Migraine

Accessibility In College… A Follow Up

A few weeks back I focused in on the fact that I’m Still A Student. I struggle with the idea that I’m not in school right now and that I’m not working. I constantly fight with how much I want to be learning and pursuing a degree, but am met with the reality that I don’t have the energy or the means to pick a career path.

But why?

What is actually holding me back?

A friend of mine presented me with a question… What kind of accommodations do you need that aren’t being offered?

It really got me thinking. What resources would I want and think would best cater to me and my abilities while allowing me to prosper as a student and eventually be successful in a given career?

The first thing that ultimately holds me back is the idea that I have to settle. If I’m going to be a working adult, even just part time, I’ll most likely need to have a job where I can work from home.

Which leaves me with questions of what kind of job will that be? And what kind of degree do I need to get that job – because for the most part, jobs that allow you to work from home want you to have a bachelors.

But what if I don’t like the work being offered? Does that actually matter?

It doesn’t seem like there’s a comprehensive list out there of jobs that are migraine and disability friendly… that’s really broad and as much as companies claim to be Equal Opportunity Employers, they aren’t.

So, I have to somehow ditch this idea that I have to find the job I’m willing to settle for before striving to finish my education.

Education. I’ve already got two full years under my belt. Odds are this transfers in for maybe a year and a half of credits towards a degree, perhaps a years worth towards an associates.

So, what’s on my wish list?

Career and Accommodation Counselors

The biggest challenge I face is what to do with a degree when I can’t work at the full capacity in a traditional job role.

Having access to people who take the time to get to know me, my personal situation along with the impacts my health have on my studies, is pertinent.

My accommodations counselor at Mount Mary was a stellar example. Upon arriving at the school, we set up a meeting to go over every aspect of what I should expect, how she could help me, and what her role was. It was in this meeting that I was able to explain my condition, where I struggled in certain areas, and what accommodations I thought would help me be successful. She then created a letter that would go to each of my teachers. If an issue arose, often I would check in with her to see how to best go about it. If I missed too many days in a row, she was my point of contact to work through an individualized solution when it came to making up class time and assignments. Her main purpose was to prevent teachers from standing in the way of my education.

If a teacher didn’t understand or didn’t particularly like a certain accommodation, they went to her, not me. And each semester, we’d revisit my accommodations to ensure they were still working and made revisions.

These accommodations didn’t allow me to do less work. They simply altered how the work was done, how work was turned in, and how I showed I was actively participating in class. For example, if I missed class I would email my teachers prior to the class and would attach all work due that day. For classes that required a participation portion, the teacher would send a specific topic my way and I’d typically have to write 1 – 2 pages of analysis, along with any questions or concerns of my own. Essentially, I did more work than many of my classmates as a way to show I wasn’t “skipping class” or brushing off my responsibilities.

In addition to an accommodations counselor, having access to someone who would be able to understand my studies, how I worked and applied myself and connect my interests to a viable career is extremely important.

There are thousands of career choices, and millions of ways to tailor jobs to fit individual’s needs. A career counselor adept in working with special cases would help prepare me for actually working and being successful beyond college.

Online, Personalized Courses

When it comes to continuing my education, I will most likely have to do so online. Online school requires excessive amounts of time management and a true commitment to getting your education.

Online courses are typically offered over the course of a whole semester, or in shortened periods. Having a catalog of courses that could be taken over an extended period, or a “non-typical” semester would be wonderful. If you took the online lecture videos, homework and tests and made it all available with the purchase of the course, it opens up the opportunity to watch the lectures on my own schedule, complete homework at my own pace and then take tests when everything else was completed. It’s like taking the approach to getting your CAD certification and applying it all college courses. This eliminates the pressure that comes with missing a class or trying to get an answer from a professor in regards to any issue that comes up.

If you have a few stand-by professors available throughout the year, they can be there to answer questions, but it’s more of a hands off approach that pushes the students to learn the material and be responsible when it comes to getting good grades and passing exams.

This option would allow you to take a single course – say in Algebra, complete all the work in one month or 5 months and then take the exam and receive credit for the course.

This also allows you to choose to take one or two classes at a time, rather than five or six. It works as a part time option, and allows individuals to completely be in control of their degree.

