"If you don't take this exam, you'll get a zero on it and your final exam will be worth double, which is nearly half of your grade."
Not exactly the words any college kid wants to hear from their professor, especially when the student is having an insulin pump malfunction. That's exactly the situation I found myself in my sophomore year of college, and with no established office of disabilities on campus, it was just me advocating against university policy.
Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the college I go to, and they've provided me with ample opportunities, but the lack of education on diabetes is something that always seems to get in the way no matter where I go.
The Health Services center at my University has a program where they'll back up any student who needs to miss class or reschedule an exam, but the student has to email the professor and just CC Health Services. In the past this had worked fine, but for some reason my professor wasn't understanding the severity of sitting through a night class exam without insulin.
I used all of the anger and frustration I was feeling to start researching what my rights were as a student with a chronic illness. I started creating a binder of information I found through the Americans with Disabilities Act, information CDN had on their website, and reading through a legal manual called "Legal Rights as a Student with Diabetes" on the American Diabetes Association website. I emailed my professor right away and sent her CDN’s Sample Letter to professors explaining how your cognitive abilities can be skewed with out of range blood sugars, and how that wasn't reflective of me as a student. I then emailed the head of Health Services and the Vice President of Student Affairs and asked to set up a meeting. I continued researching statistics of students in college with chronic illnesses / disabilities, and asked some friends in the diabetes community if they felt comfortable sharing their letters of accommodation with me to use in my argument.
I was finally able to set up a meeting with the VP of Student Affairs, and was feeling a little nervous, so I asked my mom to join me for moral support. After sitting down in his office, I began my case on why Bryant should have an office of disabilities, I presented him with the binder of legal information on students with disabilities, and students with diabetes legal rights, and showed him the accommodation letters my peers had graciously sent me. Before I could even start on the next appeal for why we should start an office, he looked at my mom, and then looked at me and said, "How did you two find me?". I was crushed because I thought he was going to tell me that he wasn't the right person to talk to. I'd never been so happy to be wrong.
He then said "I've been advocating for starting an established office of disabilities on campus, would you like to work with me to pitch to the school to make that happen?". I was thrilled and instantly said yes! I continued to meet with the VP of Student Affairs and he asked me different questions about the operations of the office and what my opinion was on various aspects. I wrote up a letter of accommodations for myself that he reviewed and asked if it could be used as a template without my name.
The outcome was having someone in Health Services become the chronic illness adviser and combining with a learning disability specialist from our Academic Center and an adviser from the counseling center to form disability services. Most of these positions, such as the learning specialist and the counseling center already existed, but having them communicate to review / approve accommodations and merge with the addition of the chronic illness adviser came as a great improvement for the school and the students.
As I enter my senior year, I can’t help but feel overwhelmingly grateful that my school heard what I had to say, and immediately jumped into action. Bryant University truly cares about their students, and I can’t believe that I have to graduate this year and leave it behind! The most important piece of advice I can give someone living with diabetes going into college is:know your rights! Not everyone will understand diabetes or the severity of it, but with our advocacy and education, a lot of people are willing to listen.
Editor's note: this is the first blog in a series all about accommodations in college. Check back for future blogs! In the meantime, find out more about accommodations on our website and our YouTube playlist.