Living With a Disability: A Student’s Perspective

By Amber Rizzi, English

Living with a disability, whether it be physical or mental, presents challenges that those affected have to face. There are many different disabilities that affect people all over the world. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a disability is, “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity.” (ADA). A disability can also have one umbrella term to describe the condition but can affect certain individuals differently. For example, someone with cerebral palsy may be able to walk with limited assistance, while another person with the same condition may be a wheelchair user.

Because of how disabilities affect different people, accommodations may be needed in the school or workforce environment. Under Title III of the ADA, individuals with disabilities cannot be discriminated against in commercial locations, including private schools like Georgian Court. This title also requires “reasonable modifications” for people with disabilities (ADA). One thing that is significant about this when it comes to Georgian Court is the relatively easily navigable terrain the school operates on. Most sidewalks at Georgian Court end with those dips that are often required in handicap parking spaces in public locations to allow for easier mobility for individuals with physical disabilities. The campus is also small, allowing less time for someone with a physical disability to get to where they need to go.

So, how does this affect students and faculty on campus in the classroom? Under the ADA, if a student requires reasonable accommodations in the classroom, they are required to be honored. The Learning Connection (TLC) is an example of a support program on campus that helps students with disabilities receive these accommodations, although one does not have to register with the TLC to receive them. An example of an accommodation would be preferential seating in a classroom for the student to see better, or not using scantrons when taking tests. These accommodations level the playing field for the student with the disability and allow them to achieve their full academic potential.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Georgian Court approaches certain things, and now students with disabilities must abide by those rules, too, and their disabilities can cause challenges in having to follow the rules. “Managing my disability during the course of COVID-19 was a new thing everyday since I have a processing disorder,” says Michael Angelos, sophomore. “It was very hard since I had to sometimes relearn the information that I learned from the previous day and it got very frustrating very quick.” Not all disabilities are physical. Some are mental, and what is easy to forget is that mental aspects of disabilities can be just as hard to handle as physical ones. What is needed in these cases is understanding and acceptance, because people with disabilities just want to be treated like everyone else.

While on the subject of COVID-19, it is important to consider how students with disabilities were affected by the shift from online learning back to in-person, because the university did go remote for over a year due to the pandemic. All students had to deal with the change back to in-person. “[The shift back to in-person] affected my daily life on campus since I am used to taking tests, quizzes, exams, and so many other college stuff online, that I was not used to coming back and actually doing in-person work,” says Angelos. The shift back to in-person affected college work in that students were having to adjust again to another change, this time being back in-person and in classrooms.

Speaking of being back on campus, there are differing opinions about how it was executed versus actually being back on campus in-person now. Students can see the positives and negatives to each system of learning and how they worked. “The in-person classes add to the college experience since you can build up relationships with your peers and your professors,” says Angelos. However, there are things that some students miss about the online module. “I do miss the sleeping late, wearing my pajamas to ‘class’ and the funny PowerPoint lectures from some of my professors,” says Angelos. This shows that not all things about the online learning were bad but being back in-person also has its positives. This shows that there were positives and negatives with both systems of learning for everyone, not just students with disabilities.

The challenges of being back on campus add, however, to the challenges individuals with disabilities already must face in daily life. Certain things such as masking due to COVID-19, and seating arrangements can create difficulties for individuals with disabilities. “I have overcome [challenges] by asking the professor if I can wear a better mask and if [I] can rearrange my seat to [meet] my needs,” Angelos said. As can be seen, these difficulties can be overcome by simple communication with the professor to meet the student’s needs. Individuals with disabilities may need a little help to learn or thrive in a college environment, but with the right support, they can do almost anything else someone without a disability can do.

Finally, there is looking at the individual for who they are and what they can do. Everyone has talents and hobbies that they can show to the world, showing that even though they may have a disability, they are not so different. “Some of my hobbies are playing chess, drawing, painting, photography, geography, astrology, and reading history related books,” says Angelos. Even though the individual may have some extra challenges they need to face daily, they are still people, and they deserve to be treated with decency and respect. If that is done, in the end, they will never feel alone and be able to find who they are and what they want to do in life. If that happens, this world will be all the better for it.