You know how sometimes you forget to write somebody an email, because you’d already responded to it in your own head? I did something not unlike that yesterday, in my post re: Tenured Radical’s piece on disability. It just now dawned on me that two of the most basic and important points I had to make in that post never actually manifested themselves, because they are so central to who I am, what I study, and my life experience, that I felt like I’d written them. I didn’t.
For those of you who can’t read my mind… here it goes.
As I hope my last post on this subject made clear, I think it’s very important that students be proactive and responsible. I’ve always told my students—regardless of their ability status—that if you don’t advocate for yourself, then it’s unlikely anybody else will either. I’m all about empowering undergraduates to get the accommodations they need, and to kick ass and take names when the occasion calls for it.
It’s important, though, to remember that ability isn’t a static thing. I, for example, had been living with a disability for a grand total of five months when I showed up on the Bryn Mawr campus. I was totally healthy, until one day a doctor told me I wasn’t. Educators cannot and should not assume that every student reporting a disability on a college campus has a condition that is (a) under control, and (b) a longstanding part of their life. This is true of most kinds of disabilities, but is especially important re: mental health issues.
NB: regardless of your current ability status, *you* need to be thinking about these issues. Barring sudden death, we will all experience impairment of one kind or another over the course of our lives. It’s all well and good to empower students with disabilities, but they aren’t the only ones who need this knowledge. Until our education system gives disability studies the space it deserves, this means we need disability service centers on college campuses to be well-staffed, generously funded, and integrated into campus culture.
And another thing too…
My first year of college—fun though it was—was also incredibly taxing. I still needed a LOT of pain medicine just to get around, and the majority of my weekends were spent flat on my back, recovering from my myriad attempts to have a “normal” college experience (which, nerd that I was, basically meant going to class). I wasn’t trying to figure out what services I was entitled to… I was trying to figure out how to be okay.
Could I have been a better advocate for myself? Honestly, no. I was too busy learning how to live with a disability. Which is why having a really great Disability Services Coordinator was so important. I could go to her with my inchoate concerns and she’d translate them into something concrete and actionable.
So yes, empower students with disabilities to fight for themselves, but keep in mind that being an ally sometimes means stepping in so that the student in question can focus on being a student for a while.
And another thing too…
Did I mention that I served as Editor in Chief for Trans-Scripts most recent volume: “Constructing (Dis)Ability?”
I totally did that. If you’d like to see some wonderful academic writing on ability from faculty and grad students alike, check it out.
“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.