I saw a quote the other day that said “Keep Calm It’s Just A Disability.” As somebody who works in Disability Services at the Higher Education level, this quote initially annoyed me because I no longer see disabilities, but rather just see the individual. But then I started to understand the meaning behind it and realized that there truly are people who get nervous and uncomfortable around disabled individuals. In fact, last week I was asked by one of the school newspaper journalists what advice I could give them on how to interact with a person who was disabled. Although I wanted to say “Umm just like you are interacting with me right now,” I refrained, took a step back, and came up with my very best article-friendly answer.
With October being Disability Awareness Month, I have been thinking about what I have learned through working alongside students who live with a wide array of disabilities. From physical to psychological to an extremely large Asperger’s population at our University, my eyes have been opened to so much. Not a day goes by where I am not absolutely amazed by these students and their ability to overcome extreme challenges. I love the college level the most because it is such a new season of life for students. When I think back to August of 2006 when my parents dropped me off at the Gage Towers in Mankato, Minnesota for my very first semester of college, it was scary. Okay, so it was pretty darn exciting starting this new chapter of my life, but watching them drive off was bittersweet. And then I watch the parents of our students prepare to leave their disabled son/daughter who they have had to be an advocate for their entire life, it is a whole new ball game. However, over the weeks, to see how much more confident and empowered these students become on their own is quite incredible. They become their own advocates, find a voice inside them that, for so long, was spoken by their parents, and really gain a new confidence in life.
Working in this field has definitely opened my eyes to just how capable and resilient individuals can be. Below I have listed just a few things that I have learned over the last few months that sadly I did not learn for 25 years of my life.
-The term “disability” encompasses more than meets the naked eye. In fact 12% of the population suffers from at least one disability. Many of these, such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, and anxiety (just to name a few) are very difficult to detect right off the bat.
-Any one of us could become disabled at some point in our lives so we must not take for granted our health and abilities.
-My students complain a whole lot less than students that I have been around who were not disabled and that to me, is sad. As well, as me.
-To see the unique interests and talents that some of my students possess brings such joy to me. One student for example, always updates me on baseball scores and he is ALWAYS accurate in the facts. He despises the Cardinals, and also makes that known every single time he sees me :).
-There really is very little that these students are incapable of, and to enable them only takes away power from them that they need to have in this world. Just when I think to myself “Oh they won’t be able to do this or that,” they do it and I smile.
-I have learned the importance of asking each student what their specific disability looks like on them. I think so often, we hear of a disability that somebody has and based on our previous knowledge or experience with that disability, we assume they are all similar. I will never forget the time I was working with a student who had Borderline Personality Disorder and when I asked her to tell what exactly what BPD looks like for her, she acquired a huge grin and says to me “You are the first person who has ever asked me that. People assume we are all crazy.” From that point on, I make sure to ask each student to describe their disability from their eyes, not the worlds or text books.
-Be on time, consistent, and communicative. Routine is huge for many of my students, and change really causes a lot of anxiety for them. I think this is a good reminder for all of us to keep our commitments with others and to be on time for those.
These just skim the surface of what I have learned since beginning my job in June. Every single day I am taught something new, and I am constantly blown away with these students’ abilities. Below are just a few pictures from today’s Disability Awareness collaboration our office did the with Mercury (school newspaper).
Have a great week! Oh, and in other news, Wednesday marks the 1 month mark from our Wedding Day!!! CANNOT WAIT!