Why Should I Apply for Disability in College?
Editor’s Note: For more information on managing type 1 diabetes in college, sign up for Beyond Type 1: College Edition, our email series on all things college + type 1 diabetes (T1D).
As a type 1 in college, you will experience things other college students simply will not, but this should not impact your ability to succeed in college. All students regardless of their background should have an equal opportunity for success. Having a chronic illness like type 1 makes you eligible for accommodations to help ensure that your college experience will be just as great as anyone else’s!
BUT, if you’re anything like me, you don’t like being singled out for your disease. You may even be shy about it, and you certainly don’t want someone taking pity on you or thinking you’re abusing the system. So you might not sign up for accommodations, but I am telling you that this is a mistake.
The Disability Resource Center
Before I started college, my mom was doing some research and discovered the University of Georgia’s Disability Resource Center. After dealing with some difficult teachers in school, she had every right to be concerned about me in college. She saw that students like me could register for disability services and receive accommodations such as early registration, testing permission, professor letters and more. She also discovered housing accommodations.
I was skeptical. My first thought with the housing accommodation was, “I don’t deserve this. I would be taking this room from someone who deserved it more than me—someone with a wheelchair, someone with a physical disability. Everyone will find out, and they will laugh at me or hate me for taking this room from someone more deserving than myself.” This is not the case. My mom explained to me how the process worked. She said that you file the request, and people who need the room accommodation for things such as wheelchairs or other equipment because of the larger doorways and handicap-accessible showers will have priority first, but that people like me are no less qualified for the room. Oh, and if enough people don’t apply and the rooms aren’t filled, they assign them to any other person who would be living in the dorm. I was still wary, but my roommate was also a type 1 and was in agreement with what my mom said, so we gathered our doctors’ letters and submitted.
We got the accommodation, and I couldn’t have been happier that my mom convinced me to do it. Besides having the opportunity to have more privacy and a more sterile environment for things like site changes, more room for heaps of medical supplies and a mini-fridge, my disease was validated. We are deserving.
As for the disability services, I highly suggest registering for accommodations at your college. Each college is required to provide accommodations for students registered for services.
At UGA, we have professor letters that explain your accommodations that ensure your professor knows in a professional, legitimate way that you have T1D. This way you won’t experience backlash if you have to eat in class, or leave, or need testing arrangements. Every college may not offer this, but you could always request them or even construct your own. Professor letters are important, because depending on the size of your college and your professors’ personalities, you might need help explaining why you need your specific accommodations.
Testing accommodations are great, but you have to decide what works for you. I know some people that only take tests at disability services, and this is okay. But for me, I only take certain tests there. I typically schedule my test at disability services for the following reasons: if I have a particularly difficult professor, if I will be taking a test in a large group that is maybe monitored by TAs who do not personally know me or for finals. Nothing would be worse to me than getting called out in front of everyone taking a test for pulling out my pump because the TA thought I was using a phone, so I just avoid the situation and take my organic chemistry tests at disability services.
If you take any advice from this article, it would be to register at your school’s disability services for nothing more than the early registration. Each school should have an option for you to register for classes a little earlier than the rest of your classmates along with athletes, honors students and other students that are registered for accommodations. Again, I am speaking for UGA on this, but it is definitely an option to check out.
Early registration is such a life saver because as a type 1, we especially need time for things like breakfast, lunch, sleep and time to make sure that our numbers are in check. Nothing is worse than not scheduling a lunch break in college. Talk about hangry. Just don’t do it to yourself. Register for disability services.
Some Other Tips:
First off, please know that you are not taking advantage of anything or anyone by signing up for these accommodations. Type 1 is a hard disease, so know that and believe that you are not abusing the system or getting any special, unnecessary treatment. You are worthy of all of these things, so don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise. It was hard for me to accept it because I am independent and didn’t want anyone feeling bad for me, but you will thank yourself when you have a week of bad numbers before an important test, a professor that just doesn’t seem to understand, or are just dealing with the daily stresses of college life. Bad things may not happen, and I am fortunate to have not had to miss class, reschedule a test, or get an excused absence because of T1D, but I know several people who have. Cover your bases!
- Get to know your health center, the nearest urgent care, or a reliable doctor in the area in case “stuff” hits the fan.
- Know your closest pharmacy and become friends with them.
- Inform your RA and/or roommate of T1 and what to do in an emergency situation.
- Don’t be afraid to get to know your professors better.
- Join (or start) a chapter of The Diabetes Link, a group just for college students who have or have been impacted by type 1 diabetes (at UGA, our chapter is called Dawgs for Diabetes)
And have fun! Kicking butt in college is totally doable with type 1!
The Diabetes Link is a non-profit organization, whose mission is to provide innovative peer-based programs which connect and empower students and young professionals to thrive with diabetes.