Going to college while on disability

Josh graduated from Kennesaw State University in the summer of 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He is a freelance writer and blogger. He also loves listening to podcasts like 99% Invisible and Snap Judgement. Josh lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he was born and raised and will remain until a new chapter in his life is opened. College can be tough sometimes. Especially when you’ve got a chronic illness or disability. When you can’t complete your work or you don’t have time to study for exams because you’ve been admitted to the hospital, it can be a drain on your college life. It can push your date back for graduation and it may be discouraging at times. Speaking from experience, I know what it’s like to go through surgeries, doctors, hospitals, infusion centers, needles, medicines that make you sick, and everything else that’s unpleasant or unwanted in an illness. I have Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory disease that attacks my guts and leaves me paralyzed in pain for hours at a time. I had a surgery on my small bowel in October 2012 that helped for a few months, but ultimately needed to be redone in July of last year. One unfortunate fact about Crohn’s disease patients is that those who undergo surgery are 75% likely to need another. Many others like me are going to classes right now or are thinking about their options in school. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible, you can do it. It takes time, strong willpower, and school savvy, but it is absolutely 100% doable. First, if you are thinking about going to college or are in college right now and need help, seek out your Student Success counselors, or a specialist that can help you navigate your institutions many programs that are in place to help you succeed. Ask them how to get special accommodations for your disability or illness. Public universities are legally responsible to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled students. For example, requesting a sign language interpreter, extensions on work, and fixing attendance issues can be arranged by you and your counselors. If done diplomatically, you may not even need to go through your disabled students services department for every request. Simply develop a good rapport with your professor and email them often with your plans for completing work and known roadblocks that will prevent you from following the syllabus outlined at the beginning of the semester. I found that if I was upfront and honest about my situation from the very first day of classes, my professors were generally sympathetic and allowed me leeway with deadlines and making up assignments. It is always a good idea, though, to have an updated medical history and note from your doctor which you should take to your school officials and get filed away. That way, if any professor demands to see some evidence or a doctor’s note, you can simply email your counselors and they should take care of it the form of a letter or email to your professor. Next, be self-empowering. Try to be as proactive as you can to prevent unexpected doctors appointments and trips to the pharmacy that get in the way of your studies. I found out early on that stress was a key factor when dealing with my disease. Taking time out of my studies to make sure I centered myself through yoga (when I could), talking to therapists, and organizing my schedule was well worth the effort. By focusing on self-improvement, I was buying myself more time down the road that I would need to finish assignments, but might not be able to due to stressful situations that could cause my illness to flare up. Last, don’t get down on yourself. Always find a reason to keep going. There were many times when it didn’t seem like I would be able to finish school, in fact I stopped going several times which caused a nightmare of paperwork for financial aid and re-enrollment. Keep the endgame in mind when you’re stuck in bed, or paralyzed in pain, because it’s the small steps that eventually lead you to your ultimate goal as a student: graduation. I can’t tell you how relieving it is to get that paper diploma in the mail or turn the tassel on graduation day after years of fighting for your degree. For some people, graduation may never be a possibility, but if you can find it in yourself to wake up every morning and do one thing that will lead to your eventual success, then keep your eyes on the prize and don’t let life beat you up.

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