Advocating for Your Rights as a College Student
“Advocate!” “Speak up!” “Fight for your education!” These thoughts filled my mind as college neared. My family, TVI, O&M instructors, and mentors emphasized advocacy’s importance. They urged me to be my own best advocate, as no one else could do it better.
Choosing a college
I took these ideas with me as I decided on a college. I started by checking each school’s disability services office and talking to various offices. This helped me find a school that matched my academic, social needs, and services. I discussed my disability with them, showing the tools and tech I use. They informed me about the housing, academic, and other accommodations I qualified for. Later, I communicated my accommodations to my professors.
I began by sending my professors an email introducing myself and briefly discussing my disability and the technology I utilize. Then, I asked them if we could meet in person to further discuss everything. I did this so that they would have the opportunity to ask questions and ensure that their course was accessible. This gave me the chance to make sure that they were appropriately communicating with disability services to resolve any situations that would be accessible. This method normally worked for me.
Professors were able to learn how I learned, ask any questions they had before the start of the semester, and get to know me as a person. This form of advocating for myself was easy. It was rewarding and led me to have positive relationships with my professors. They learned how to teach someone who was blind, and through our conversations, they often learned what came with blindness in general. They became comfortable asking questions and became interested in learning more about what barriers individuals in the blind and low-vision community may face and how they could assist.
Life is not all perfect though and neither are people. I had my fair share of professors unwilling to follow through with my accommodations. I had professors outwardly question my ability to succeed. Some made ableist comments, and some refused to communicate when I emailed them about my rights to an education. During those difficult situations, I always remembered what I was taught in past years. I needed to continue to advocate, speak up, and fight for my education; when I did that, professors eventually complied. There were times I involved disability services and the added support was helpful. It was a reminder to those professors that they did not have a choice in whether or not they should follow my accommodations. It was law, and they needed to abide by the law.
My journey with advocacy went beyond the classroom. In my second year of college, I became frustrated with the fact that in every course I took, when the topic of diversity or marginalized groups came up, the disability community was always excluded from the conversation. People with disabilities are the most diverse group of people. Disability does not spare any race, gender, sexual orientation, or social class, and yet this group was not being recognized in classroom conversations.
I decided to request a meeting with the disability services coordinator on campus so that I could make her aware of my experiences. After I explained to her what I was experiencing, and we agreed that in order to have a truly inclusive campus, disability needed to be talked about. I suggested starting a club on campus about disability, and she agreed to be the faculty advisor for the club. We recruited students and had elections. I was elected president by fellow students and once we had a board, we began hosting events.
We invited faculty, staff, and students with and without disabilities to these events. We dug deep into disability-related issues and made it clear that people were welcome to ask any questions they had about disability. In nearly every lecture I attended, discussions on diversity or marginalized groups included disability. A campus forum focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion aimed to cultivate a more equitable environment, and I was invited to represent students with disabilities. Establishing this campus organization involved advocacy efforts. Soon, disability was discussed alongside diversity or marginalized groups in almost every lecture I attended. A campus forum on diversity, equity, and inclusion aimed to foster a more equitable environment, and I was invited to represent students with disabilities. Establishing this campus organization involved advocacy efforts. Finally, it came to fruition because a group of students had a mission to advocate and make change where there was injustice.
Advocating for your rights as a college student is not always easy. It takes time, effort, and a whole lot of persistence. With the right tools, support system, and a voice that isn’t afraid to speak up for what is right, you will become your best advocate. As you enter college, remember to advocate, speak up, and always fight for your education.
The APH ConnectCenter introduces the College Conversations webinar series. These are 90-minute sessions for high school students, their families, TVIs, and rehab practitioners. Blind and low-vision young adults from the U.S. will share tips on researching and applying for college.