What is an accommodation?

At a blindness workshop I attended almost 20 years ago, a presenter said something that has always stayed with me. The presenter, who is blind, stated that “a lightbulb is an accommodation for sighted people.”

This may sound ridiculous, but indeed, artificial lighting meets the definition of an accommodation. According to, one meaning of an accommodation is “anything that fulfills a want, need, etc.” Another is “adjustment, as of differences or to new circumstances.”

Artificial lighting is an environmental modification that meets the needs of seeing people. In popular culture, we don’t think of lighting as an accommodation simply because it is needed and used by the vast majority of the population.

In the disability world, “reasonable accommodations” are usually discussed in the context of institutions, like education, employment, or standardized testing. Typically, people in power within those institutions (teachers, principals, supervisors, human resources, business leaders, testing boards) control what accommodations disabled people can get. Individuals with disabilities have the burden of requesting specific accommodations, often proving why they are needed, and then they are subject to the control of those in power to determine what accommodations to provide. All too often, the accommodations process is onerous and accommodations are denied.

Sometimes, accommodations are denied because they are not feasible to provide, cost-prohibitive, etc. But more often, harmful attitudes about disability accommodations reinforce the burden on disabled people to secure them, the delays in approval, and the prevalence of denials. Some people mistakenly think a job done with accommodations is somehow inferior to a job done without them. Conversely, others believe accommodations are “special treatment” and that people who get accommodations have an unfair advantage over those who do not get them.

There are lots of societal notions about disability-related accommodations. What happens if we take disability out of the equation entirely, though, and consider how people accommodate each other routinely in our relationships?

Here are a few examples of accommodations in my daily life that have nothing to do with disability:

  • My husband doesn’t like green peppers. I don’t like olives. Our friend likes both, but she doesn’t eat meat. When we order pizza, we get a vegetarian pizza with olives on one side and green peppers on the other. Then all three of us can enjoy the toppings we like and skip the ones we dislike.
  • I had a dental checkup yesterday. My mouth is unusually small for an adult’s mouth, so getting good X-rays is challenging. The dentist remembered my small mouth and ordered a different type of X-ray that doesn’t involve inserting bitewings into the back of my mouth. I also had a traumatic experience years ago with a water pick, so the dentist accommodates me by hand-cleaning my teeth instead. This time she forgot, but she always gets my consent before she does anything, so when she asked if it was OK to use the water pick, I reminded her to use the hand scaler and she happily accommodated me.
  • My friend likes to talk on the phone. I prefer texting. We agreed to a weekly phone call. She texts first to ask when it’s a good time. I can end the phone call when I get tired. If she needs to talk about something specific in between the weekly calls, she asks and I honor her need if I can.
  • When my husband and I were first dating, we watched a movie with two of my blind friends at my small apartment. Of the four of us, he was the only one who needed to see the screen. It took some work and we had to move a few chairs around, but we were able to provide him the accommodation of preferential seating so he could see the movie. (OK, this last one does relate to disabilities, but in reverse).

People in close relationships accommodate each other constantly without thinking about it. Babies and toddlers are some of the world’s most fierce self-advocates. If a baby needs an accommodation from their caregiver, whether it’s removing a dirty diaper, repositioning, rocking or feeding, baby will cry and cry until that accommodation is provided. Caregivers learn quickly to respond and accommodate. Over time, they learn what baby likes and doesn’t like, and there’s less guessing involved in determining accommodations. Similarly, family members, spouses, friends, and housemates all accommodate each other’s preferences, needs, and wants whenever sharing time and space. Meeting each other’s needs and wants in relationships isn’t special treatment or unfair advantage, as long as everyone’s needs are included.

I do want to address one argument that’s been made for not over-accommodating children and teenagers with disabilities. Some say we shouldn’t provide all accommodations because youth need to learn how to function when those accommodations are unavailable. While I heartily disagree with this view, I will first point out a couple of caveats. If a young person is doing an educational activity meant to build a specific skill, accommodations should be crafted so they don’t bypass all use of that skill, or else the educational goals should be amended so that skill is not involved. For example, letting someone dictate their answers would be an inappropriate accommodation for a spelling test, and if they are unable to write, spelling should perhaps not be one of their goals. Secondly, if we have always used an accommodation throughout life, we may never discover whether or not the accommodation is needed. Sometimes, people (of all ages) might voluntarily choose to try doing something without their usual accommodation, or with a different one, to learn what their true needs are. My husband originally believed he disliked all onions and peppers. Recently, entirely on his own direction, he has experimented and discovered he does like red and yellow peppers and can tolerate onion in some cases. Our friend cooks with a lot of onions, so she checks in with him each time to ask whether he wants the onions omitted from each recipe, and puts onions in only if he says it’s OK for that particular recipe.

