KAMERAN ULFERTS, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-KEARNEY '18
My experience with the disability services office at the university I attend, the University of Nebraska-Kearney, started out with a unique narrative. When I arrived to college as a freshman I had been living with diabetes for about five to six years and I began to soak up every opportunity of independence that presented itself. I grew up in a small, rural school where the label “diabetic” was almost always attached to my identity. Coming to a University where the population was over 6,000 students, I felt compelled and determined to establish who I was in a more “normal” way. Since I had this idea in my head that the diabetes stereotype lessened my worth and abilities as a person and a student, I spent a large majority of my first year of school hiding the physical and emotional aspects of my illness. This whole mental block wasn’t that I felt uncomfortable sharing with others what diabetes was and how it affected me, but rather it was this idea that I didn’t want to admit defeat when, in certain cases, diabetes did win and it would come before other obligations.
While writing this blog, I have come to realize that the idea of independence has always been n fixation of mine. Since diabetes created such whirlwind experiences in my adolescence and teenage years, I have always looked for ways to show the world that “diabetes doesn’t have me, I have diabetes.” In other words, I have always wanted my friends, family, co-workers, colleagues, professors, classmates, etc. to view diabetes as a part of me that is evident but does not stop me from doing the things I desire to do. Because of this desire to claim complete independence from my illness, I deemed it not necessary for me to register for accomodations from the disability services office. For those who are reading this blog and are unfamiliar with the concept of receiving accommodations from a University, I will briefly explain. According to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, and the Amendments Act of 2008, students with disabilities are entitled to appropriate accommodations designed to provide participation in and benefit from facilities, programs, and technology available. My University’s website states that, “The Disability Services for Students coordinates reasonable accommodations to afford equal opportunity and full participation in UNK programs for undergraduate and graduate students with disabilities. Our mission is to provide equal access and opportunity to qualified students with disabilities to fully participate in all aspects of the educational environment. We cooperate through partnerships with students, faculty and staff to promote students’ independence and to ensure recognition of their abilities, not disabilities.” Personally, I thought that nothing bad would happen during my four years of college and that everything with my diabetes would be just fine. Well, one rainy afternoon during my junior year of college, I realized that I was wrong.
Here is a quick illustration of my life during this day: I was enrolled in 15 credits, I had intensive leadership positions in three organizations on campus, I was working 20 hours a week at a homeless shelter and also taught lessons at an art studio once or twice a week. My desire for independence led me to a place in my life where it became hard to say no to people. I wanted to put on a facade that I could “do it all.” It all became overwhelming, physically and emotionally. I didn’t realize the gravity of these obligations until they began to take a toll on my health, primarily my blood glucose levels. This day in particular, I had planned to drive to campus (I lived off campus at the time). My blood glucose levels became extremely low, one of those “shoot, I took way too much insulin..” lows. As a result of that, I had already used my emergency low snacks that I keep in my car, and my purse, and I was desperate to get something to bring my sugars up. I did not purchase a parking pass that year because I lived off campus but close enough to walk, usually. In a state of dismay, I decided to go to the sorority house that I was apart of on campus and I parked in the handicap parking (my obviously clouded judgement lead to this mistake). I ran inside to get a snack from a friend. After about ten minutes, when my sugars had risen to a safe level, I came outside and found that I had a $100 ticket on my windshield. When I tried to appeal the ticket, I explained the unique situation. The parking ticket people asked if I was registered with accommodations with disability services. As I stated above, I wasn’t at the time.
I went to the coordinator of disability services and explained the situation. Despite the circumstances, he was so kind and understanding. During this conversation, we signed the necessary paperwork to get me signed up for the accommodations I didn’t realize I desperately needed. These accommodations were tailored to my specific needs as a student with type 1 diabetes. My accomodations were stated as the following:
Flexibility or assistance with assigned activities.
Permission to leave the classroom.
Permission to eat and drink in the classroom.
Getting registered with the disability services office gave me a simple narrative to educate my professors/instructors in a way that they understood what was necessary for me to be successful in their classroom.
Oh, and about that $100 ticket: The coordinator was able to talk to the parking ticket people and get the parking ticket completely eliminated. I paid nothing. For the remainder of my college career, I got registered every semester and actually established an awesome relationship with the accommodations coordinator. My senior year of college, he even helped me to plan a campus wide College Diabetes Week event!
Moral of this story— try to get registered on your campus. You won’t regret it. The staff of the disability services offices truly care about you and your collegiate goals. As stated on my University's website, “DSS strives to increase awareness of disability issues and envisions opportunities for students with disabilities to fully integrate into the university’s community that values disability culture.” During my first meeting with the coordinator, he told me that accommodations are “like an insurance policy.” He told me that it “might not seem necessary initially, but will make a world of difference if something does happen.” For me, something did happen. Consequently, the disability services for students office helped me in more ways than I could have imagined. Not only did they help me create a conversation with the university professors, staff, and students, but they also reminded me that unforseen events do happen to everyone. The disability services for students office helped me to create a mindset that didn’t let this situation define my identity, but instead, helped me to learn how to react in situations like this with confidence and true independence.
Editor's note: this is the second blog in a series all about accommodations in college. Check out Courtney's blog and Naomi's blog! Also, find out more about accommodations on our website and our YouTube playlist.