Accommodations are best (in my humble opinion) conceptualized as methods of accounting for the fact that people's individual skill sets, physical abilities, cognitive strengths and weaknesses, etc., can vary widely. In other words, humans are not homogeneous. However, there have always been "majority configurations", and this has resulted in many physical and social structures being built primarily with majority configurations in mind.
"Disability" means many things to many people, and I would never suggest that any individual must hold their own self-perception to a particular definition of this word. That is, I do not see a valid way of sectioning off one group of humanity as being "intrinsically" disabled as a function of what they happen to be diagnosed with -- very likely there are many people with very similar physical/neurological configurations who nonetheless vary widely in terms of what they consider themselves.
However, in the context of accommodations, "disability" can probably be logically construed as what happens when there's a mis-match between a person and the environment they'd like to be a part of.
Again, this has little to nothing to do with what a person chooses to call him/herself, or with whether a person would (if given the opportunity) take on a more normative configuration. Some people seem to think that invoking anything that sounds like "the social model" is tantamount to telling people they should all just be fine and happy the way they are even if they think they're miserable.
And...I don't believe that to be the case at all. I am not going to impose my view of "what humanity should look like" on others; I don't even have such a view beyond hoping that all of us in our diverse and manifold forms can eventually learn to coexist more effectively. I fully acknowledge that many people would choose to change certain aspects of how they are put together given the choice, and that isn't my choice to make for them.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that in any society worth living in (that is, one that doesn't force normative configurations on people in violation of every imaginable principle of bodily autonomy) there will always be people with nonstandard, minority configurations.
And while some may disagree with me on this, I think that perpetuating an "open system" society (in which more types of people can exist and thrive and even potentially produce new configurations that previous generations couldn't have imagined) is preferable to perpetuating a "closed system" society in which the people were expected to just fit the status quo (whether from birth or via normative re-configuration) or not participate in many enriching and even necessary aspects of life.
But back to the specific matter of accommodations.
In school I had accommodations some of the time -- I don't think I could have gotten through college without them. In particular, I was supposed to get extended time on tests and permission to take tests in a quieter, smaller room where the desks had dividers between them to block out visual distractions. My scores were always higher when I got the full set of accommodations I was supposed to, and it was clear that in particular the extended time helped give me the opportunity to pull information out of my brain so that I could actually show what I knew.
I'd been shocked to have been granted accommodations at all -- one of the junior colleges I attended had tested me for learning disabilities, and I'd quite thoroughly expected to be told, "Oh, you're fine, you just need to try harder."
But instead, I was told that my results pointed to definite things about my brain that would make some aspects of school very difficult.
And I was given various pieces of paper identifying me as a "qualifying student with a disability", which had to be submitted to the DRC of any school I subsequently attended.
However, some professors refused to sign my permission forms to get accommodations. These instructors would tell me things like, "This class is sink or swim. If you can't take my tests in the time I allocate, you shouldn't be in this class or maybe even in this major". Or, occasionally, they'd express a security concern -- e.g., "I am not giving my test to those DRC people [to administer to students in the Disability Resource Center] -- next thing I know it'll be published on the Internet".
I had zero self-advocacy skills at the time all that was going on. I didn't protest. And that meant I didn't always get accommodations.
Still, though, I had no clue that I really had a right to accommodations (and I do not mean a "fundamental natural right" here, because I don't think those actually exist concretely, but rather a legal right deemed appropriate by humans at some point in time).
When my teachers admonished me for "asking for special treatment", I felt guilty for having said anything, and mentally beat myself up a lot for being "weak".
When I was told that needing extra time meant I "didn't really know the material", I took that seriously, and figured that whenever I did well, that must have just been some sort of fluke.
When I was told that my getting accommodations "wouldn't be fair to the other students", I felt awful -- like I was some kind of terrible burden on the school system, and that maybe I shouldn't be there.
As noted before, though, I did graduate. And I did get accommodations some of the time -- some of my teachers actively encouraged my using them, which is good because otherwise I'd likely have felt too guilty. But I am sure my GPA would have been higher if I'd gotten proper test accommodations consistently.
Furthermore, I would probably have actually learned things more thoroughly -- due to my test-taking difficulties, I ended up trying a variety of desperate and probably useless-for-me cramming techniques, thinking that my default study methods (which tend to be very exploratory and hands-on) must be "wrong".
