Suffering a brain injury just before my first year of college was obviously not in my plans.
A month after my high school graduation and less than a month and a half before my first semester at SF State, I suffered a brainstem stroke, which damaged my brain’s ability to communicate with my eyes, a condition I was told could be permanent.
My first concern, after visiting countless brain trauma doctors to determine the likelihood of regaining function in my brain stem, was how I could handle a course load without my eyesight.
Seeking help is not in my nature, so when my mother pushed me to seek help at the Disability Programs and Resource Center, I was hesitant to go. The campus felt imposing and unfamiliar, and with everyone around me a stranger, it was hard enough to get out of bed in the morning, let alone share a very vulnerable part of myself with an office person I didn’t know.
I ended up requesting audio materials to reconcile my inability to read well. I was told that someone from DPRC would contact me to ask me more questions and get me the help I needed. I never got that call.
After a few times following up, I had too much school work and too little time to navigate the bureaucracy of SF State to stand up for myself and demand the resources I needed. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person left wondering where those service requests went, and I probably won’t be the last.
Nicole Bohn, the DPRC director, recently told me she wasn’t sure what had happened in my case, but that in the past couple of years the office has done some overhaul in the way that they process students.
“What we ask for usually is the students register with us and then in most cases provide some documentation of disability that supports what their accommodation request is, pretty specifically,” she said.
The DPRC has a relatively small staff and changes have been made in the past few years to improve the intake process. Bohn said the biggest challenge they face is the discrepancy between the disability law that supports high school students, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the amended Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates equal access to public services specifically to adults.
Though outreach to disabled high school students could help others, those like me who sustain trauma after they reach adulthood need a different kind of assistance.
For those who have managed disabilities for a majority of their lives, the exhausting process of advocating for themselves is routine, and part of the process of adjusting to any new environment.
It’s imperative that even within the constraints of a shrinking budget that services be made easily available to any and every disabled student.
The latest numbers from this year say that SF State had only a few more than 850 students with a disability out of 30,000 total enrolled. With specifically allocated state resources to uphold the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and so few students to serve comparatively, I wonder how the school isn’t able to make sure that every one of them is given an equal chance to succeed.
Students with any type of disability should never be marginalized or ignored. If students, or anyone for that matter, is made to feel unsafe or alienated because of an impairment there needs to be a viable source of help available to them.
School should be the one place where everyone is given an equal chance to succeed and grow into whomever or whatever they want to be.
A student should not be worried about whether or not they can find a note-taker or how to approach his or her teacher about having additional access to classroom materials.
One of the problems is that there is currently no way for students to give anonymous feedback about overall services.
“Whenever we hear from someone directly we do try to deal with it directly,” said Bohn. “But there’s currently no mechanism for feedback.”
My eyesight will never be the same and I don’t get another chance at my first semester of college, but the lack of timely resources available is a problem that still weighs on me.