you’re saying that isn’t Zooey Deschanel on the right?

1. Even Zach Galifianakis and Jonah Hill can see this resemblance.

Do you have any friends who look exactly like movie stars? Show us their photos!

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