UATP is a federally-funded program serving individuals with disabilities of all ages in Utah. We provide assistive technology devices and services. We also train university students, parents, children with disabilities and professional service providers about AT. Our goal is to increase independence and quality of life for people with disabilities. Learn more at www.uatpat.org.
Thursday, October 31, 2019
UATP presenters reflect on “proving” disability
UATP Director Sachin Pavithran at the "Disrupt" event.
Two UATP presenters spoke at the “Disrupt” 2019 Inclusive Excellence Symposium at Utah State University on Wednesday. While their presentations were very different, they both spoke of the frustrating and sometimes infuriating need to “prove” their disability—or their ability.
This led to some reflection on whether people who use UATP services need to prove their disability. (The short answer is mostly no, they don’t—but keep reading.)
UATP Program Director Sachin Pavithran was once confronted by a professor after he turned in a major paper. Pavithran was studying information systems at the time, and the project was a paper on how to structure software design. It was a major project that counted heavily toward his grade, and because Pavithran is blind, the professor was convinced he had plagiarized.
“I was called into his office and he asked, ‘Who did your project,” Pavithran said. “Not, ‘How did you do your project.’ His assumption was, ‘Who did your project?’”
In an interview this morning, Pavithran said he isn’t sure if the professor didn’t believe he could type it up himself, or if he just thought Pavithran couldn’t have conceptualized it. He is sure the professor wanted him kicked out of the program. Pavithran ended up in a meeting with the professor, his own academic advisor, the department head and the director of the disability resource center. The professor questioned not only the paper but the tests Pavithran had taken at the DRC.
Pavithran's academic advisor had a daughter who was blind, and she was a fierce advocate for him. The disability resource center director outlined the steps her center had taken to make sure the tests were fair. And in the end, Pavithran remained in the program, with a C in the class. He remains convinced the final grade—which was based on two nearly-perfect tests and that one project—was assigned to him because of suspicion, not because he earned it.
Social Media Specialist Storee Powell at the "Disrupt" event
In a separate presentation later in the day, Social Media Coordinator Storee Powell described how draining it is to have an invisible disability that she must prove to others, again and again, as they seem to expect her to justify the need for services or accommodations.
Powell looks young and healthy, but she was diagnosed with Ehlers Daniels Syndrome in 2018—after 10 years of misdiagnoses, chronic pain and a host of other worsening symptoms.
It was a long, painful wait for a correct diagnosis. “If you don’t have a name for what you have, you kind of don’t exist,” she said. “It was really hard to explain it to the people around me.”
Powell urged her listeners not to ask anyone—even those who look healthy—why they need an accessible parking stall or bathroom stall, or why they use an elevator or need extra bathroom breaks. People with disabilities often have to ration their energy, she said; it’s best not to make them spend it justifying why they need accommodations.
Will you have to “prove” a disability to receive UATP equipment?
The short answer is no. UATP has locations in Logan, the Uintah Basin and Salt Lake City. None of the locations deal with insurance. They simply don’t work with insurance companies.
The facilities in Logan and the Uintah Basin offer devices to people who need them through the reuse of refurbished equipment, or by customizing a device to fit individual needs. Sometimes fees are charged to cover the cost of the materials. Both locations also have demonstration and loan libraries that allow people to learn more about available technology, and even try it before they decide what to purchase.
Coordinators don’t need a doctor’s note or a diagnosis to provide these services. If they ask their clients questions, it is with the goal of matching the person’s needs to the right assistive technology.
The Salt Lake City facility focuses just on refurbishing mobility equipment like walkers and wheelchairs (at last count, their inventory was more than 400 devices). There, too, a diagnosis or doctor’s note isn’t necessary.
About our financial services…
UATP also offers financing to help people afford assistive technology devices. Proof of disability is not required for UATP’s small grants or reduced-interest assistive technology loans.
Proof of disability is required for UATP’s reduced-interest, small business loans to entrepreneurs with disabilities. These loans are often used to start or expand a business. While they may be used for purchasing equipment, they may be used for other purposes, too.