Consent is paramount. Removing a child’s accommodations without their consent “so they can learn to function in the real world” is harmful and it is also pointless. Imagine if the power company turned off the power grid for ten minutes each day to help sighted people learn to function in the dark, because someday there might be a power outage? No power company (run by sighted people) would ever do that. Instead, sighted people plan ahead by buying portable flashlights or candles and using those to get by when there’s a power outage. In other words, they identify alternate accommodations that they can personally control in case something happens out of their control (an outage).

I think disabled children and teens should absolutely be helped to identify backup strategies and alternate accommodations to utilize, including self-accommodations, if their preferred accommodations are denied. They should also become aware of the accommodations that help them most and the language for requesting and advocating for their needs. That will benefit them far more as adults than arbitrarily withholding accommodations in a power move.

Consent is absolutely crucial, in both directions. Forcing someone to accept an accommodation is just as harmful as withholding a needed one. If someone has not explicitly asked for an accommodation but they appear to be having difficulty without one, it can be tricky to know what to do. You truly can never go wrong with a conversation. You can ask if there is a need, or offer a specific accommodation and ask if it is wanted, and then, it is important to respect the answer given. Every time we ask “is this OK?” in our close relationships, we are doing this.

If we think of accommodation as a universal part of all human relationships, accommodating disabled people needn’t carry the stigma that it so often does. It can truly be as routine as turning on the lights.

The audiobook is here!

It’s here! The self-narrated version of my book, Just Human: The Quest for Disability Wisdom, Respect, and Inclusion is now available for just $10.00! Just over 6 hours in length, this homemade audiobook features the reading of my memoir sprinkled with some voice clips, a little music, and other surprises.

To order, simply send $10.00 via either Paypal, Venmo, or Zelle to

and be sure to put your email address in the note. I will then email you a link to the audiobook in Mp3 format through Dropbox, so you can easily download it to your device, add it to your Dropbox folder or simply stream it on the Web to your phone or computer.

If you can’t send payment through PayPal, Venmo, or Zelle, or if you want the audiobook in a different format like M4A, just shoot me an email to

So we can make the appropriate arrangements.

One more thing: The price will go up to $15.00 on January 1, 2023. So, get your copy for $10.00 today!

Just Human audiobook releasing on Dec 15!

Happy December everyone! I just wanted to share a quick, exciting update. My memoir, Just Human: The Quest for Disability Wisdom, Respect, and Inclusion will be available as a self-narrated audiobook on December 15! Unlike a traditional audiobook, this one will include some short voice clips from my past to help illustrate the story, plus musical interludes from

You will be able to buy the audiobook directly from me (pay via Paypal, Zelle, or Venmo) as a direct Mp3 download. Stay tuned for the details on December 15!

To see more updates and hear a few teasers from the audiobook (which I will post next week), plus stay on top of book events and other news about the book, join the Just Human Facebook group.

Blindness Philosophy as Anchor and Bludgeon [Guest Post]

This post comes to us from Braden Flax. Braden was raised on Long Island by his blind mother, who made it clear from the start that his blindness wasn’t something that had to limit his prospects or restrain his goals. He recently completed a degree at Princeton University, where he did his best to develop as a writer. Now, he endeavors to stay involved and active in a variety of ways, and he hopes that this engagement makes for more dynamic contributions to the disability wisdom here upheld.

              When I navigate the world as a blind person, I am constantly confronted with questions concerning how to interact with others, how to come across in the best possible light without allowing myself to be dominated by the ever-present responsibility to do just that, to perform the confidence and competence I feel most of the time, but not always. Luckily, I am far from alone; there are others who have traveled this road before and who continue to alongside me. The advice and support we offer one another is indispensable, yet there are times when we inadvertently make things even harder for one another, even when we have the best of intentions in our commitment to upholding high expectations for ourselves, each other, and how people perceive us.

