Each year, increasing numbers of chronically ill, disabled and neurodivergent students (such as those who are on the autism spectrum, or who have ADD/ADHD) gain access to higher education, in part due to the advances in both medicine and medical technologies. These students enter college much like their peers: nervous, excited and not quite sure what to expect.
This was me three years ago. Without the help of many of the individuals I met here at Rowan, I don’t think I would have made it much past my first semester. But that’s the wonderful thing about college, whether you’re disabled or not; there will always be someone else who feels like you do, whether you realize it or not.
I’m a history and creative writing student who is both disabled and chronically ill, and it has made me experience some of the best (and some of the worst) that college has to offer. I’ve taken a semester off for my health and have had to leave part of the way through a semester. I’ve also met great people and have discovered my passion for disability advocacy.
I have a rare central nervous system and heart condition called dysautonomia (POTS, more specifically) that causes my autonomic nervous system to malfunction; fibromyalgia, which is a pain disorder caused by overactive nerves; and a disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome that affects my collagen. Along with those, I’ve sustained a traumatic brain injury, which has led to various mental illnesses. Due to my disorders, I use a cane and motorized scooter to navigate my way around campus and to help with my limited mobility.
Rowan has the best team that I’ve encountered that is dedicated to helping students with disabilities succeed. I’ve been to community college and an out-of-state school, but have still come back to Rowan for my senior year, partly because of the support I’ve found with the Academic Success Center.
Once you’re registered with the Academic Success Center, they really go out of their way to make sure that your needs are met and that you’re handling college well overall.
However, some aspects of Rowan are not ideal for students with disabilities, especially those of a physical nature. For example, while the expansion of campus has been largely positive, it also makes getting around harder for students with mobility issues.
In this column, I plan to highlight the good, as well as the not-so-good, things Rowan has for disabled, chronically ill and neurodivergent students.
My goal in doing this is two-fold: I hope to help students who need to be made aware of the structures that are in place to help them and I plan to attempt to spread awareness of the disabled community that exists at Rowan.
While I realize that everyone’s struggles will be different, I hope that this column, and my vulnerability, will strike a chord with some of my fellow students. If I can help at least one person to realize that they’re not alone in their challenges, I will have accomplished more than I could ever have hoped to do otherwise.
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