Published in The Langara Voice
People with a condition that isn’t recognized as a disability but can impair learning say the first step to helping them is raising awareness.
Colleges have a legal duty to accommodate students with diagnosed physical and learning disabilities, like hearing loss or dyslexia. However, little known conditions such as misophonia, an intense aversion to specific sounds, and scent sensitivity, do not fall under disabilities that are recognized by the college.
At Langara, disability services offers accommodations to students ranging from interpreters to extra time for exams. In an email to The Voice, manager Suzanne Munson, encouraged anybody with a functional impairment to learning of any kind to meet with disability services. Possible accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis.
Misophonia, an intense aversion to specific sounds
“A disability services consultant will meet with the student, review medical documentation requirements and explore possible academic accommodations,” Munson said.
Kathryn Iseminger, a Langara general arts student with misophonia, met with disability services earlier this year and said she didn’t think they understood her condition.
When she hears a trigger sound she is unable to concentrate on anything else and is gripped by an intense need to escape or make the sound stop.
Iseminger hasn’t been diagnosed by a doctor. She first experienced symptoms eight years ago, when she was 11. Common trigger sounds include chewing, heavy breathing and swallowing.
Chewing sounds feel like an attack on the brain
“I felt like my brain was being attacked when [my family] were chewing at dinner,” she said.
To raise awareness, she initiated the March 13 campus screening of Quiet Please, a documentary about misophonia, directed by Jeffrey Scott Gould, who also suffers from this condition.
“When you don’t live with misophonia, it sounds absurd and manufactured, but it’s very real and it alters every aspect of a sufferer’s life,” Gould said.
Unlike scent sensitivity, Iseminger said misophonia is uniquely challenging for colleges to accommodate.
“It’s very easy to just not wear your perfume, while eating is something everyone sort of has to do,” she said.
Gould said considering how a college can accommodate students with rare disorders requires awareness.
“If they are aware that these afflictions exist, it could break down barriers and misnomers and start a conversation that could lead to a solution – without negatively impacting the general population.” he said.