For all the people who don’t need its help, the disability service is a mystery. However, people, like me, who have various disabilities, could not imagine managing their life at university without it. University in general is a challenge – university with a disability is a battle.
I need the help of the disability service because I suffer from chronic Lyme disease. The disability service gives the opportunity for disabled students to ask for the adjustments they might need during term time based on their disability. These adjustments are various, but students are free to determine what might be useful to them and what might not. For me, the disability service isn’t just helpful because of the choice of specific adjustments on offer, but also because it offers me any adjustment at all. I’m from France, and there my condition isn’t considered a real disease, which means that every demand for any kind of adjustment is its own battle. While attending Trinity, however, my experience of the disability service has been quite different; I felt considered and listened to.
“I’m not a disabled person who wants to study. I’m a student with a disability, which does not define me.”
One of the first adjustments I was given was a low distraction space for exams, which means that I’m in a small room with only a few people. It is almost impossible for me to be in a big space with hundreds of people. Without the adjustments I was granted by the disability service, I don’t know how I would take my exams, and no exam means no graduation. However, the work of the disability service means more than just the right to adjustments during daily life at university and exams. It means the acknowledgement of my potential and my right to study, not just in the best conditions possible, but simply to study as well as any other person would. I’m not a disabled person who wants to study. I’m a student with a disability, which does not define me.
Our disability is a part of us, but it is not what we are. However, in a society which is primarily made for abled people, by abled people, and that does not always consider disabled people with the same eye, it is easy to believe that we are nothing apart from our disabilities. But our potential disabilities do not necessarily determine our physical or intellectual capacities. It can, but even with a disability we still have the ability to choose who we want to be and what we want to do. The disability is a factor that must be considered in order to supply the best possible help, but it does not constitute an immutable limit to our aptitudes and potential. And certainly not a limit to our academic path. That is why we should be given as far as possible the same chances as abled people, through a system of compensation. This will never make our disability disappear, but make it so that the impacts of the disabilities on our studies are as limited as possible.
I have sometimes had able people say to me “lucky you” when I told them about my adjustments. Others said that it constitutes an advantage to my studies. Any disabled person knows how cruel and hurtful those words are. Personally, it made me feel guilty and unworthy, with a slight sense of cheating, leaving a bitter taste. I now understand that when they think of these adjustments, abled people do not necessarily consider the disability that lies behind. My disability is always with me, the adjustments are there for a limited time to manage the conditions of university life and work. I do not have my disability service counsellor in my daily life, nor College’s adjustments to help me deal with my illness. So it’s time to reverse that idea.
“Is something granted to disadvantaged people an advantage? I tend to think that it is not, because the thing is given to compensate for the injustice of the gap between disadvantaged people and the privileged ones.”
Lucky you, abled people, who have the advantage of being relatively healthy, which means that your life is not made more complicated than it might already be by a health issue. From both points of view, it can seem unfair for different reasons. We all have to deal with injustice and unfairness. But we sometimes consider things as unfair just because we overlook some privileges we have that are declined to some people. Is something granted to disadvantaged people an advantage? I tend to think that it is not, because the thing is given to compensate for the injustice of the gap between disadvantaged people and the privileged ones.
I’m grateful for the disability service for acknowledging my right to study, for providing me with adjustments that allow me to carry those studies. For considering my aptitudes and abilities as much as, if not more than, my disability. For trying to compensate for the unfairness of my disability, so that it does not constitute as much as an obstacle to my journey in college than it would have otherwise. Of course, each individual has personal reasons that can explain their gratitude for the disability service, but overall, I’m grateful for the service and everyone who stands by our side to help us carry this fight.