Danielle Drazen, 2018 AAPD Intern at the Institute for Educational Leadership, from Connecticut, shares her personal experience of high expectations and accommodations in the postsecondary environment.
Disability is not one-size-fits-all. Everyone’s experience with their own disability is different. Most people do not understand the challenges of living with a disability. Even our strongest advocates – teachers, friends, and family – may not understand or experience the same difficulties. As a grad student, finding other students that have been in the same position as me is difficult. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES), in 2015, only 2% of people with disabilities (PWDs) between the ages of 24 and 35 had a bachelor’s degree and only 1% of the same population had their master’s degree. Given this extremely small percentage, not only are there very few other students in my situation, it also means that professors are less likely to have worked with several, if any, students with disabilities.
Throughout my educational career, my disability has affected the way I learn. However, the largest and most frequent roadblock that I encounter is the difficulty receiving accommodations. The issue stems from an inability for others to understand that accommodations are a necessity for me to access the materials. Many professors fail to understand that accommodations do not remove high expectations. In my case, understanding is most certainly the issue because I am studying SPECIAL EDUCATION! That’s right. While studying from experts in the field of accommodations and modifications, from experts who teach the next generation of experts, I was denied accommodations. I had done my due diligence by disclosing to my university, to make them aware of my disability, and registered with the Disability Resource Center and requested accommodations for my specific classes. However, there still exists a disconnect between what professionals preach and what they practice.
According to NCES (2015), only 6% of PWDs aged 55-64 have a master’s degree or higher. This statistic highlights two issues. First, there are not many other PWDs who are grad students. Secondly, PWDs can take longer than the prescribed four years to complete their undergraduate degree and, by extension, it can take longer to finish any graduate degree.
It took me until the age of 19 to complete high school. When I was nearing the end of high school and getting ready to transition into postsecondary education, I remember the adults around me helping me pick out a school, telling me what factors they thought were important to look for, etc. The fall immediately upon graduation of high school, I was enrolled full-time in a four-year college. I was ill-equipped and ill-prepared for the college journey I was about to embark upon. During the fall semester of my freshman year I struggled as many freshmen do with things like completing my assignments and getting up on time, as well as adjusting to the new level of independence and responsibility that comes with living away from home. I was able to manage a 3.65 GPA, but I was exhausted. Over winter break when I was at home, I felt much more relaxed and I spoke with my parents about taking a semester off. My parents assured me that feeling overwhelmed and adjusting to college life was a normal experience for anyone.
Despite my best efforts to take a break from college, my parents persuaded me to go back to school for the spring semester. That was when I failed completely and miserably. I reached a low point in my life. I knew that I had graduated high school bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a newfound sense of confidence in my abilities. I went to a specialized school that helped me grow and be able to graduate high school. Prior to my experience at this specialized high school many, including myself, never thought I would graduate from high school, let alone go on to college – or grad school. So that confidence that I had gained was destroyed and I no longer felt certain in my strengths or abilities.
Slowly, on a part-time basis, I made my way back to school. I went to a school that was closer to my hometown, and I became more aware of the types of supports and services that were offered by my new university. In total, it took me nine years to finish my undergraduate degree. This journey was by no means the typical, prescribed four-year experience. However, along the way, I learned a great deal about myself, my abilities, and how my disability affects me. The biggest lesson I have learned is not to compare myself to others. The amount of time it takes me to complete any task is going to be different than others, and that’s fine.
Today, I am a practicing, certified special education teacher and I am nearing completion of my master’s in assistive technology. I have discovered my passion for transition and have become aware of several different approaches and resources for PWDs. Many of the tools that I am able to use with my students were not available to me in my transition to adulthood. One of the most impactful lessons that I have learned through my experiences and helping youth with transition is that planning should be person-centered and person-driven. When I was in high school, sure my support team asked me about my desired job upon graduation. However, no one helped me break down my goals into steps or taught me leadership or self-determination skills. I left high school without any real-world experience in, or exposure to, my intended career. Furthermore, I was not taught how to be an advocate for my disability, nor was I taught about my rights regarding disability disclosure.
As a transition coordinator, and a PWD, I value the Guideposts for Success, its companion the Guiding Your Success Tool, and The 411 on Disability Disclosure. These tools help youth service professionals (YSPs) guide PWDs towards gaining the necessary skills and attitudes specific to youth and young adults with disabilities as well as developing individualized career goals driven by the individual. I have no doubt that if I had these tools when I was transitioning into my postsecondary opportunities, my experiences may have differed vastly. In working with youth, it is important to ask for their input and to help guide them to plan the future that they envision for themselves. While we can’t always have smooth transitions, explicit instructions and activities focused on planning help PWDs envision a clearer future as well as address some of the possible bumps on the road along this journey.
For additional resources on self-advocacy and youth leadership, visit the YouthACT webpage.
For tips and strategies on postsecondary education transition and success, check out these resources:
About the author:
Danielle Nicole Drazen received her B.S. in American Studies from Charter Oak State College, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. She is currently in the M.S. program in Special Education with an area of specialization in Assistive Technology at Southern Connecticut State University where she received her Initial Certification in Special Education. She is currently working as a Special Education Teacher with focus on helping students with disabilities transition to adulthood. She serves students with exceptionalities including but not limited to learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, emotional disturbance, TBI, communication disorders, and physical challenges. In her role, she serves as advisor to the school’s Student Government, Committee Chairperson for Field Day, Committee Member for Arts Fest, and enjoys mentoring new teachers. Her colleagues remark on her super power which is getting others to do things they did not know they wanted to do. Danielle is a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda Honors Society, Council for Exceptional Children, and Connecticut Transition Community of Practice Assistive Technology Focus Group. She recently traveled to Guatemala to volunteer and complete an international field study focusing on Special Education in a developing country with attention to policies, availability, accessibility, professional development and the impact of culture. In her spare time, Danielle has volunteered as a Puppy Raiser for Canine Companions for Independence since 2010 and is currently raising her 7th assistance dog. She is also an avid board game enthusiast and serves as an event coordinator for multiple clubs in Connecticut.