Although this does remove other students from the equation and makes group discussions harder to participate in, there are other ways to foster this kind of communication such as public forums.

Quiet Study/Break Rooms

Perhaps online college isn’t possible or perhaps the online program requires a few courses be taken on campus… now the comforts my own home provides are gone, especially if I’m not living on campus.

It’s one thing if you can go back to your room between classes, but most of the time you can’t. And you aren’t going to pay for a room simply because you might need to lay down immediately.

Having a section of the library or a few rooms near classrooms designated as quiet break rooms would be huge. They have them in hospitals, why don’t they have them in schools?

Often times, studying, spending down time between classes, or working on classwork isn’t accessible. Bright fluorescent overhead lights? Windows that don’t have blinds? Ticking clocks? The tip tapping of other people’s keyboards? The muffled conversations? The teachers walking around checking in for progress updates? The music not completely staying in someone’s headphones?

For most people, none of this is a problem. But for someone like me who is either trying to work through an attack or keep one at bay, having access to private or semi-private work spaces makes a world of difference. Having a place to go where there is no outside interference. Having a place where I can shut the blinds, turn off the lights and just lay down or quietly stretch can give me the opportunity to be successful when it is time to sit through a lecture or do a presentation.

Last spring, I failed to present my final group project three times in a row. I had 4 group presentations in one week, one day three were in a row… The first one went by without any problems, the second one I began to fade but no one could tell I was struggling. I went home sick before the third one. Two days later, I went to my morning classes and sat in a teachers lounge trying to prepare myself for the presentation. I went to the ER instead. Two days later, I skipped my morning classes, slept in, took the day slow and went to my afternoon class and finally presented. The point is, in taking care of myself and my needs I was able to be successful, and in having private rooms to do just that, my chances of getting through each day goes up tremendously.

Working From Home

Although private rooms are a great start, I can’t always drive. I can’t always function whether it be because of my medicine or my migraine, actually getting to campus isn’t always a task I can complete.

My studio classes were a perfect example as to how easy this idea was. They were 4 – 5 hour long classes, and for the most part they were spent working on projects. It wasn’t lengthy lectures and only occasionally did we have to present or do group check ins.

Days when I stayed home and worked from the comfort of my own bed, I actually accomplished much more and worked much longer than when I was in the classroom. And if I needed to take a break, lay down, or simply stop I was able to. There were days where I’d start working when the class started and then nap halfway through and pick up the class after I had dinner and suddenly it was 2 AM and I was still “in class”. Working from home certainly didn’t make me a lazy student.

In addition to being able to work from home, I want to be able to participate in class from home. Just because I can’t drive, doesn’t mean I can’t talk or listen. I’ve paid for the class, so if I want to Facetime a classmate to be “present” for the lecture or the discussion, I should 100% be allowed to do so.

And if I can’t video call in, I should have some way of accessing the lecture whether it’s receiving a copy of the PowerPoint or having a recording of the class discussion. No one has the intention of spreading the lecture illegally to people who haven’t paid for the class, so an exception should be made for students who physically cannot be there. Accommodations don’t exist for students who don’t need them or refuse to attend class.

Textbook/Reading/Homework Resources

What is hands down my favorite class? English.

What do you do a lot of in English/Literature classes? You read.

Last spring I think we had 5 novels that we read just in my literature course. I then had chapters from my marketing book, HR book, and other classes occasional reading… Not a single book came with a digital copy. I was incredibly thankful for people who had taken time out of their lives to narrate my English books on Youtube… because, let’s be honest. I’m not blind and I can read, but it can be an extremely strenuous task. Class readings should be available in an audio format without me having to prove I’m blind. I had access to my textbooks in audio format, but my English professor insisted we have a hard copy of the book with us in class and paying for both a hard copy and an audio book shouldn’t be mandatory to meet an easy accommodation.

Group Project Exemptions

I’ve got a million reasons to hate group projects… I mean I’m the one who does them all on my own and allows the group to take credit in most cases… why? I want it done right and I want the good grade I know I can achieve.

And yes, I have had wonderful group project partners.

But, I cannot commit to group presentations. The presentation I talked about earlier had 3 other students… I let each and every one of them down and added unnecessary stress in not knowing how and if the presentation would ever occur. Sure, we lucked out with a more than understanding professor, but the key word there is luck.

