Having an invisible disability is difficult on its own, and adding sixteen units in one quarter after a full year of Zoom University isn’t the easiest either. As my disabilities blur the lines between visible and invisible, manageable and uncontrollable, there have been several experiences within academia that have stood out to me.
I have chronic myofascial pain syndrome, a condition that affects my mobility and dexterity, and is spread throughout my hands, arms, back, and legs. This makes typing in the classroom particularly difficult, especially during a flare-up when my condition worsens for varying amounts of time. This is one of several conditions I have, but the most prominent when dealing with schoolwork.
Some professors are incredibly helpful with accommodations, and I owe so much to flexible TAs that are willing to work with me and my unpredictable symptoms. Others, not so much. The “no tolerance for late work even with a doctor’s note” policies have been especially hard on me this quarter as I bounce around from doctor to doctor and undergo new treatment for one of my conditions.
This quarter I’ve had to hone my time management skills like nobody’s business: even if it means getting all my homework done in the ER waiting room.
The stereotype of disabled people is that they stay at home being sick and unable to do anything. The reality is that disabled people have to keep moving in a world that won’t move with them. We adapt, we adjust the best we can. We ask again and again for basic accommodations and empathy and are usually met with silence.
I go to school full time in order to receive financial aid and work anywhere between 24-35 hours a week in order to pay rent. I often get told to work less, take fewer classes, to do less by people who can do more than I can. There’s this overwhelming assumption among people that I meet that I could get by doing what they do –– if only I just tried. If only they knew the tremendous effort it took to look like I wasn’t trying so hard. To not show all of the pain I am constantly in every day.
When people make assumptions about my ability it draws the invisible lines between me and them. I am othered, inherently different, and marked by my inability to do something so profoundly simple that most people never bat an eye thinking about it. There are a hundred tiny moments throughout the day where my body reminds me that I can’t do what I used to be able to — what I should be able to do — but it’s these startling interactions between strangers, classmates, and peers that ingrain these thoughts into my head.
Please don’t be that person that thinks it’s so easy for everyone to just be like you. Most disabled people don’t tattoo all their problems on their forehead for the world to see. You have no idea what someone is going through, and choosing your words wisely and being kind costs nothing at all.
This was just a little snippet into what it’s like to go to school as a disabled student. I’m uniquely privileged in the way my disability is sometimes invisible and I could easily pass as an able-bodied person, but these points still stand. Regardless of how someone presents themselves, be kind to them. Don’t assume their ability or disability. Everyone is trying their best and the most you can do is support your peers with love and understanding.