Two years without accommodations: My struggle for access

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Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic illness and disability that requires a number of daily rituals to ensure my health and longevity. As a child, my parents took care of my accommodations for me since I was too young to learn how to take care of my disease. Once I got to UT, however, I was on my own and wanted to prove to myself that I could cover all of my diabetes bases without sacrificing too much of my already-diminished health and ability. 

I was wrong to expect that much of myself. I’ve always hesitated to ask for help, but after one semester, I recognized that I needed help and that my health superseded the importance of my class attendance and grades. 

I asked my doctor to fill out the letter provided for medical disability accommodations on the Services for Students with Disabilities website. After reading the letter over, I thought it looked good and submitted it to SSD. I waited about a month before receiving an email: My accommodations were denied as I, according to my paperwork, did not have any needs beyond those of an able-bodied student.

My heart sank. It would take me another year before I even felt comfortable and, more importantly, be able to ask for help with the process again. I didn’t follow up with SSD after this initial rejection, which is certainly my own fault. But after having had diabetes for the majority of my life, I felt rejected in a multitude of ways — not just from the system that was supposed to ensure my own safety and success. 

Consequently, my personal life and diabetes got worse the next school year, which took a toll on my health and grades. It took a lot for me to want to seek out help once again. But it shouldn’t have.

Someone in UT administration, staff or SSD knew I had diabetes. Although it is not their responsibility to take care of me, it is their responsibility to accommodate the disabled. As easy as other aspects of college life were for me, getting accommodations was difficult. 

I recall watching Disney Channel as a young diabetic and seeing commercials where Nick Jonas discussed the severity of his disease and its life-threatening quality. It could permanently disable parts of my body or kill me. Yet, just my diagnosis was not enough.

I had to prove not only that I was diabetic, but that I was diabetic in the ways that merited help. 

It took me two years to be able to do it. I had to tell my doctor and nurses how to fill out the disability form exactly so that I could ensure I received my accommodations. They became frustrated with the micromanagement of a disease that is life-threatening in many ways. They wrote a separate letter along with the SSD paperwork to educate SSD on how Type 1 diabetes can be — and is — completely debilitating to me. When I turned this into SSD, I was told it may not be processed quickly because it was not completed in the way SSD preferred.

During this wait —which included the two years leading up to my accommodations — I failed a class, endured major health scares, experienced the suicide of a close friend, missed about half of my classes for an entire semester and completely had my own self-esteem diminished to a point where I lost the feeling that my disease was important for me to keep up with. 

I needed those accommodations, and I appreciate everything that SSD does and will continue to do for me, but on a campus where disabled students must pay for ADA parking, where a plan for only three more buildings on campus to gain accessibility is reduced to a headline, where the bathrooms are closed for “cleaning” for hours at a time and inaccessible to people who need to use them urgently, and where food is given out and sold on a daily basis without a proper ingredient list or nutritional information, these failures further reflect a major problem. 

UT fails to prioritize students with disabilities, as reflected in SSD’s unbearable slowness in the accommodation process. As a result, I had to endure a year of suffering alone — a year that I consider to be the worst of my life.

Stephens is an English junior.