In the summer of 2014, six students agreed to talk about what it means to be a UNG student with a disability. While most of us know something of obstacles and weariness and persistence, these are the quiet voices of experts. It’s important that we hear them.
How has your disability impacted you in college?
It has made me think differently. Basically I have to hone in my communication skills. I have to speak with my professors about how I accomplish my work. It’s been different; some professors aren’t used to having a student with a visual impairment. There are certain methods of doing things. Being disabled has allowed me to be more creative, working with and collaborating with professors.
[My disability] has impacted me in ways I didn’t expect. Coming to school, I was very apprehensive about the situation because finding out I had this illness later in life, all of a sudden my world is very different. How will people accept me, take to me? Everyone who knows me knows I’m clearly a little different; I’m not shy to share that with them. It’s been a challenge to get people to understand me. Once you get to know me, you realize I’m just like everyone else.
What challenges have you have faced?
We all have obstacles in life. We have to figure out how to overcome them and not let them stop us.
When professors aren’t willing to work with me, which has been rare. I think informing is the key. I have to inform and the professor will have to cooperate. It’s been somewhat a struggle, but I’ve enjoyed it because I’ve learned a lot from it. You learn a lot when you have to come up with solutions.
Getting along with people [has been a challenge]. I have issues with how I perceive myself because of my illness. Those impact me daily.
The biggest struggle is a lot of people don’t know I have a disability until they hear me talk about it. They can’t “see” my disability, so it’s not really there.
In what ways do you think you have influenced others?
One of my professors said that she was nervous to have a student with a visual impairment in her class, as it was the first time. I encouraged her to be vivid in her explanations in class and to be clear. The professor told me later that it made her a better teacher.
I’ve had a difficult time, and [the fact that I] have overcome it and succeeded shows others that anyone, despite their shortcomings, can do the same.
What have you learned about yourself and your disability?
It starts with making the effort. People want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how or what to say. Once you put it out there, people will be receptive.
I’ve learned to be more tolerant of people who don’t have disabilities, because they don’t know what I know, and I don’t know what they know.
You should not be ashamed. I encourage [students] to seek help on campus for their disability.
What do you know about Student Disability Services?
I don’t know everything that they do there. Their main function seems to be an advocate for my rights as a student with a disability. They cover everything from resources on and off campus, and they will do anything they can to find what I need. They play a tremendous role in my education here.
[Their role is] to help with my accommodations as well as to help me understand my disability better, and to be supportive. There are so many good things that come out of Disability Services, whether someone has a mental disability or physical disability. They are a trustworthy asset at this university.
It’s nice to be able to say that I can go to them and they can answer almost all of my questions. It’s like a shortcut to circumvent all types of issues.
[Through Disability Services] I went to a Disability Expo at the Tate Center, and I had a chance to speak to high school students to tell them what a college experience would be like. And I’m a Peer Mentor on the Oconee campus. I help students with disabilities and help them find out ways they can learn better in the classroom and get information that they need.
I selected [this college] because it was a small school with a community feeling and it’s a lot easier to get to know people, and they get to know you. But I also love it because the day I walked into the Disability Services Office, and I saw you [Kate, SDS Staff] and I got such a warm welcome, and I realized there is a whole lot more that I could do now that I was a part of the office.
What advice can you give faculty and staff? Where do we go from here?
First thing is to get to know your student. See what they can bring to your classroom and figure out what will work best for them, along with what will work best for the teacher, because everyone is different. If you create those relationships, you have a better opportunity to excel in both being a teacher and a student.
If you want to know how to handle students with disabilities, then you’ll have to learn to ignore the word disability and treat them like all other students. At the same time, realizing you might have to be more patient with a student and adjust a schedule here and there.
Provide what [students with disabilities] need without coddling them. Don’t put everything into the same box – branch out and figure out what’s next.
Professors should not see accommodations as a burden. The school is here to teach everyone, not just one group of people.
We’re on the right track. We’re learning more, educating others and seeing what’s out there to create a better program.
Edited by Nicola Dovey, Student Disability Services Director and Rebecca Ross, Student Disability Services C-Print Captionist