Perhaps the option shouldn’t be “hey I’m not working in a group”, but rather lets have a group collaboration and then individual presentations. This gives the opportunity to still demonstrate being able to work well with others and come to compromises, while allowing myself to present either a portion or my own project without potentially causing problems for others.

A project I did in architecture was a perfect example of this method. The project started off with myself and my partner working to gather all the information on a building and then we each created our own separate versions of each assignment. We were resources to one another and worked to troubleshoot issues we came across as well as discuss what we saw as important aspects. We would meet up after reviews to go over where each person could improve or what we thought was working very well. For the final presentation we both had different interpretations of the project and totally separate presentations, but we were still partners. The difference came in how our projects looked, how composed our presentations were, the ideas we had, and the overall commitment we put into our work. And these differences reflected in our individual grades, even though it was a group effort.

Transparency

I cannot tell you how incredibly difficult it is to work with a teacher or other classmates who have no clue what you’re dealing with.

This issue is completely my own in nature, but I should be able to have total transparency with my professors and peers. I shouldn’t have to have some “understanding nod” that acknowledges that I’m not doing well and need to leave class. I should be able to have open conversations where I say to my teacher that I’m missing class because I needed to take my medicine or my symptoms. I should be able to pull my teacher aside and say I won’t be actively participating because I’m extremely nauseous. I should be able to laugh with my professor about the fact that yes, my drugs do make me feel drunk and yes this is quite entertaining.

I don’t need to be friends with my teachers, but I need to be completely comfortable with my condition when I’m around them. I should be able to share more personal information, because yes it may be an unneeded justification, but it helps me tremendously when teachers understand. When a teacher or a friend understands why you’re struggling or why you need help in a certain way, chances are you’re going to receive better quality instruction, help, and perhaps more options as to how to make things easier for you.

Alternate Assignments

This one is pretty huge.

There’s been multiple occasions where I’ve had to miss a field trip. Making my alternate assignment be “attend the field trip to this museum on your own time” isn’t viable.

It’s the idea that I shouldn’t be penalized for having to miss something due to my documented disability/health condition and I shouldn’t have to work harder than my peers to receive the same grade.

The reality is, I’m going to have to work harder because I have different barriers. But, to me missing class and writing a paper on my take-aways from a certain chapter or concept is a much better alternative assignment than coming in on my own time to make up the entire experience.

In reality, I shouldn’t have to provide any additional work if I miss class when I’ve got an accommodation that allows me to not be penalized for missing class. But, I provide the work without qualm because that shows the teacher that you’re dedicated to your education and take their class seriously.

But, missing a trip to a museum should be replaced with a research paper on the topic or a similar topic. Not something that I potentially cannot make up.

Food And Beverage Access

For the most part, I bring food from home and don’t have extra money to spend on a meal plan offered by a school. However, this is limiting. Say you’ve got class for 10 hours but don’t have a place to put your food. Having public fridges and microwaves should be more standard. I shouldn’t have to sacrifice healthier food for items that don’t need to be heated up and will last all morning not being in the fridge.

I also shouldn’t have to resort to buying overpriced items on campus at potentially limiting hours. My previous university only had food served a specific hours – early morning, an hour for lunch and dinner time.

Unfortunately my body needs food when it needs food.

This extends to needing to eat during class, needing access to get more water or use the restroom. Many of which are frowned upon.

You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes they can’t have a snack, so why should you place restrictions on other people?

At the end of the day, I could write an entire novel on ways accommodations could allow me to go back to school and help me be the student I am. But this “wish list” touches on the big picture ideas.

Right now I don’t think I can truly gather enough energy to even take one online course. I’m not there yet. But there’s a chance I could be later this year, so by making this list – if I’m not lucky enough to find an online program, this gives me an idea as to what to ask for and what to look for when selecting a university.

Most importantly, this addresses the idea I touched on. Colleges aren’t accessible. They don’t have a wide variety of accommodations, and they don’t have the resources to help us understand various accommodation options that could benefit us greatly. We have to go through trail and error, fail classes, and put in tons of extra work to even understand what accommodations to ask for.

A.

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