College is tough enough, but add a disability into the mix and it can be even harder. A lot of that depends on your college or university, and there are some things that you can’t fix (like ableist professors). But now that I’ve been through not only undergrad but also grad school all while disabled, I think that I have some college tips that will hopefully make your experience a lot easier. Check them out below and then comment with any tips that I missed!
As a heads up: these might not be entirely inclusive, and I’m sorry for that. I don’t know just how different college is for students with ADHD, for example. Maybe all of my tips cover those needs, but maybe they don’t. If they don’t, it would be absolutely amazing if you could comment with what I didn’t include.
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College Tips for Disabled Students
Get set up with Disability Services – Unless your university is ableist as heck, they’ve probably got a disability services department that can help you out. If you live in the US, the ADA protects you from discrimination from professors. But your professor could maybe try to ignore that if you’re not established with disability services as a disabled student. Getting established with them often involves notes from your doctors sharing your diagnosis/es and what accommodations you need. If you have an accommodation letter and your professor still tries to get around your accommodations, disability services can intervene and help.
Go see Student Health – If your disability is related to a chronic illness or health problem, you should also be established with student health. Make an appointment to see a provider to talk about your health issue(s) and bring a list of your prescriptions. It helps to get your info in their system when you feel okay so that nothing gets missed if you come in when you feel terrible. Also, if you’re like me and you have to have monthly bloodwork, bring in a physical slip from the doctor who wants it (rheumatologist in my case). Bringing a physical slip helps them understand what tests your doctor needs to be run and it also usually has your doctor’s fax on it. You can also talk to nurses or doctors at student health about your regular blood work and your student health’s policy on doing blood work for other doctors. For example, when I was in undergrad, I brought a semester’s worth of blood work slips to my student health’s phlebotomist. She kept them in her records, and every month when I came in, she ran that month’s tests then. (After the first year of this, I also got to come in whenever I wanted to without an appointment and she would see me when I could.)College Tips for Disabled Students Click To Tweet
Talk to Student Health about your specialty medications – I’ll talk about “regular” medications in a sec, but first I want to talk about specialty meds. These are the ones that have to be delivered to your house, the ones that regular pharmacies don’t fill. When I was in undergrad, I tried Humira, Orencia, Enbrel, and more. These were all delivered to me at school every month, but since I lived in a dorm, they had to be delivered to various locations around campus that had a street address. See if your student health will allow them to be delivered to them! And if you struggle giving these medications to yourself and your friends don’t want to give them to you, see if your student health has an “injection” nurse. We had one who gave things like allergy shots and others. I had to see her for several months in my junior year because (not joking) I dislocated some of the bones in my right hand and could barely use it, and then I was in a brace for 2 months. Since I’m right-handed, the injection nurse gave me my meds.
Find a pharmacy – Now onto regular medications. One of the great things about pharmacy chains is that you can easily transfer medications between locations. Because of this, I suggest filling your medications through a chain pharmacy; it will make your life a lot easier. And just a piece of advice: give yourself plenty of time between when you fill your prescription and when you need it. Depending on the medication and where your college is, the pharmacy might not have it in stock and they might need to special order it. I experienced this a lot when I was in college and on methotrexate; there were multiple shortages throughout my college experience. It was really stressful because I didn’t give myself enough time.
Identify your preferred local hospital – If you’re lucky enough to go to school in a city/area with multiple hospitals, figure out which you would rather go to should you need to. Knowing ahead of time can reduce a bit of stress in the moment if you have to go to the hospital. Things to include in your decision-making process: which one is in your insurance network, which one has a better [your disability] department, which one treats people with your disability better, etc.
Join disability organizations – Depending on the school, you might have an organization for disabled students. It can be so great to be a part of this organization because you will be around people who understand some of the things that you go through but abled people do not. It can be really difficult to not know anyone else who is disabled, especially if your friends don’t entirely get what your life is like.
Get a great planner – It doesn’t matter if this is a paper planner or an electronic one, but you should really keep track of everything going on in your life. This will (hopefully) help you reduce stress from school if you have a condition that can get worse from stress. As a part of that, it will help you plan ahead so you can work on assignments well ahead of time if you need to. Additionally, if you have a chronic illness, it will help you keep track of medical appointments and more. Learn about what I did at the beginning of every semester that helped me. I love the Erin Condren life planner, and this is how I use mine.
Protect yourself if you’re on immunosuppressants – Everyone gets sick at college because there are so many people living in such close quarters. If you’re on immunosuppressants like me, this is even more common, and because the immune system is suppressed, you probably also get way sicker than other people. This makes it extra important that you protect yourself so you don’t get horribly sick on a regular basis. Here are 5 things everyone on immunosuppressants needs.
Find good friends – Obviously, this is what many people hope to get out of college. But it’s even more important when you’re a disabled student. If you’re like me, you don’t have a ton of energy. During college, I often didn’t have the energy to do things after class all day. I needed friends who wanted to hang out by watching tv and necessarily going to parties. And with my health, I needed friends who would take me to the ER and help take care of me afterwards. And, most importantly, I needed friends who didn’t care about my health or how it might inconvenience them. It can be difficult to find these people, but I know that they’re out there.
What tips would you give other disabled students?
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