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Attending College with a Disability

Greetings reader,

My name is Madeline, currently I am a Social Work student intern at LVCIL under the S2L program. Many people I encounter see me as your everyday college student, but in reality I have been battling my disability pretty much my whole life. At around two and half years of age I became ill with pneumonia and shortly after with bronchitis. Throughout that time I received medical attention. The bacteria that had formed in my lungs was just too much for my young underdeveloped lungs that the bacteria left behind scar tissue. Ultimately what that meant for me was that I would have to be followed by a lung specialist for the rest of my life. Additionally, I would have to use inhalers and other types of medical equipment to get me through the day.  While in elementary, middle and high school I was an average student; mainly because I was not able to attend class regularly due to becoming sick frequently. Much of my middle school and high school years were spent receiving classes at home.

I knew I wanted to go to college but I was not sure how my disability would play a role in how successful I would be in post-secondary education.  My biggest fear was to have to disclose my disability to everyone, and that my peers would judge me. Second, I feared that I would become ill and my professors would not allow me to make up work. Putting my fears aside I decided to enroll at Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) for their Social Work program. I elected to pursue the study of Social Work because I love helping people. My first semester there I started out fine but then later I became ill and was hospitalized. During that time I felt the weight of the world become even heavier. Until I realized that with just a few emails and doctor excuses, and doing assignments from home/hospital all was forgiven.

Once I finished taking all my core classes at LCCC I chose to transfer to Kutztown University because they had a well-known Social Work program. The process of me transferring was rushed and many of classes were only 15 minutes apart. Once I arrived on campus I realized how big it was; and how far apart the buildings were from each of where my classes were being held. Walking from class to class on a campus that has over 10,000 students, given only 15 minutes, walking up hill, with a lung disability is not an easy task. That first day I was a wreck and turning blue gasping for air. At the end of the day I recalled an important piece of information that was mentioned in every syllabus the professors went over, and that was the Disability Services Office (DSO).

Services provided at the DSO are reasonable accommodations to students to be successful in their learning while at Kutztown. Many other colleges have offices similar to this that provide the same services. To be provided services an individual must meet certain criteria and provide proper documentation to get the accommodations. For example people can get services such as note takers, extra time on test, permission to record lectures, and among other services. In my case I was given accommodation letters that were directed to all my professors informing them of my disability. The letter described that there would be possible absences due to frequent doctor visits, and hospitalizations. The DSO also gave me an accessibility map to narrow down the closest handicap parking spots to each building I was going to have class in. Since the time I enrolled in the DSO my time at Kutztown was smooth sailing. All the accommodations provided and my hard work allowed me to achieve the following, be a member of a social work honor society, disability honor society, the dean’s list, and now soon to be graduate in less than two months.

I encourage anyone who has a disability to not let fear stump you in your walk of life. Life is about taking risks and exceeding expectations. Do not allow your disability dictate your steps, there is power in YOU and you direct whether or not you go to college, tech school, start a business, work, travel or anything else you desire to do. One piece of advice is be an expert as it pertains to your disability, know the accommodations you need and the laws that protect your rights.  In the end we are equal and trying to achieve the same thing in life and that is to be SUCCESSFUL!