Can I Use a Calculator in Clinical Practice

I Have Dyscalculia: Can I Use a Calculator in School and in Clinical Practice?
by Robin Jones, Director, Great Lakes ADA Center

I think that you have to go back to the analysis of what is being asked: Use of a calculator
What is the question:  Does the use of a calculator create a fundamental alteration in the program or service.  

It gets down to what is being taught in the course and whether or not the use of the calculator fundamentally alters that. Is it essential to that program that a student NOT use a calculator. What is being tested? The faculty need to be able to defend that the use of a calculator would create a fundamental alteration. Just because they require all of the students to not use a calculator does not mean that it would be a fundamental alteration for a student with a disability that needs to use one as an accommodation to do so. I do not know what course this is in relation to. For example, if it’s a fundamental math class that every student has to take, etc. to learn the fundamentals of algebra or something else then they need to look at how the student can demonstrate mastery of the information. This may require a different analysis than what is used with other students without this type of disability. The fact that the various tests, etc. that they student will take for nursing boards, on the job, etc. don’t require use of a calculator is a different matter. First you need to look at the course that is at question and what is it fundamentally teaching/intended to teach.  From there you look at alternative in terms of accommodations that do not alter what is being taught.    

Overarching questions to be asked:

  • Does the use of the calculator as a reasonable accommodation provide the students with an unfair advantage or undermines academic standards?
  • Is the ability to add, subtract, multiply, or divide accurately considered an essential part of what an exam/quiz is designed to test?

Additional Points for Consideration:
NOND Board Member Responds: There are calculators on the NCLEX. And yes, most NCLEX prep courses allow use of calculators. There are calculators all over the clinical setting as well. The Pyxis unit and infusion pumps have calculator features on them as well. The nurse can also bring and use her own calculator. I am a faculty member in a community college based nursing program, so I do understand why this student has meet resistance with calculator use during her exams. Many nurses loose their license or require remediation as a result of medication errors. It is so very important that students know how to perform the process of calculating drugs. Final thoughts: If a student can put the information in a calculator and get the correct answer, she/he knows how to perform the calculation. I think this is a ” reasonable accommodation.”

NOND Board Member Responds: The NCLEX does have a calculator function (via drop down feature) that can be used on the screen for questions that require calculations.  Also, preparation courses like Kaplan have similar set ups that  allow for the use of an online calculator. In the field, calculators definitely can be used. In fact, I  used my calculator several times on the post-surgical unit to check IV calculations. My nurse preceptor used a dictionary consistently when documenting because she was a terrible speller.  These are just resources that make our jobs easier. The important piece is knowing “how to calculate” not the “tool used to calculate.” For this student, it would actually be a reasonable accommodation. 

NOND Board Member Responds: Once nurses graduate, they can use a calculator in their clinical setting if they so choose. Even with a calculator, the student/nurse still needs to know how to set up the equation. It seems that letting the student use a calculator for math questions on an exams would certainly be a reasonable accommodation given this disability. This can also be conceptualized as creative access. Isn’t it important that the student get the answer right, regardless of whether a calculator is used?  If using a calculator helps a student or nurse get the correct answer, then the end result is the same.

Additional Resources
My Eternal Struggle with Numbers
By Kirstin Bell, 2010 Anne Ford & Allegra Ford Scholarship Finalist
Published: April 4 2012

Disclaimer: The National Organization of Nurses with Disabilities (NOND) does not offer legal advice but NOND does offer resources to help you understand your rights, protections, and responsibilities within various Disability Rights Laws.

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