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Leslie looks to intern at a college disability services office

Confronting a culture that literally slams doors in people’s faces

I am looking for internships to complete as a part of my Master’s program; because I want to work with chronically ill students, the most likely place for me to work is the disability services office at a college or university.

Among the issues I expect to confront are some chronically ill students not registering with the disability office because they do not view themselves as being disabled or having a disability.

The label of disability does not fit everyone, and I think this is also an issue in the community of people that have RA.  

This means that most disability offices are undercounting the number of eligible students.  So they are receiving less funding and providing less resources for a growing number of students.   

There is also the issue that most disability offices are not really equipped to deal with the ever-changing needs of chronically ill students.  Most of this is probably related to the fact that these offices are notoriously under-funded and under-staffed. 

In most cases, students who are not registered with the disability office cannot take advantage of services, and are many times out of luck should they have a health crisis and need accommodation without having previously disclosed their chronic illness and disability.  

But there is also a deeper issue, one that I really struggle with.  And that is an issue of climate.  Having been at two very different universities now as a graduate student – one that is large and public, and one that is smaller and private – the climate issues are very similar and that is that they are not all that inclusive. 

You can be compliant in act, but if the culture and environment does not reflect that, you might as well be literally slamming doors in peoples’ faces.

When you put a ramp that is wheelchair accessible between the loading dock and the dumpsters, it sends a very negative message right away.  You are here, but you are not a priority. 

Or when the ADA coordinator of the university laments at a public meeting about how expensive it is to convert a very old, heavy door into one that can open automatically, it sends the message that people with disabilities make life more difficult for everyone else.

In the graduate school setting, the immediate question when a student is looking for accommodations of any kind is how they are trying to play the system.  There are always bad eggs.  There will always be people who play the system.  Unfortunately, there will always be people who are not disabled but try to pretend that they are for the benefits they perceive such a label brings.

But I have never met anyone in the graduate school setting who is so hard up that they pretend to have a chronic illness or disability.  Graduate school can be hell if you are healthy, let alone if you are trying to balance a rigorous academic program with the rigors of maintaining your health. 

The reality is that we are moving toward universal design, which is useful to everyone, hence the name universal. 

However, if the cultural environment is not in sync with the physical environment, we haven’t gotten as far as we think we have. 

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