In 2019 the hashtag #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout began circulating on Twitter. I am one of those disabled people who choose to drop out of college. I never imagined myself dropping out of college before completing my bachelor’s degree.
In 2018, I was a high school graduate with plans to attend a nearby university. I went to college to broaden my horizons and acquire a valuable degree that would lead to a job after graduation. I was excited to start the next chapter in my life.
Shortly after beginning my freshman year, I realized there are many barriers to attending college when you have a disability. The first issue I faced was finding suitable PCAs. In my first three semesters, I went through a new PCA every semester. My PCAs were often unreliable.
When my PCAs were late or didn’t show up, my mother and a friend often filled in. It made me feel like I was a burden. It frustrated me when my mother rearranged her work schedule to take me to class. This was when I began to wonder if college was worth all of the stress I dealt with. You can’t focus on studying and enjoying your classes if you worry about if you’ll even get to class on time.
It didn’t take long for me to discover that getting accomdations was challenging. From obtaining exam accommodations to ensuring that I had accessible books and furniture, nothing was straightforward. It demanded a level of advocacy I’d never experienced before. I wanted to be just like any other freshman at Westfield State. Receiving services through the office of disability services was considered by my classmates to be a significant advantage and preferential treatment.
I went to the career center at the end of my freshman year to look for a summer job or internship. When I arrived, the staff was surprised I was there. I felt like I wasn’t welcome there. I reached out to a local woman who owns and operates a small publishing company. Unfortunately, she works from home, and her home isn’t wheelchair accessible.
After this, I began to look for information about disabled people and employment. The more I researched, the more I wondered why I’d gone to college at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 19.1% of people with disabilities worked in the United States in 2021. I wish more disabled Americans were employed. It saddens me that millions of disabled Americans are unemployed.
COVID-19 impacted my college experience, as well as the lives of millions of other students all over the world. I was already planning on taking the spring semester off to focus on my mental health. It was difficult for me to return to classes remotely. Online learning didn’t work well for me. I only had limited access to the disability services office. After one semester of remote learning, I took the spring semester off.
Due to scheduling and financial concerns, I was unable to attend the autumn semester of this year. After taking two semesters off, I was eager to return to the university in January. I completed and submitted an application for re-enrollment. In an email to my advisor, I listed the courses I wanted to pursue. She did not respond to the e-mails I sent to her. I sent a couple of e-mails a day, hoping she would respond. In late December, I met with my advisor via Zoom to finalize 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 called the university and complained. My mother shouldn’t have had to call the university at all. 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.
After this, I wondered why nobody at the university noticed that I hadn’t been registered. It had been six days. This was the last straw. I lost all interest in continuing at Westfield State. I felt let down by a university that claims to provide excellent disability services.
Right now I am focused on blogging and becoming a better writer. I am also hoping to begin working this summer. I hope that I can become a published author one day. When I think about continuing my college education, I want to be supported and enjoy learning again.
Disabled people are deserving of a college education, and it saddens me that many of them, like myself, believe that they are not. Systemic barriers to higher education for disabled people must be removed. If disabled people are given the necessary help, they can achieve so much.
“Persons with a Disability: Labor Force Characteristics Summary – 2021.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 24 Feb. 2022, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/disabl.nr0.htm.
Grace you are such a bright and independent person. College isn’t for everybody but it’s sadness me to that all of the colleges and even Westfield state didn’t make it easy for you. You are still young and you can achieve anything you want. Love you