I was seeing a therapist and for the first time in my life I felt more calm about college than I had ever had before. But no matter how often my therapist tried to help me realize that failing in college was okay, I was not allowed to believe her.
It was my last full year of college. It was finals time and to pass a class, I had to hand in paper in person, in my professors office, on a specific date. If it was late, an entire letter grade would be deducted for every day it was late. It was a Thursday, in early December and I lived in the north in the U.S. The day I had to drive to school to hand in my paper, there was a blizzard. The news said not to leave your house, yet my school never closed. I lived an hour away and had to commute through the storm.
I knew it was a bad idea, but I attributed all my nerves to anxiety, because it “didn’t matter”. In that moment that I left the house, I chose that passing a class was more important than living. Who taught me that? Was it American society and our obsession with being as intelligent as possible? But not too intelligent? Was it my father who was an academic and sees PHDs as the highest enlightenment? Was it the private school that considered itself as a college prep school?
I had been bred for college. There was no life worth living unless you were well-educated and on your way to middle-class. I never should have gone out that day. There’s a lot of things that I never should have done, but I’ve learned the most from that day.
I went out. I had someone drive me and there were others in the car. For all we like to say that we know in the north, cars and blizzards never mix. A car crashed into us and we narrowly missed getting crushed by a tractor trailer. I still handed in my paper that day. It was an hour late, and I walked on two broken bones, three sprained ligaments, and what I would later find out was quickly developing RSD/CRPS to get my paper to the professor’s office.
I passed the class. I lost both of my part-time jobs, but I passed. The next semester I dropped to part-time. I could not make it to school in the snow, and it was hard to get to and from class. Between my fourth year of college and my fifth year of college, I learned I was no longer temporarily disabled, but disabled.
I had put so much work into college. I had fought through anxiety and panic attacks and mind-numbing boredom with classes. I always handed in my essays on time (except for that one), I took tests on time and finished them early, and I showed up for the majority of classes. I even participated in class on low anxiety days. I always made sure that college and education came before anything else, before a social life, before internet, before anything else. So I assumed that all I had to do to get back on an even playing field at school was meet with the school’s disability office and all would be good. Sure, I was disabled, but I could find alternate ways of getting around things. I had to. Everyone kept telling me how much harder it would be to get a job, so graduating would be even more important than ever. No one told me how much harder school would be.
One of the first things I’ve ever learned at college is the able-bodied rules of dealing with disabled classmates/students.
Section 1: How To Deal With Your Disabled Classmates
1. When you see a disabled person, STARE. And don’t stop. Just keep staring. Really.
2. The Disabled Person is CATCHING. You must NOT walk ANYWHERE near them.
3. Or if you’re progressive enough to believe that there is nothing contagious about being disabled, do the Walk Directly Behind the Disabled Person Walk. If you do this walk, you must huff and puff and make pointed comments about how slow the disabled person is going.
4. DO NOT sit next to the cripple. There is Something Very Wrong With Them.
5. If the cripple comes in late (HOW DARE THEY!), get very upset when they sit in the Only Accessible Seating Area
6. The middle of lecture is a perfect time to ask a Disabled Person what is Wrong with them, and thus treat them like an object or a toy to be played with.
7. Canes, crutches, and wheelchairs ARE toys.
8. Jealousy of disabled parking is a-okay! And taking it is even better!
9. The extra blue space in parking is the perfect place to smoke your cigarette/dawdle/kiss your SO. No one really needs it anyway.
10. Make sure to block the ramps. You’ll force your disabled classmates up the stairs no matter what.
11. Make sure to tell your classmates that you don't believe in their disability and/or that they're just faking it for attention.
Section 2: How To Deal With Your Disabled Students
1. Offer all possible accommodations except for the ones that the student needs.
2. Refuse to read letters of accommodations.
3. Insist that if you can do it, the disabled student can do it too.
4. Make sure your office is inaccessible. It will be funny.
5. It is okay to have a class on the basement/upstairs level without elevator access.
6. If you must have accessible seating, make sure that it is placed exactly so that the disabled student will not be able to participate in class and/or place it so that they wouldn’t be able to get to it.
7. Don’t tell the student to their face that you think they’re just lazy, that’s not proper. Tell it to the disability office, and don’t take no for an answer.
8. Make hilarious jokes about disabilities and disabled people.
9. Purposefully ignore the disabled students. They’re just background props anyway.
10. Talk about how inclusive you are while doing one or more of the above.
11. Say that they are faking their disability(ies) for attention.
Section 3: How To Make Structure and Construction Even More Difficult For Disabled People
1. Hide the elevators. That is the most important. Anyone who uses elevators does not have anything like chronic pain or slow walks. If they’re not paralyzed and in a wheelchair then that means they are just lazy.
2. Hide the ramps. In fact, keep ramps and elevators as far away as possible. You’ll weed out the semi-lazy ones.
3. Ramps don’t need railings.
4. It is perfectly okay to start construction during the school season. It is perfectly okay to take out the only available seating and to block the majority of ramps.
5. It is okay to move disabled parking to the other half of the campus. A disabled parking spot will give access to the same place no matter what.
6. It is okay to have a chair, couch, etc. blocking the way into a restroom.
7. It is a wonderful gift to have one or two fully accessible restrooms on campus. But it is important that everyone else have as many restrooms as they need.
8. Blocked and out of order elevators are good.
9. Restricting access to the disability office is a brilliant feat of irony and must be done.
10. Park construction vehicles across disabled parking spots. One truck taking up at least three spots is brilliant.
The Golden Rule of Higher Education:
Make sure that a disabled person has a ridiculously hard time getting to class, refuse them accommodations, and then tell them it’s their fault for not doing better and tell them to stop using their disability as an excuse.
When I leave this college, be it drop-out or graduate, I will not remember anything except how hard it became. I will not remember the classes or the material. I will remember the days I drove home because I couldn’t get to class. I will remember all the classes I dropped because professors refused to be accommodating. I will remember going home and crying to my friend that I “hate being disabled and a college student.”
Four years at college, trying to be good at life, trying to do the “right thing”, and I do it, and it’s all thrown in my face. I’m not bitter at developing a disability but I am bitter at the way I’m treated. I’m bitter that no one ever warned me what happens when you develop a disability. I’m bitter that people let me think for years that everyone was equal and that the playing field was level for everyone.
Now? There’s too many damn stairs to get up to the level playing field
Edited to add rules 11, brought to my notice by dragoness22