Disability Chat: Struggling to Get Accommodations in College (Story Time!)

Hi, friends. In today’s post, I’ll share some background along with three stories about my struggles to obtain handicapped accommodations in college. [If I told you everything, this post would become a memoir.] This post is still quite long, but I hope my stories are entertaining enough to keep you reading. 😉 If not, the post is broken up to make skipping around easy.

A bit of background: I have Friedreich’s Ataxia, and in this context, you should know that 1) I used a walker or wheelchair for most of my college years, and 2) I can hardly write by hand.

I have heard stories of private institutions going above and beyond to help some of my fellow FA’ers. Well, I wasn’t going to (and still wouldn’t) pay tens of thousands of dollars per semester for a bachelor’s degree. Those of us handicappers who attend big state universities have less positive experiences. Dealing with bureaucrats who can’t be bothered to view people as individuals is nightmare-ish for those like me with special needs.

A Few Sources of Strife

The Location of the Office of Accessibility–Sad Joke Or Just Plain Sad?

The office of accessibility (OARS–Office of Accessibility Resources & Services) is located on the third floor of a large building with minimal parking spots, down several hallways. A school that cared for its handicapped students would designate one of its small, single-department campus buildings with its own parking lot as the OARS (of which there are several). Instead, the office was shoved anywhere it would fit. My school only cares about handicapped students to the extent to which its legally required.

Handicapped Students Get Priority Registration, But They Aren’t Really a Priority

With very limited parking available on college campuses (another enraging issue for another post), handicapped students are given “priority registration” so they can choose classes with location in mind. For example, I liked taking back-to-back classes in the same building or buildings right next to each other. However, handicapped students can only obtain priority registration if they have already been enrolled in school for one semester. In practice, this means that freshman and transfer disabled students are SOL. Because I attended classes in the fall and took off to work in the spring, I faced the same headache every year to convince them to let me register early.

For a brief time, before I needed to use a walker or wheelchair, I worked in the Registrar’s Office. I manually entered students in classes through the school’s system. My coworkers unofficially gave themselves priority registration by placing themselves in classes for the next semester whenever they pleased. So, consider this: Registrar’s Office student employees got priority registration, yet I, standing before them a couple years later, clinging to my walker and pleading with the employees for sympathy, was greeted on multiple occasions with apathetic rejection.

A Few Tales of Strife

Your Limited Mobility Isn’t my Problem

Here is one of the testing policies in OARS: after a student takes an exam, they personally deliver it (sealed in an envelope) to the professor’s mailbox. This required me to park outside the building, walk all the way to OARS with my rollator walker to take the exam, print it out and trek back to my car, drive to another building, get out and walk all the way to the professor’s mailbox (usually tucked back somewhere on an upper floor), then walk back to my car. I became exhausted every time I did it.

After doing this a few times, I asked an employee in the disability office about potentially emailing my exams to my professors; they were English exams typed in Microsoft Word, after all. God bless him–he is one of the only people in that office without a heart of stone. After I shared my request with him, he went to an adjacent room to speak with one of his superiors. When he calmly broached the subject with her, her loud, angry, snide response carried throughout the office: “Well, I don’t see how that’s possible, unless you want to deliver it YOURSELF!”

I did end up getting that accommodation, but this is the kind of spiteful attitude I’ve had to deal with many times.

A Meltdown with a Side of Irony

I once took a course in the library basement, which led to my getting a job in the same location. The parking situation is awful; for a school of almost 20,000 students along with all the faculty members, there are about seven handicap parking spots. Also, the lot is positioned on a semi-steep hill that routinely threatened to throw me off balance. A library staff member told me in my first week that I’d be “lucky” to ever secure a spot, and that turned out to be true; I was often forced to park in other lots and roll my wheelchair for twenty minutes to reach class/work, or I would park in a makeshift spot and earn a parking ticket.

One day, I drove back there to find that, once again, every spot was full. I had already acquired multiple tickets for parking in my makeshift spots, and as I prepared to do so again, the endless frustration of simply getting to class overwhelmed me that day. As I heave-hoed my walker up a hill, struggling to balance and knowing my windshield would likely have another yellow strip of paper taped to it after class, the tears welled up in my eyes. By the time I reached the basement door, feeling so helpless and angry, I was full-on sobbing. After taking a few minutes to compose myself and pretend I was fine, I walked on to my classroom.

