Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Know No Excuses

- By Guest Blogger Pinalben “Pinky” Patel -

I believe everyone should have a college education especially people using a wheelchair. Many people cannot go to college because of various responsibilities such as having to take care of a sick loved one or sports training, but having a physical disability is not a valid excuse.

However, there are different stages of disability. Some people in wheelchairs can drive, cook, clean, stand up or even walk a few steps by holding onto the wall. Whereas, some wheelchair users have very limited use of their arms and cannot stand or turn in bed without another person's help.

Hence, wheelchair users have to choose their study in college according to their capabilities. It certainly does not mean that the choices are limited. It just means that people using a wheelchair have to be realistic when it comes to choosing study areas.

For instance, I am a wheelchair user due to Friedreich's Ataxia. My FA has also made my upper body so uncoordinated that I cannot write with a pencil. Therefore, I don't think I can study surgery and become a surgeon even if I wanted to become one. I chose an area, which I could study as independently as possible.

Since my junior year in high school, I enjoyed writing. I wanted to study creative writing in college. I do not type as slow as I write with a pen but much slower than average. So vocational rehabilitation bought a voice-activated software called Dragon NaturallySpeaking for me to type my assignments faster. I enrolled in West Kentucky Community and Technical College because it was in town where I can use the local taxi. It offered an associate degree in English with many literature and creative writing classes.

When I finished the associate degree, I wanted to do a bachelor's degree. I went to Murray State University to do that because it was closest to my home. But it was still about an hour away from my home. I took journalism classes at that college because they were less demanding in attendance than creative writing. However, transportation and attendant care was still becoming an issue. Even though the University provided note takers and scribes for tests in classes, I had a difficult time finding reliable people to work with as I need help in the rest room and driving.

To resolve the frustrating problem, I changed my major and degree program to one that would let me take most classes online. I had Internet access and VR helped me get a computer so I was able to stay home while finishing my degree. I finally graduated with a bachelor's of independent studies in Print Communications.
People with disabilities should not worry about college expenses either – they are more than bearable. My college fees were paid by FAFSA and VR. Because I also had a KEES scholarship, I received a few leftover bucks from the financial aid office. When I had the hour commute, VR even paid for gas mileage and outfitted the family van with a wheelchair lift. I did spend a little money to take summer classes because I wanted to finish my degree faster, but that is not a requirement.

Although the cost of a college education does depend on the chosen school, a will to study would make any school a great choice. I did not want to study at any of the schools I had gone to, but in my situation those schools were the best for me. I wanted to focus on studying, not training personal-care attendants to handle my needs. Besides, I had lots of trouble finding daytime aides so I can only imagine the tediousness of my living in a dorm. After taking some classes, I found that there is no difference between an IV league and a public or community college. Education is education, no matter where it is from.

Education is really important to me because I was not expected to study beyond high school. People still awe at me when they find out I am a college graduate and strangely, that is a nice feeling. I want everyone in my situation to feel that sense of accomplishment.

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