My days of 8 A.M. classes, meal swipes and all-nighters have long since passed, but I look back on my college years mostly with fondness and nostalgia. University is a time of growth and independence, however, is it marked most noticeably by adjustment, especially as a person with a disability. Here are a few tips that helped me get through my first year of higher education.
Get Acquainted with your Disability Resource Center (DRC)
The DRC at my alma matter was essential to my success during my freshman year and beyond. Employees assisted with everything from exam accommodations to housing. If you were nervous about starting your educational journey, this office will be there to help like a personal onboarding crew to guide you through the uncertain waters of college life. I recommend meeting with the DRC before starting your semester to outline expectations and services. If used properly, it is the greatest resource you have on campus. Bear in mind, however, you must seek them out, not the other way around.
Determine your Care Needs
Everyone is different. For instance, I wanted to be as independent as possible, but I knew that I needed help getting out of bed and getting dressed. So, I found a home care agency that would come for a few hours a day and help with various things. If you need additional assistance beyond what the school can provide, take steps to create a plan that fits your needs. This is not the time to be cocky. Part of maturity is being realistic about that you need to get the most out of your university experience. Take it from someone who has been through it before. Do your best to make sure that the “college experience” is the only thing you need to worry about. Most care attendants needed for in the residence and in class will most likely need to be procured from an external source.
Touch base with your residence assistant, law enforcement and EMS. Even if this is your first and last time speaking to them, make sure these groups know who you are. College is unpredictable and advance warning for fire drills is nice.
Plan your route! Once your class schedule is sorted, take some time to familiarize yourself with the most efficient route to get to all your classes. Depending on the size of your campus(es), this may require some pre-planning and coordination with professors to get all of the material if you need to leave early. Talk to the DRC if you have accessibility issues with certain buildings.
Talk to your support network. As much as this is a change for you, your community is affected as well. Attending college is very much a collaborative effort, especially with a disability and will undoubtedly change the dynamic of many relationships and lifestyles. While I continue to assert that the choice to attend college should be respected, there are many factors to consider, including the possibility of hybrid or virtual options. During high school, I recall being vehemently against attending an in-state institution, only to find out later that it was cheaper and easier for my parents to come and help if I needed. Also, call your parents, they worry.
Be your own advocate. I eluded to this earlier. One of the first things I learned in college was the idea of self-advocacy. Everyone at the DRC made it clear from the very beginning that I had the final say in every decision, not my parents. If I wanted something done, I would need to speak up. I lived on the third floor of my residence hall. One day as I was about to start my day, I realized that the elevator buttons had been torn out- no elevator means no going to class. My RA was in class, so I called maintenance who fixed the lift two hours later, during which time I emailed my professors detailing the reason for my absence. Though my response was born of necessity, it doesn’t change the fact that every choice, even something as small as going to class, is up to you.
About Tim Shin: Tim lives in River Vale, NJ, and works as a communications manager for AbleThrive, a nonprofit organization. He enjoys food, fashion, music and television. Click here to learn more about Tim.