Self-Identifying as a Student with a Disability

Posted by Megan on December 10, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

This post is going to focus on the idea of self-identifying. Check back in January for a post on the various academic accommodations that are available to students who have self-identified, as well as how you can access them.

As a student with a disability, I know first-hand how much of an impact a disability can have when you are working toward your degree. York is very supportive to students with disabilities; however, there is some important information you should have.

Self-identifying

Self-identifying is one of the most important things you can do as a student with a disability. I also realize that some students are hesitant to do so. When I first entered university four years ago, I was struggling with my mental health but thought I could just push through on my own. I was a stereotypical high-achiever in high school and didn’t want to accept that things might be different now. The truth is, I made a big mistake by not utilizing the resources that were available.

I didn’t realize that I could still achieve great things if I only accepted my situation and learned to work with it instead of against it. I’m still struggling now but my successes are more reflective of my capabilities. In my first year at my old university my GPA was a D, after maintaining an A average all throughout high school. After switching to York I was able to bounce it up to a C/C+ and I just recently hit a B average. My GPA is still on the rise as I continue to manage and work with my situation, and I believe it would have been higher if I had self-identified earlier on in my degree.

One analogy that I’ve found helpful is this – imagine yourself, with many other students, lined up behind a wooden fence. The fence represents the many barriers that students face. Each student is at a different height, and only some are able to see over the fence. Self-identifying and connecting with York’s services gains you access to supports that will lift you up so that you can see over the fence too. Every student has different needs and so some might need more supports and some might need less. Being able to see over the fence means that you have the support you need to have a fair chance, the same as your peers, at success. You still have to work hard, but having that fair chance can make a huge difference just like you can see from how my GPA jumped from a D, almost failing, to a B… a strong leap forward!

An image of the 'equity fence'.
Image Source.

As soon as you are sure that you want to apply to York, I recommend reaching out to the support services at York. Once you have received your acceptance, you can print off one of the registration packages for the service you think will most help. The longer you wait, the busier the office tends to get, so I  recommend getting the forms in by June or July at latest. Here are links to the forms you might need:

Please note that the registration packages  need to be filled out with a family doctor or specialist. If you are self-diagnosed, you will need to follow up with a doctor. There is an Appletree Clinic on campus that can help you with that process, but many other walk-in clinics can write referrals too. Keep in mind that some referrals can take up to three months, so you don’t want to wait to start that process.

I know one of my biggest fears was what people would think and to address that, I’m going to say this: don’t let the stigma wear you down. I know firsthand how hard it is having a “silent” disability and I’ve faced some serious stigma and discrimination myself. I also acknowledge that I’ve seen a lot of mistreatment in the past towards students with visible disabilities. Thankfully York has a very conscious student body and it’s been my experience that the majority of the community is very accepting, supportive and non-judgmental.  It is my hope that by sharing this message with you, it will help you make the decision to self-identify as well so you don’t have to face the same struggles that I did.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns, please don’t hesitate to comment below.

-M

Megan
Megan

Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

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