The head of OARS was scheduled to give a presentation to our class that day. When I entered the room, a small space with about seven people there, he was showing off a nifty technological toy they now offer. My professor eyed me with concern, clearly noticing my tear-stained face and wobbly legs, but the man in charge of the disability office continued as if I didn’t exist. I took my seat and said nothing; my conversations with him in the past had been fruitless, so why bother trying to make him care anymore?

The Not-So-Temporarily Broken Elevator, or When Liability Matters More Than Human Beings

When I worked during the spring, I took a couple community college classes to fulfill random requirements for my degree (to ultimately save money). During my last semester, the only elevator in the building broke (and remained out-of-order for the next couple weeks). Of course, my class was on the second floor.

I needed to make up a test and had studied hard for it. I wound up sitting downstairs with a rep from the accessibility office. I told him that I wanted to take this test and I could walk up the stairs with some help, but he insisted that I wasn’t allowed to do so for liability reasons. I even asked if he would go retrieve the test and fill it out for me by hand if I told him the answers–to no avail. After talking in circles with the rep for several minutes, I got so upset that I fled (hurriedly rolled) to the bathroom in tears.

A girl in the bathroom gently asked, “What’s wrong?”

“I need to go upstairs, but no one will help me!” I wailed pitifully.

So this random girl came with me to the stairs, recruiting one of her friends in the downstairs lobby along the way. Thank the Lord they just happened to be nursing students. The girl from the bathroom walked with me while her friend carried my wheelchair. I took that dang test, too, and made an A.

Later, my entire class helped me walk back down the stairs–some students holding my arms for support, some carrying the wheelchair, the rest of them simply joining for solidarity.


Though I reflect on my English courses and my old professors and fellow students fondly, I’m jaded about my college experience by the constant struggles I underwent. Luckily, some bigger universities have more services for handicapped students than mine did. I feel sorry for anyone with mobility issues who attends a large school. I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with it anymore!

Thanks for reading! Do you have an experience related to disability or knowing a disabled person you’d be willing to share? Have you ever struggled with a form of discrimination or felt like you fell through the cracks? Let me know in the comments.

55 comments

  1. Little sister reading your post gave me even more respect for you. The determination to forge ahead through difficulty and get your degree is what grabs my attention. Next quarter I will have a student who has a condition similar to Cerebral Palsy due to a doctor’s mistake when she was born. I have already been thinking about how to accommodate her needs.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Big brother, I agree, reading this post made me want to come give you a hug and say “ Job well done for pushing through girl 🤛🏽🖐🏽”. Thank you for making us aware of a fraction of what you had to endure and reminding us to open our eyes and hearts to see 🤗

      Liked by 3 people

  2. There need to be more posts like this Lily. My mama is 72 and has been in a wheelchair for years due to CP. There seems to be a huge lack of compassion or indifference for those who need physical assistance.😦 It’s hard but I’m glad you are speaking up for what’s right. You are a fighter and I’m so proud of your determination to get your degree even though it was a lot harder physically. God bless you sweet lady! Hugs!!🤗😍

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your sweet words, Vivian! I’m sorry your grandma had to go through these kinds of struggles. This is why people have to tell their stories and why we need to pay attention to the situations around us–so we can see how others suffer and learn to be kinder! God bless you! ♥

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lily – you are a true champion! My heart goes out to you after reading this. Perseverance truly paid off.

    You know, some of us are not broken on the outside, but broken on the inside. I flunked out of the Univ. of MD @ 19 years old and had to see the tears run down my Mom’s face when I received the academic dismissal letter and then hear her say: “David, you are not as smart as my other children”.

    After later enrolling in 3 community colleges and 3 universities my Mom & Dad did eventually attend my commencement exercise for my Bachelor’s degree.

    Thank you for sharing with us your trials, tribulations & triumphs. Inspiring as always!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks for your kind words, David! And thanks for sharing a little more about yourself and how you have also struggled. So true that people can look fine on the outside but still have issues in the inside. It’s amazing that you persevered through attending several colleges to get your degree! That’s something you can be proud of.

      Like

  4. Hi Sweet Lily, My heart goes out to you so sorry you had such a struggle. We would never know what the Hamdicaped prople go through with out your input. I know we have situations at Baptist Hospital for my eye appointments, Parking is awful due to two parking areas being closed due to construction, one being for Staff. Roy could not always walk from the car to the entrance without having breathing issues on the way. The distance was too far. Now we have a wheelchair for him and I will insist he get in it. That is so helpful. I have to give you credit, I know you have had struggles but you get it done! So proud of you and what you have accomplished. Love you Deb

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Deb, I can imagine how it would be hard for Roy to walk a long distance. Hospital parking lots tend to be terrible! I’m glad that using a wheelchair to get inside makes it easier, and I’m glad Roy will actually use it. Some people are too proud to want to use a wheelchair, but Roy needs to do what is best for his health. Thank you for all your kind words. Love you!