Blindness in itself is at worst nothing more than a pesky annoyance. Alas, we and our blindness do not exist in a cultural vacuum. Frequently, because of the intervention of paternalistic institutions and ideologies against our interests, blindness manifests not as a superficial inconvenience, but as a life-defining break on our potential, sense of self-worth, autonomy, and well-being. It follows from this framework that it is not our blindness that must be concealed or even cured; instead, transformation is called for at the level of society, which imposes undue limits on us long before we have the fair chance to demonstrate that blindness does not preclude us from the possibility of enjoying the richness of a full, vibrant life. Very properly and crucially, this conviction permeates whatever spaces are taken up by the National Federation of the Blind, which in the past century has taken enormous strides on behalf of the blind community. The Federation calls the understanding of blindness I’ve laid out “blindness philosophy.” This robust outlook, historically, is one of strength, resolve, self-confidence, self-advocacy, and even militancy. The Federation has stood side-by-side with blind parents whose children were horrifically taken from them, rationalized according to the very wrong premise that blind people could not competently care for children. It has stood just as steadfastly with families through the often frustrating process of advocating for the educational needs of their children, who are frequently led astray by professionals wielding intimidating credentials but lacking in certain vital insights. Personally, I’ve been unspeakably fortunate in that at an early age, I was introduced to Braille, allowing me to become a proficient reader. This opportunity, sadly, is far from the norm. Likewise, I was encouraged to travel with a long white cane. This alone puts me head and shoulders above many of my blind contemporaries, in terms of opportunity. This is not a point of pride, but one of perspective. Every blind person should be presented with the range of options that I have been lucky enough to benefit from, at a minimum. Advocacy for universal access to Braille, the importance of the cane, and more generally advancing our capacity to live our lives on terms of equality with our sighted neighbors are key elements of blindness philosophy, which is at its best a paradigm for empowerment and a guidance system to live rich, liberated lives. There is a problem, however; all too often, blindness philosophy as circulated in our community is not always at its best. It is my hope that pointing out where and how it tends to go wrong may help to rescue its best elements, which remain indispensable.

              One debate that rages on in the blindness community without a resolution appearing even on the distant horizon concerns public transit. Some blind people maintain that society should grant us access to public transit for free, or at least at a substantial discount, given the nontrivial and in some cases exceptional challenges we otherwise face when attempting to make our way from one place to the next. (Of course, such “special treatment” would hardly be an issue if public transit were free and universal for all in the first place. But as the late great comedian George Carlin once noted, “we don’t have time for rational solutions.”) On the contrary, others object, such a policy solution is not justified; if we want to be treated as equal, after all, we can’t accept any differential treatment or special accommodation. This line of thought is emblematic of the element of blindness philosophy to which I object most strenuously, suggesting that it is our own views and behavior at the root of our current, marginalized social position. If it is indeed true that blind people who favor the discounted travel costs are thereby justifying the unequal treatment of us all, then it is we in fact who are responsible for perpetuating the very discrimination and second-class status which we all say we’re against; in a significant sense, this narrative renders our predicament, and that of blind people the country over, as our own fault. For the most part, I don’t much mind if someone happens to disagree with me regarding the transit issue as such; there are arguments of theirs I could mention which I find much more reasonable, and which also represent blindness philosophy. I fixate here on what I view as an unwarranted blame game because it is the argument most closely related to the conception of blindness philosophy with which I happen to take issue, the assumption that it is doctrine with which to browbeat people rather than something which continues to develop through our discourse and experience. Blaming the personal views and life choices of individual blind people for the sociological position of the blind community is offensive to me on multiple levels, but there is an equally pernicious element that relates not so much to the content of the philosophy as to the deployment of the philosophy as a blunt force object, used to enforce a certain intellectual compliance of a deeply personal sort. I am concerned more, that is to say, with how disagreements are treated than with the specific content of the diverging points of view.

