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The Experiences and Writing Processes of Disabled Chronically Ill, and Neurodivergent Students at UIUC

These definitions are meant to supplement the questions in the survey linked at They are specific to the questions asked in that study.


Ableism” is discrimination against people with disabilities. Ableism comes in many forms. The most apparent is saying something or doing something hurtful to someone because of their disability. But other forms include not providing people with needed accommodations or assuming that other people’s value comes from their productivity or their ability to do certain tasks.


Ableism includes behaviors that range from using a slur against a disabled community to reacting defensively to a request for accommodation to assuming that people with disabilities don’t deserve access to the public sphere.


This study uses “accessibility” to mean the ability to fully participate in a setting. “Accessible” spaces will allow everyone to use the physical spaces and tools without asking for changes or accommodations to that space. Accessible spaces will also provide flexibility so that they work for neurodiverse folks and those with invisible disabilities.


For example, a space designed for accessibility might include features like ramps for those with limited mobility, desks and tables at different heights that work for both standing or sitting, lighting that is bright enough to allow low vision folks to read more easily, and elements that muffle loud or buzzing sounds that might be overwhelming for those with sensory sensitivities. An accessible space should also include people that understand disability and difference and who are able to flexibly engage with others who interact in ways that diverge from social norms.



This study uses “accommodation” to mean any change that is made to increase the ability of others to participate fully in a space, activity, or community.


Accommodations can be made to physical spaces, like changing the furniture in a space so that a wheelchair user can easily move between tables and chairs. Accommodations can also be made socially; an example could be an instructor that shares content in multiple modalities to account for sensory processing differences, or having a sign language interpreter at an event. Accommodations can also be structural or temporal, like giving a student an extra week to complete an assignment or making sure that there are multiple ways to earn a participation grade in a class.


Accommodations are often requested by someone with a disability, but they can also be provided proactively. In school or a workplace, “accommodation” can also refer to how an institution officially documents someone’s disability and provides changes to a learning or working space based on that disability. In this case, the “accommodation process” might be more about fulfilling the legal obligations of the institution than about making sure the institution is actually accessible.



“ADA” stands for the Americans with Disabilities Act, a US law signed in 1990 that is meant to protect the rights of people with disabilities and protect them from discrimination. At UIUC, the Office for Access & Equity (OAE) is the office that ensures that the university is following the requirements of the ADA; because of this, some people at UIUC talk about “the ADA Office,” which refers to the people working in OAE who ensure that the university follows the requirements of the ADA. You can read more about the ADA at and at


In this study, “disability” is used to refer to any difference or impairment that means a person experiences their physical surroundings and/or social situations differently from others. These differences and impairments can be visible or invisible, mental or physical. The most important thing is that a disability will make one feel different from what is considered “normal” socially or physically. Being in situations that don’t account for that difference can often leave disabled people feeling isolated or marginalized.

This study uses “disability” and “disabled” broadly. We use “disabled” to refer to anyone who is neurodivergent; who lives with a chronic illness; or who lives with any kind of impairment (mental illness, physical disability, sensory disability, intellectual disability, etc.), whether the person has received a professional diagnosis or not.

We have chosen to use “disabled person” in many cases instead of people-first language like “person with a disability” because we don’t considered “disabled” a bad word.

“DRES” stands for the Division of Disability Resources & Educational Services. This UIUC office is a resource for students with disabilities and coordinates academic accommodation requests for students. You can read about the office’s mission at


“OAE” stands for the “Office for Access & Equity.” At UIUC, the OAE “provides resources and services to ensure that the university’s educational and employment opportunities are equitable, accessible, and inclusive for all.” You can read more about UIUC’s OAE unit at



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