The three biggest pieces of advice I can give to anyone with a disability about to start college or university are 1) Get help, 2) Don’t be afraid to go at your own pace, and 3) Let people get to know you.
When I got accepted into college, I knew I would need help. One of the very first things I did was link in with the school’s centre for students with disabilities. There, a counsellor assessed my needs, set me up with an individual student plan, and went over the different services available to help with my studies. These ranged from assistive devices such as tape recorders and specialized laptops, to special services like note-takers and scribes for exams and essays.
Throughout several years of college, there were times when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the normal pace of my classes. I needed to go at my own speed. Most times, I could get by with help from some of the simple resources I listed above. When those didn’t work, and the work was getting too hard to handle, I had to resort to greater measures to assure my success. In one of the more extreme cases, this meant taking a reduced course load.
During one year, I had been overwhelmed. Not knowing of any alternatives at the time, I tried to keep up with everyone else’s pace, and suffered because of it. When I returned a couple of years later for a new field of study, I learned from that bad experience and decided to reduce the number of classes I would be taking. So, instead of doing the entire program all in one year, I ended up taking sixty percent the first year, and came back a second to finish the last forty.
The reduced course load was an immense help, but it came with a downside. I was removing myself from some of my program’s social aspects, which initially worried me. One way I remedied this was to use my disability as a sort of ice-breaker, to let both my professors and classmates get to know me better. I was upfront and honest about my disability and the help I would need. Occasionally, I made light of it with a joke or two. This worked out great. My professors now knew how to assist me, and my classmates made sure I was included in any and all social activities.
With that hurdle out of the way, I was able to get the most out of my college experience.
Next month: Accessible housing
DISCLAIMER: The details associated with some of the following topics apply to my personal experiences, and may differ from place to place. Consult with local professionals for specifics.
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