College students face mountains of decisions when they first get to college. They wonder what classes to take or which major to pursue. They try to find and fit into a fabulous new group of friends. They join the campus organizations they find most interesting. Many students have to try to find a balance of studies and social considerations. Students grow regardless of their proximity to home (or lack of). On top of all these options, disabled students have another choice. Disabled students must decide when, how, or even if they want to share their disability with the people on their campus.
When I came to college two years ago, I had not told anyone about my disability in years. Everyone at home who needed to know already knew and did not care anymore. In my new university environment, I feared that if I told people, I might get institutionalized, or worse, pitied by my peers. Although every day brings more progress, people still make assumptions about those with disabilities.
Over time, I built up the courage to tell my professors and some of my peers about my disability. Everyone I have told so far has given me nothing but support. Many of them have called me strong, brave, and even impressive. I feel flattered and grateful for all their kind words, and their support has made this campus feel like home. Some people believe that my presence at Rice shows my strength and my commitment to overcoming my disability. I often do not feel strong, and thus I appreciate these words of encouragement. As I mulled them over however, realized I had something I needed to say. I say this not only for myself, but also for disabled college students everywhere. I am not at an elite university because I overcame my disability. I am proud to be at an elite university WITH my disability. I am more than my Spastic Diplegia.
I know I am not alone. I stand with college students across the nation who identify as disabled. We are more than our labels. People tend to assume that when I accomplish a task, I must have struggled and overcome a great hurdle. To those people, I want you to know that my disability does not make my triumphs any greater. Many students like me who have disabilities live with their disability as a daily struggle. When the struggle is ongoing, meeting any single challenge often does not feel like some inspiring event. Disabled people who learn to live independently do not do so with a special quest to inspire. In the same way, students who have learning difficulties often do not aspire for better grades as a way to motivate others. When a disabled person meets a tough personal goal, people assume that he or she must have overcome their disability. Learning to cope with life’s struggles is the only way to move forward. In my experience, most disabled people do not wish for their disability to justify their successes or failures. Everybody meets goals and everybody struggles. Do not misunderstand me. Disabled students accomplish unique and incredible feats every day. While overcoming a disability has its value, the ability to soldier on with a disability accomplishes more.
My message to everyone is that the disabled need equality, not charity. When a disabled person accomplishes something remarkable, they are often pulling a Nike and just doing it. A non-disabled person can only try to understand the weight of a disability on a person. I am trying to say that people do not just overcome disabilities; they build lives around their limitations.