Two years ago I would have laughed at you if you’d suggested I apply for a PhD.
Six years ago it was part of my plan. Get a Master’s, then onto a PhD? Then: The World.
Today? Today I’m investigating PhD programs and thinking about scholarly pursuits again.
You may be wondering what happened in the interim. Grad school happened in the interim.
I don’t want to get into the specifics because I don’t necessarily feel safe doing so right now – but let me give you some broad brushstrokes of my entire academic career: As a visually impaired student I have been given handwritten corrections despite asking for computer generated notes. I have been denied testing needs based on the phrase “you’re not blind enough for that.” I have been berated by a school for not being able to pass geometry – sheesh, you think a half blind girl with spatial skills issues MIGHT have an issue with geometry? I have been screamed at ‘are you blind?” during a gym class where we were playing badminton. Guess who can’t see the birdie?
School is not a safe place, but in that time I have learned some tactics which might help people get through the battle of graduate school.
Here are some steps to take when looking at undergraduate or graduate school as a disabled student. If you want to sit in an ivory tower and write, if you love words on a page written hundreds of years in the past – then maybe this will help you get there a little more painlessly.
1) If you’ve found a program that you really like, go and talk to the people who run the disability services at the university where the program lives. And trust your gut if you don’t think they’ll protect you in cases of academic discrimination on the basis of disability (or if you don’t think they’d know academic discrimination if it him them in the face).
2) Make sure that that disability support office is up on the newest technology – and if you’re visually impaired, make sure they understand that there are legal ways to get you electronic copies of your textbooks.
3) Talk to the professors. Do you think they’ll support you? Maybe it’s scary to bring up your disability in an academic setting, but for some disabilities (like mine) it is imperative that the faculty you work with are willing to work with you to make the academy work FOR you and not AGAINST you.
4) Are there things in your writing that you need to change? Figure out how to fix them, and if you can’t fix them yourself ask for help.
5) If you have a chronic illness talk to your faculty. I got screwed over in my final year of undergrad because I was suffering from chronic migraines and was really struggling to keep my head above water, it cost me in my grades and could have (probably) been prevented had I been able to advocate better for myself.
I think the biggest thing that I am moving forward with today is the recognition that in the future when I apply to PhD programs I am doing it with transparency. If they don’t think they can support me as a visually impaired academic, then I don’t want to be there. If they don’t think they can give me my notes in electronic format, then I don’t want to work with them.
If they can’t work with me then I shouldn’t work with them – because my sanity is more important than my degree. Because even though I love the materials I work on, I cannot sacrifice my dignity for my professional pursuits.
I wish we didn’t live in a world where we had to tell everyone our difficulties – I wish we didn’t have to tell people about the inner workings of our bodies in order to get what we need. But since I do, I’m trying to learn how to tell the people who matter what I need, and how to ignore the rest.
That’s why I’m here writing, because this is a test to see if I can write every day, if I can write for an audience and make it work.
And you know what? I learned more about writing between last May and today than I ever did in graduate school. I learned about turn of phrase not from feeling stupid, but from forcing myself to write. I also learned the value in asking for help, and in getting it.
The people who have helped me in my journey towards being a writer are the people who taught me things about myself I couldn’t have known – I had no idea that I didn’t use commas properly because they were difficult to see. I often missed footnotes because I couldn’t see them.
For those of us who are disabled and in the field of academia, I look forward with hope that we can change the way that we are treated. From the difficulties of testing, to schools not understanding that classrooms have to be accessible to all disabilities, to simply allowing disabled students to not have to be the Voice For All The Disabled – I hope for a future where we are free to learn.
This post appears in recognition of Blogging Against Disableism Day – Please check out hashtag #BADD2013 on twitter and follow the link above to read what other people have to say!