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I'm Tired of Being Constantly Doubted as a Student With a Disability

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Integrity is perhaps the most important thing in life. It guides our choices and can be critical in maintaining a sense of self-respect in regard to those decisions. I did the right thing. I made a good choice. I told the truth. No one is perfect, but knowing we did the best we could to live by our principles can allow us to be comfortable with our circumstances and with ourselves. We won’t always succeed at the endeavors we pursue, but at least we can be at peace with ourselves, even if our choices don’t turn out perfectly. In contrast, the quickest way to exacerbate a challenging situation is to violate one’s ethics. If we are ashamed of something we did, or unsure of how it correlates to our principles, our circumstances can become much more difficult to deal with.

Being obliged to prove my learning disorder still exists every time I obtain accommodations on a standardized test or enroll in a degree program is too much of a psychological burden to bear quietly. For instance, requiring adult students to have had a psycho-educational evaluation in the last three years before we can access accommodations in the post-secondary sphere is unfairly burdensome. Given that my disability has existed since birth and has never changed, I cannot think of any reason for this requirement other than to control the degree to which disabled students are able to access education, and to answer society’s tacit accusation of dishonesty.

We live in a free society that supposedly values equity, yet constantly gaslights the judgment and intentions of people with invisible disabilities. As someone who values honesty deeply, few things hurt me more than the fear or perception that I am doing something immoral. If I were able-bodied and misrepresented myself as a disabled person, I would be telling a terrible lie, and that isn’t something I would do.

Indeed, constantly having to prove that one is telling the truth about how one’s body functions  can be bad for one’s mental health. In navigating academia and the workplace, I constantly feel questioned about whether I really am as disabled as I think I am, whether I’m more disabled than I think I am, or whether I am disabled at all. It’s exhausting having to develop and maintain my moral identity in this cultural climate. At times I started to think I could not trust my perceptions of reality. Holy crud, what if it is in my head?

Moreover, as someone who has been raised to expect medical privacy, I find the experience of submitting in-depth medical information to people I don’t know, much less disclosing even more details extemporaneously so professors and disability services offices will believe I “deserve” accommodations, to be deeply disconcerting. Even if I don’t want to share such private information, HIPPA is no help; I have to share it, or I can expect the toll of functioning without accommodations to start chipping away at my quality of life. I’m not ashamed of my disability, but disclosure should be voluntary, not coerced by systemic factors. The former is empowering, the latter is demoralizing. What’s more, I find that the process erodes my sense of trust in the superiors who are demanding that information. If person A does not trust me, why should I trust him? Besides power dynamics, what gives that person a claim to the kind of trust he will not extend to me?

As a person who needs and cares about disability rights, I urge the higher and K-12 educational sectors to trust students with learning disabilities more. Presume that students and their families are making accommodation requests in good faith, in full consultation with our consciences and values. This is one of the most important and yet unmet means of providing the disabled community with social equity.

Getty image by Wavebreak Media.

Originally published: October 30, 2018
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