              A particularly common refrain to fall back on in our community is that someone who disagrees with us “hasn’t accepted their blindness” or is manifesting “internalized oppression.” These phrases are not conceptually baseless. It is true that the experience of blindness is socially constructed, meaning blind people tend to relate to it in similar ways along at least some dimensions of our lives. It is also accurate to say that we have internalized our oppression, broadly speaking, as has every other marginalized group I can think of. Though this oppression is incredibly easy to substantiate as a general social phenomenon, it remains the case that in most instances, it is supremely arrogant to dismiss another’s viewpoint by making this attribution at the level of the individual. As similar as our experiences are in some ways, we know from blindness philosophy that blindness is only a characteristic, one which doesn’t and shouldn’t define us. Given this, the bar for confidently declaring assumed facts about the internal experience of another must be understood as very high. Unfortunately, it is too frequently not treated as such; I say this as someone who has endured the emotional fallout of being dismissed in this fashion, as though my dissent on a particular issue were necessarily and indisputably a product of my own defective blindness philosophy. But part of blindness philosophy is acknowledging the vast differences among blind people, so I respectfully submit that anyone who feels tempted to label another as embodying inferior blindness philosophy would do well to make sure they aren’t using that philosophy as a discursive shortcut, an argument from authority to justify amateurish psychoanalysis of someone or something which they happen to disapprove of. For those who worry that the behavior of an individual blind person harms our community by misrepresenting it to the public, what does it say about our community when we treat another blind person as though we, not they, are most qualified to speak to how they experience and move through the world? Blindness philosophy has functioned as an anchor for so long, serving those who have achieved much in the name of our freedom. The enduring needs of our community demand that we do better than using it as a rhetorical bludgeon.

              When I navigate the tasks, obstacles, and activities of everyday life, I find myself wondering how my movements are being read by those around me, and if I’m playing my part adequately in demonstrating to a sighted world that blindness need not relegate a person to the sidelines. Am I making the most of my experiences, pulling my weight, and not selling myself short when it comes to work and leisure alike, and if not, why not? It’s not always straightforward to know. But I’m grateful the blind community is there to encourage me to ask these questions of myself. Equally important, though, is that the construct of an ideal blind person is just that, a construct, because a person is all each of us is.

Taking A Drug Test As A Caregiver Dependent Person: Advocacy and Solutions [Guest Post]

We know disabled people face many barriers when seeking employment. One challenge that may not immediately come to mind is the challenge of onboarding for a job when one uses a caregiver for physical support. On this blog post, one of our regular guest bloggers, Reina Grosvalet, describes her experience taking an employment drug test with caregiver support. Although she faced initial resistance, Reina and her employer partnered together to find a solution that met both of their needs. Reina shares her story as part of her passion to advocate for greater inclusion in the workplace and beyond. Here is what she says:

When seeking employment, disabled people face numerous barriers. One significant barrier is the attitude that disabled people will not be able to work effectively thus are never given a fair chance. Even when  efforts are made to educate prospective employers on the skills, talents and abilities disabled individuals have, no traction is made because these prospective employers already have their minds made up that disabled people cannot possibly contribute to their workforce. Then, there is the lack of accessibility. Many companies use inaccessible software solutions or work in buildings that do not provide adequate access for those with mobility impairments. Even when companies are 100% accommodating, barriers arise if a drug test your analysis is required if a caregiver must assist the prospective employee.

Recently, I was offered a second job to perform some work as an accessibility subject matter expert. The company has been immensely accommodating as they are allowing me to work from home remotely 100% of the time since I require the assistance of a caregiver, and leaving the home to commit to a commute is impossible now due to health challenges. Additionally, the company is willing to provide other accommodations so I can perform my job duties such as assistive technology and allowing me to submit materials in a format that works for me. I am happy to say that I started this job mid-August; however, I encountered a significant barrier, and this is the drug test urinalysis.

