Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A LONG, HARD ROAD

If you have read my blog from the beginning you know that I attended college and graduate school well before the passage of The Americans With Disabilities Act. When I started Meamec Community College, in nineteen seventy-six , offices for the disabled didn't exist. There was one man who was a counselor for the disabled. I went to him for awhile.  After I got into the Human Services Program, I no longer needed his assistance. I was responsible for taking my own class notes (I transcribed them from a tape recorder.) and making sure I was given extra time, if I needed it, when taking tests  There were no automatic doors and elevator buttons were out of my reach which meant I was always waiting for someone to either open a door or push a button for me. The college did have a campus nurse who helped me to the bathroom during the day. My time as a student at Meramec was one of the happiest in my life. The faculty and staff supported and assisted students with disabilities long before it was required by law.

I obtained my Bachelors Degree in Human Services from Fontbonne University. I was the first student ever to use a power chair. A ramp was put in at the entrance to one of the buildings. There wasn't a nurse available, so I had to find someone to assist me during the day. The secretary from Student Services helped me whenever I needed it. By the time I got to Fontbonne I had discovered carbon paper. The first day of class I would go up to someone, introduce myself and ask if they'd mind using the carbon paper so I could a copy of their notes. I made some good friends in the process too. I was in a dual enrollment program with Fontbonne and The George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University. I was only on campus at Fontbonne for a year because in my senior year at Fontbonne I began working my Masters at Wash U. The credit counted for both degrees.

This post is titled A Long Hard Road. I wouldn't say at the first two schools the road was that hard, frustrating at times maybe, but not hard. The title definitely fits for Wash U. The school made it clear they didn't want me there. My first advisor said he'd rather see me fail than help me. I registered early so that all my classes could be moved to the only two classrooms on the first floor. a ramp was put in so that could actually get to the first floor from inside the door. Changes were made in one of the restrooms to accommodate my chair The first year I could get to the Student Center. The second year construction work was being done and I was unable to go there as a result. In between classes I was in a little room used by part time faculty I studied because there was nowhere else to go. I was isolated and alone most of the time, especially that last year. My last semester I took four of the most difficult courses because my first advisor failed to tell me about them. They almost did me in. A dean tried to put me at the end of the line for graduation, but my second advisor intervened.

Some of this I may have written before. I think it's important to remind young people with disabilities things weren't always the way they are  now. Services weren't provided. Schools  could tell you they didn't want you. You had to find ways to get what you needed on your own. Sometimes I think the ADA has made it too easy .I'm glad I had to find ways to get the things I needed on campus myself. I think it made me stronger.

It was a long, hard road, but I made it.