A disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities. People living with disabilities may have preferences for how they refer to it, or if they prefer not to identify at all.
Disability is dynamic – you can be disabled for a period of time, you can suddenly become disabled at any time, and you also may not present as disabled. There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to being disabled.
For those of us living with an invisible illness, it can be especially hard to convince someone that you NEED accommodations.
Yes, it appears that my legs are in working order but you haven’t seen them turn purple and shake underneath me. Yes, it appears that I don’t have ADHD but you haven’t seen me impulsive, struggling to complete a simple chore, or witnessed the mess that my desk turns into because it had to look like my brain feels in order for me to make any progress.
Every time someone laughs and says they’re “just feeling lazy today” as they get into an elevator with me, I’m reminded that my reality is different. I’ve learned ways to make my life easier, especially because I know hard it is to convince others to do the same.
I was usually good about advocating for myself in college but even then, the answer was always to be excluded and given a separate assignment. That was never what I wanted – I wanted to do the same as everyone else, just with less of the pain. Once I graduated and entered the work force, I found that it was still the first suggestion.
I found that most people aren’t used to anyone asking for accommodations, so their instinct is to remove you from what you’re asking for help to do. Which isn’t fair. I’m not less able to do the work, I just need to be able to do it in a slightly different way.
Junior year, I had a pretty bad concussion and spent the year with post-concussive disorder. While I had professors who were incredibly understanding and set up a separate test environment for me entirely so that I was able to concentrate, I was also told by many that there was nothing that they could do.
For one of my courses, the professors had decided to switch entirely online. But… you can’t stare at a computer screen with a concussion.
When I asked my professors about this, since the book was also available physically, I was told that I wouldn’t be able to get credit for the reading activities if I didn’t use the online version and the quizzes would still need to be done on my computer. I needed the class and I couldn’t put it off another year, so I struggled and learned how to mitigate the head aches, memory issues, and mood swings as I put myself through it.
Another time, I actually went to my advisor and begged to be able to take another class in place of a prerequisite because the building was so old it didn’t have an elevator and I couldn’t make it up the 3 flights of stairs. They had never realized it was an issue before.
Field work is HARD to navigate as someone who is disabled – you can’t necessarily do everything the same but if you ask for accommodations, it’s more likely you just won’t get to do the work. Doing field work is really taxing on the body but there are ways to approach it that make it much more feasible.
You likely won’t even notice the accommodations that I make for myself. I scheduled meetings in college for when I could utilize the shuttle system rather than walking. I avoid meetings over lunch because I have extreme allergies to a number of foods and it’s easier to avoid them than to hope you’ll agree not to order them. I immediately seek out any stool once I enter the lab because I can’t handle standing for too long. I choose separate materials to work with to avoid allergic reactions. I set up experiments differently to avoid more physically-intensive approaches.
I don’t want the only thing people think when they look at me to be that my life is vastly different from their own. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I want you to respect me enough to help me work alongside you.