I arrived at the drug testing site with my caregiver. I was thinking all would go well since my company wrote in the scheduling notes that I required caregiver assistance to perform the urine test. Sadly, I was wrong. As soon as I arrived, I was met with negative attitudes as the staff were immensely confrontational. Right off the bat they stated my caregiver was not allowed to assist me. I started to feel panicky inside because I feared that the staff refusing me the drug test could ruin my chances at getting this job. I breathed deep and tried to calm myself in the face of all this confrontation. I calmly stated that I understood that they needed to ensure the integrity of the test since people do cheat and switch their urine. I proposed having one of their staff present to observe my caregiver and I to see that no urine swap was made. This proposal was a reasonable way to get the job done and ensure the integrity of the drug test. They immediately declined this proposal and continued to state that I would need to go inside the bathroom by myself without caregiver assistance. I informed them that their unwillingness to accommodate me was discriminatory, and they continued to say they were not discriminating against me. Then, they proceeded to ask me how my caregiver would assist me since my caregiver is blind. At this point, they were trying to find every excuse to deny me the drug test. I was getting nowhere with these people. I felt like I would have accomplished more banging my head against a brick wall. Needless to say, I left the drug testing site crying tears of anger over the treatment I received.

Looking For Solutions

I called the recruiter and informed him of what happened, and he expressed he was angry for me. We brainstormed together and I came up with a few good options. Ultimately, I proposed to the employer that I would go to the hospital to get my drug test via a catheter. This way, the test would still be totally secure as there is no way to compromise a drug test that is done via a catheter with a medical professional. Additionally, my caregiver would be present with me since I need my caregiver at all times. My employer was on board with all of this, and he advocated for me to have the drug test taken in the hospital. He got the hospital drug test approved with HR, and then he began making the calls to the hospitals.

He started communicating with the labs in the hospitals, and he was prepared to order the drug test when he suddenly had a better idea. He decided that instead of calling any more third-party drug testing sites, he would call outpatient medical labs such as LabCorp. His thinking was that actual medical labs would be more open to accommodating special needs individuals compared to the third-party drug testing sites. He was right because when he made the call to Lab Corp and explained my situation, they were more than willing to accommodate me. The staff at the Lab Corp stated it would be no problem for my caregiver to accompany me. In fact, the staff were awesome about accommodating my needs. I was going to be able to take the drug test, and the best part about it was that I did not have to endure the catheter after all.

The Drug Test Experience: What Actually Happened?

My employer set up the drug test for me at our local Lab Corp. All I needed to do was walk in and take the test. When the time came to take the test, my caregiver and I went to Lab Corp. We went up to the counter, and I explained who I was. The staff there knew immediately as they remembered speaking with my employer. I was asked to provide a registration number. Once I provided it, my caregiver and I were taken back to an exam room.

While in the exam room, we were provided an explanation about how the drug test would be taken. The technician handed a urinalysis cup to my caregiver, and we were told that no water or soap would be available in the bathroom as that is customary when taking a drug test. My caregiver would help me collect the urine sample, and we were told to leave the cup on the back of the sink. Once all was completed, we could come back into the exam room and wash our hands in the sink there. Also, we were allowed to take diapers and wipes into the bathroom for me as I am completely incontinent.

Because I am completely incontinent and have no control of my bladder and bowels, I took a bottle of water out of my bag, and I drank all of it. Then, we went into the bathroom. My caregiver assisted me by getting the diaper off me and cleaning me up to prepare me to give the urine sample. We lined the toilet seat, and then I sat down. My caregiver handed the urine cup to me because the plan was that I would sit and wait for the urine to come. Once I started peeing, I would hurry up and put the cup under the stream. That part I could at least do on my own.

I sat there for some time. I waited for what felt like forever to pee. Finally, I started going, and I was able to catch enough urine for the test. Once I was done, I handed the cup to my caregiver, and she placed it on the back of the sink per the technician’s instructions. My caregiver assisted me with getting situated, and then we went to the exam room where we were and informed the technician that the cup was on the back of the sink. I was provided a receipt that shows I took the test, and then we went on our way to go and grab some lunch.

The Takeaways

If you are caregiver dependent, I strongly recommend that you have your employer order your drug test straight from a medical lab such as Lab Corp and forgo using the third-party drug testing sites. After calling approximately ten third-party drug testing sites and being told that it was against policy to have someone assisting me in the bathroom, my employer gave up and called a medical lab and was successful immediately. He did not want me to have to endure receiving a catheter if I did not need one.

I am not sure where we can start to make third-party drug testing sites accessible to people who are caregiver dependent. I am guessing that we can get some petitions going. I never knew this was a problem until I needed to take a drug test for employment. I am glad I found out about this problem because I want to enact some change so caregiver dependent individuals can get a drug test anywhere without hassle.