Does TNS Provide Accommodation to Students with Chronic Illnesses? It’s Complicated, Say the Students

Kervens Dewar, a New School sophomore, didn’t want to leave class early. But one of their chronic illnesses—polycystic ovary syndrome, which can cause intense cramping and pain—was acting up, leaving them faint and nauseated. Unsure if they could make it back to their dorm room, they headed to the New School Student Health Center, thinking they would find the help they needed there.

But when they got there, they couldn’t find their insurance card. “I’m nauseous,” Dewar says they tried to explain to a staff member. “I’m dizzy.”

“Have you vomited yet?” the staff member responded. “Have you fainted yet?”

Without an insurance card, Dewar was ultimately told to go to CityMD Urgent Care. But their insurance—not covered by the school—wouldn’t take care of the total cost of their Urgent Care treatment; something they couldn’t afford. So they made their way back to their dorm room—tired, in pain, and without having received medical assistance.

The New School prides itself on its treatment of students’ health issues: “The mission of our Student Health and Support Services is to enhance the health and well-being of students to foster their learning and success,” reads the Health and Wellness page on The New School’s website. But, as in Dewar’s case, students seeking help with chronic illnesses can face roadblocks from the same in-school services that exist to help them.

This issue is one that can deeply affect these students, particularly in academic areas: according to a study done comparing healthy college freshmen to college freshmen with chronic illnesses, students with chronic illnesses have a college graduation rate of 18%, compared to a rate of 32% for students without.

“You have [to have] somebody at the university that the students can talk to,” says Professor Kate Lorig, the current director of the Stanford Patient Education Resource Center, which helps individuals with chronic illnesses learn to manage their conditions. “It’s a one-on-one situation to talk about what the students need to make life easier.”

Dewar confirmed that The New School’s Student Disability Services (SDS) had been helpful to speak to. However, they also mentioned that that seemed to be the extent of their capacity: “In terms of plans of action, they’re not always very effective.”

Julia Métraux, a New School student with vasculitis—an illness that can cause a loss of sensation or pins-and-needles feeling in one’s limbs—felt differently, however. “Students with disabilities can talk to their professor in order to get a modified schedule,” she said. (On its website, SDS states that “SDS will schedule a meeting with the student to determine which, if any, services are most appropriate for the student's individual circumstances,” which can include modified schedules.) She also stated, though, that “it would depend on how comfortable the student would feel talking about their own chronic illness.”

Métraux has also had her own bad experiences with The New School’s treatment of chronic illnesses. On February 5th, she said, while walking to class from The New School’s 11th Street building, she began to lose sensation in her legs due to her illness and had to sit down against a wall—until a professor saw her and demanded that she get up, citing her sitting position as “a fire hazard,”—a confusing claim, given that Métraux was not exhibiting any behavior that would cause this type of hazard, according to the NYC Fire Department’s handbook on fire safety, and one that left Métraux shaken and upset.

This type of treatment of chronic illness, according to Professor Lorig, is another example of an area that colleges need to improve upon. “Accessibility goes beyond bathrooms and elevators,” she says. “It’s as simple—or as complicated—as that.”

[Cover and first images from Unsplash. Graph created by author.]