And -- I wouldn't have wasted so much energy second-guessing whether or not I "needed" accommodations.
Now, for those of us with an introspective bent (and autistic people seem to vary as much as nonautistic people in terms of our tendency toward or away from introspectiveness), it may be necessary to second-guess ourselves and our various identifications for a while.
But...at a certain point, second-guessing one's neurology, identification, needs, etc. can start to become destructive.
Primarily this sort of rumination is self-destructive when taken too far, but -- and this is something I've only recently come to acknowledge -- it can also be potentially harmful to others. After all, if you believe that you are weak and burdensome and unworthy because you need particular accommodations, what are you going to think of someone else whose needs are similar?
If I'd known (and known how) to push the issue with my instructors, other students who came after me might have had an easier time getting the accommodations they needed.
In some respects, by taking my teachers seriously when they gave me their "My class is sink or swim!" lectures, I was helping perpetuate the cultural atmosphere in which things like that go unchallenged.
And in the long run, when things like that persist unchallenged, people who might have otherwise been able to graduate from college drop out.
People who might have been perfectly capable of working in a field of their choice end up not working at all.
And yet somehow this cycle is invisible to many -- or at least I presume it must be, considering the number of times I've heard people saying what a "waste" it is to have "special needs" students using resources that I guess they're figuring somehow takes away from the education of the "normal" students.
Now, I do not believe that a person has to go to college or work in order to be valuable as an individual. There are other paths in life people can take, and I realize as well that not having a standard, paying job does not mean a person is not "contributing" to the society they live in.
Furthermore, any society worth living in ought to have means of helping those who cannot work a "regular" job for whatever reason (whether temporarily or permanently) live the best possible lives -- I don't think, given the vast abundance in which which some people live, there's any basis for saying that some people are just too much trouble or too expensive to properly support; we've not even attempted to push the limits in that regard, for all the crowing about scarcity one hears time and time again.
However, it is still important to fight the educational and occupational barriers that are keeping people out who want to pursue particular academic and career paths, and who would be able to pursue those paths if not for various paranoid and discriminatory attitudes and policies.
So...if you are in school, and you are trying to figure out if you should actually use your accommodations or not, I will just say outright: use them.
Insist on using them.
Make it clear that using them does not mean you are "trying to gain an unfair advantage" any more than your professor is doing likewise when he chooses to drive ten miles to work rather than run.
The same goes for people in the workplace (though work can be a bit more complicated -- in some small companies it may be possible to configure one's job so as to permit maximum productivity without even mentioning disability/difference, whereas in larger companies, disclosure of a condition can involve lots of paperwork and HR involvement to the point where individuals may just decide to work out less formal arrangements with managers, etc).
And...the same goes for people who don't go to college or work traditional jobs. Plenty of retired persons, disabled persons on SSI and other forms of assistance, and people who don't work formally for whatever other reason exist, and are just as much members of the community as anyone else.
These individuals must be able to insist -- without it being taken as "ornery" or somehow unfair or unjustified -- on respectful treatment, choices in where they live (i.e., nobody should be forced into a nursing home), and on things like bodily autonomy and what ought to be the simple right to have fun once in a while.
(And bear in mind that I am saying this as someone who is currently employed and who pays taxes -- it makes me happy to think that someone who can't get out of bed might be able to get, say, some DVDs to watch or a book to read because of my tax dollars. I don't see that as someone getting to experience a "life of luxury" on the public purse; I see it as humane.
Nobody should be treated worse than a convicted felon for the mere fact of being unable to work, and the idea that "letting" people live non-horrible existences while not working will somehow lead to mass demotivation or the collapse of industrial society is so silly and ridiculous I will not even engage on that point with anyone.)
No, accommodations can't make everyone the same -- but that is not their purpose, and it is misguided in my mind to conceptualize accommodations as merely "stand-in" provisions made to smooth things over whilst we wait for the means to produce standard, one-size-fits-the-status-quo humans to be developed.
Rather, accommodations should be looked at as ways to help more kinds of people participate more in directing and configuring their own lives. There may be some initial investment needed up-front to put accommodations in place where they haven't existed before -- but it seems like it ought to be a no-brainer than when you make more opportunities accessible via accommodations, the accommodations will more than pay for themselves as more and more people are able to pursue those opportunities.
And furthermore accommodations cannot just be thought of as the province of college disability centers or human-resources departments -- they are the province of everyone who exists and benefits at all from living in the human community.