Sorry for the drought.. I've been busy with my re-introduction into college. This time around, I've been much better about speaking up for myself and my rights as a student with disabilities. I'm excited about starting an organization at my college for disability advocacy and support. Here's my education story:
My whole life, I’ve looked forward to being a college student. I’ve always loved school. It was my favorite game as a little girl. I used to play it with Bethany every day… until she had a grand realization that I was “bossing” her around, an outrage we have yet to outgrow.
What excited me about college was the choices. Majors, minors, electives. To a learning addict like me, it sounded like shopping in a candy store. After all, if learning the basic, generic, pre-picked educational stuff was thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating, how intoxicating would it be to discover knowledge of my own choosing? Plus, college is full of adults. Adults always liked me, and I liked them. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t the right size for my age or that I was shy - adults enjoyed the things I had to say. Teenagers always seemed loud and liked to waste time, so I knew high school wouldn’t be my favorite place.
But college… maybe that’s when things could happen for me. So, I held on to hope of a world where knowledge was power and freedom was within reach, even for scrawny, short kids like me.
No one ever tells you how it’s really going to be. But how could they? Each has a different experience. Different struggles - highs, lows, mundane mediums. You’ll never know until you’re in the thick of it. For me, college is a constant struggle. Being a disability student is a never-ending nightmare of procedures and stressful conversations. Now at a second college, in my fourth semester, I feel safe saying that it adds at least 3-4 extra hours to my load.
Choosing how much medical information to divulge to each instructor at each juncture is… not something I felt prepared for. In fact, as patients, we are trained to share everything, in order to aid the diagnostic process. Anyone who has kept a migraine log, food log, seizure log, etc. knows this intimately. Advocating our situation to an instructor, an authority figure, can be very intimidating and often reminds us of previous negative experiences, perhaps with an older sibling or school bully.
The American Disability Act has made it possible for students like me to receive an equal education. I have a right to a clean, safe environment in which to learn. While I also am supposed to receive the same learning content and be graded fairly, I find myself gently pushed out of traditional classes. Every student deserves to be in the classroom, especially when peer exposure provides much needed academic motivation. Feeling normal… or merely being included… is so important.
At the end of the day, it comes down to a choice. Are you willing to fight for your education? If so, be ready to give up plans of graduating on time, looking cool, and being liked by everyone who meets you. Take it course by course, semester by semester, and focus on completing. Develop whatever strategies you need to manage your illnesses on campus, no matter how conspicuous you feel you look. Pick your battles and fight hard, without getting too emotional. Know that most people care, but need to be versed on accommodation. It’s NOT fun being the youngster who challenges their syllabus or the way they’ve been teaching for decades. But remember… you have a right to an education. Fight for it.