Inequality at a College Disability Office

Posted on July 6, 2011

Melissa Hollander
Education Unit, Fountain House

In 1990, Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act came into play; it professes that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under” any program or activity that either receives Federal financial assistance or is conducted by any Executive agency or the United States Postal Service. I’m not sure about how the postal service operates, but I know that institutions of higher education (colleges) must abide by this act because a violation would be breaking the law.
 
In general, the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities does a wonderful job in making sure that all seventeen campuses don't violate the rights of students with physical, learning, and psychiatric disabilities. I can only say good things about the Office for Students with disabilities at LaGuardia Community College; I have been attending the school since 2009 and if I have any problems, I am always encouraged to bring them to my counselor. Recently, I became overwhelmed to the point where I wanted to “drop out” of school. Russell (from the Education Unit) accompanied me to the campus, and we developed a plan to finish out the semester, which I stuck to. I finished the term with a 4.0 grade point average and felt proud of myself.
 
Conversely, I had an extremely unpleasant experience with a counselor at my previous school. I do not wish to name the school due to potentially identifying details, so I will refer to it as School of Stigma.
 
When I first entered School of Stigma, my experience went fairly well. I was taking two classes and making sure that I “checked myself” periodically to avoid being overwhelmed; my counselor was always accessible and I felt that made a difference between failure and success. About eight months later, I was taking 5 classes and got some disheartening news: my counselor found a new job and was leaving the college. It felt like everything was unraveling and I ended up taking a break from school.
 
When I returned a couple of months later for the spring semester, my new counselor called me into her office. She knew about my recent troubles and suggested that School of Stigma wasn’t right for me. According to her, I should “take up a trade or go to community college.” And only then could I think of coming back to the campus.
 
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that her response might have been different had I needed to withdraw due to physical or learning impediments. This counselor felt no shame in communicating hesitation towards someone with a seemingly invisible illness. Let’s say that I withdrew because getting around with a cane was bothersome (I don’t have a cane) or my ADD would require alternative learning arrangements (I don’t have ADD). More than likely, my return to school would be met with enthusiasm and alternative arrangements would be explained…as opposed to a chilly disposition and the feeling of being “kicked out.” Hadn’t my mental illness given me enough grief? It would’ve been nice to get a sense of compassion from this “professional,” but that did not happen.
 
Thank goodness for LaGuardia Community College.  
 

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