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  5. I’ve been in higher ed for over 20 years and this is just one more massive disappointment! You are strong and courageous and have endured so much more than any average student. Be proud of your academic accomplishments. I love how your classmates helped you back down the stairs…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lily, my heart goes out to you as I read this. So many of us take so many things for granted even when they are pointed out to us. Continue to tell your story. We all need to hear it so that we can make changes both in the physical structures and accessibility and in mindsets.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Brittany! You’re right that most people are simply ignorant of the obstacles that people around them face. We all need to tell our stories and listen to others’ stories! Also true that changes need to happen on a physical and mental level in society.

      Like

    1. Especially in light of this post, your post about the ADA was on point! I’m grateful for it, but we have a long way to go with accessibility and ignorant mindsets. And thank you for the nomination, Brendan! It means a lot. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, we absolutely have a long way to go. I hope more people understand that inaccessible religious spaces goes against, instead of supports, freedom of religion. And you’re welcome! You deserve it. 🙂

        Like

  7. I have mobility limitations and limited ability to write by hand due to a movement disorder I have, it sure is crazy how much of a fight it is to receive the accessibility we need! As a current college student I really understand the struggle, haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good luck to you as you go through it, Halli! Don’t back down; you and all us handicappers have to advocate for the accommodations we need and deserve. Thanks for dropping by! Haven’t seen a post from you in a while!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m so glad you are a determined woman!!! Reading through this made me frustrated at people’s ignorance but I love your attitude!
    I’m so thankful of the kind act the students offered at the end of your post.

    My little brother has brain injury from a car accident years ago. He’s 29 now but has the mentality of about a nine year old. He’s a kind person but does require patience. At the church where my mom and him attend he was given the honor and duty of helping with the offering which made him feel important…..BUT that task was removed from him when someone in the church was repulsed at the idea that he wanted to give high fives every once in a while taking up offering..she said he was embarrassing the church by trying to give high fives during that time..I guess I have yet to read in the Bible where that’s not allowed….sad world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing, Alicia! It’s awesome that your church wanted to include him. It reminds me of a young man in our church with down’s syndrome who has certain tasks like bringing in the light. It’s upsetting that someone complained about something so trivial. Some people get so hung up on the formality of the service that they forget about what Jesus would do!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I felt frustrated FOR you as I read through them…argh!!! It really is true that certain places aren’t disabled-friendly (my sister uses a walker, so through her I’ve noticed better). Your post really shined the light on the subject. I’m sorry you had to go through such troubles! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m glad you found several people to help you. Thank you for sharing your inspirational experience! The lack of compassion I’ve been receiving and read in your post has propelled me to write about compassion and empathy in a future post. I wish more people would show more compassion… I highly commend you on overcoming your challenges. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I am so glad you shared this — I was enraged, encouraged, inspired, and saddened throughout this post — how awful when teachers and those in authority didn’t care at all and yet how heartwarming to know that fellow students were there for you too; Lily you are simply amazing for persevering through all that you have endured!

    I confess that years ago I used to think to myself that there were sometimes a few too many ‘handicapped parking spots’…until a friend was paralyzed and when we would travel anywhere together I quickly realized there are not nearly enough spots at most venues and establishments.

    Keep fighting, I believe you are making a tremendous difference for so many!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for a thoughtful comment as usual, Salt! I agree–it’s horrible that people in authority didn’t care yet reassuring to remember the times when fellow students did. I guess they weren’t completely jaded by life and the staff was?! It’s crazy. I get what you’re saying because, especially when a parking lot is empty, there appear to be plenty of handicapped spaces, but you realize how crucial they are when you reallyyy need one and they’re all taken.

      Thanks again for your support.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m sorry you had to go through all this.
    The FAmily thing is genius. Well played.
    Unfortunately, disability is often an after thought. It’s all about adhering to the laws and that’s it.

    Like

  13. Thanks for sharing so openly. I honestly didn’t know many of the difficulties that students with disabilities face. I hope more colleges begin to work with students to help everyone involved.
    Take care and God bless! 🙂

    Like

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