When Ableism Forces You To Reevaluate Your Goals:

Growing up, I thought my life would look like anybody else’s. I was determined not to let my disability get in my way. I saw no reason to let Cerebral Palsy stop me from achieving my goals. I had hoped to work full time, get married, and possibly have children.  I knew I wanted to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree. I assumed I would graduate from college and go on to a meaningful career. 

I went off to college in September of 2018 with hopes of making new friends, joining some clubs, and working hard on my academics. The first year I did well academically and began writing articles for the campus newspaper. I also enjoyed the food at the dining hall. My freshman year wasn’t without its challenges, though. Colleges don’t provide a personal care assistant. I relied on PCAs to drive me to college and assist me with my activities of daily living while on campus. The first PCA I hired would run late almost daily. This was a daily stressor for me. I was already busy studying, reading, and writing essays. I didn’t need to be worried about making it to class. When she ran late, my mom often ended up taking me to class. I felt terrible when my mom had to adjust her work schedule for me. I decided to terminate this PCA once the fall semester ended. Having to terminate a PCA was a new, uncomfortable experience for me.

Furthermore, I soon realized that securing accommodations was tough. Nothing was easy, from getting exam accommodations to making sure I had accessible materials. It necessitated a level of advocacy that I had never experienced before. The process includes a number of e-mails, forms, and phone calls. In college, there are no IEPs or 504 Plans. Because you are considered as an adult, you are responsible for most of the advocacy. Getting what I needed felt like a full-time job.

I was eager to return to school in January. I enjoyed my spring semester even more. My favorite class was my U.S history class. The professor always made his lectures entertaining. I did well in my math class, which is my most difficult subject. I had hired a new PCA, and she worked out well until I had to terminate her that summer.

Towards the end of the school year, I began looking for work experience for the summer. I contacted a local publishing business, but unfortunately, their location isn’t wheelchair accessible. After this, I began to research the employment statistics of disabled people in America. I became discouraged as soon as I started to read statistics. I began to wonder why I’d gone to college in the first place.

COVID-19 changed the college experience for me and millions of other college students around the world. I planned to take the spring semester off anyway to focus on my mental health. When I returned to classes remotely, it was a challenge. I didn’t like online learning.

I had limited access to the office of disability services. I was forced to miss the autumn semester of this year due to scheduling and financial difficulties. I was excited to return to university in January after being away. I applied for re-enrollment and submitted it. I outlined the courses I wanted to take in an email to my advisor. She didn’t respond to e-mails. I met with my advisor via Zoom in late December to confirm my course load.

I reviewed my schedule after nearly a week. I had never been registered for the entire course load, much to my dismay. My mother eventually complained to the university. It was only then that I discovered the administrative assistant was ill, and as a result, she never received my advisor’s email requesting to enroll me in the classes we had discussed. My hopes of continuing to attend Westfield State were lost. I felt let down by a university that claims to provide excellent disability services.

  Before the pandemic I began looking for work. Unfortunately, the employment search is rampant with ableism. I couldn’t even get a job at the local Stop And Shop or McDonald’s. Many times, people were interested in interviewing me until I told them that I have a disability. This is illegal, but it happens anyway. I have been looking for work since 2019, and haven’t had any luck. 

Ableism and its related attitudes have forced me to reevaluate my goals. Right now, I’m focusing on blogging and advocating for disabled people. I hope one day to turn my passion for writing and my love of helping others into a meaningful career. I am also hoping to take some writing classes this summer. I am taking it one day at a time.

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