Speaking Up for Academic Empowerment and Success

Speaking Up for Academic Empowerment and Success

As a new school year approaches, I want to share some of my own experiences with education. Navigating school with a disability, especially higher education, can lead you down a confusing path.

From a young age, I knew I would go to college. I envisioned college to be a beautiful place that was perfectly cultivated for learning. Enthralled with the vision I had shaped in my mind, I became perplexed when my teachers, therapists, and doctors didn’t seem to share my dream.

To the contrary, it seemed as though they had already predicted my future as one devoid of agency, and definitely devoid of college. It is an understatement to say that just by arriving at college, I upset the status quo.

As deeply in love as I was with my chosen major, sociology, the rigor with which I pursued my education contributed to the unraveling of my health. I had committed myself to maintaining a perfect grade-point average after several semesters of receiving straight A’s.

But I nearly traded my pulse for the diploma I’d been dreaming of my entire life. This isn’t to blame myself for ignoring any medical advice, because I didn’t. At the time, none of my medical professionals seemed to have any clue of the severity of my illnesses. But deep inside, alarm bells begged me to keep going, because this would be my last dream to come true.

All of this is to say that it would be easy for me to advise you to listen to your body and recognize signs of overextension, but it’s never that transparent. I did the best I could at the time, and I had an unrelenting drive to get that expensive piece of paper.

Navigating college with chronic illness and disabilities is a unique process for everyone. There is no right or wrong way. Don’t compare yourself to your roommates or your peers. If you’ve arrived, you’ve already accomplished more than you think. Don’t underestimate your power.

Whether you’re in high school or college, one routine I developed might be helpful for you in expressing your needs to teachers. Early in the school year or semester, I always used to send an introductory email to my teachers to make them aware of my disability and health needs, as well as the accommodations I likely would need. Teachers almost always responded promptly with gratitude.

I would follow up with an in-person meeting or phone call before school started to make a personal connection and to talk in detail about how my disability would affect my needs for academic accommodations. The personal connection never failed to create a kind of rapport that set the school year off with clarity and mutual understanding. My experiences have demonstrated that communicating my needs is crucial.

Cultivating self-advocacy skills has not only empowered my educational journey, but also my self-image and ability to stay true to myself in every area of life.


Note: Cerebral Palsy News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disorder. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cerebral Palsy News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cerebral palsy.

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