By: Taylor Roth
I am disabled. Not “handicapable” or “differently abled,” but disabled. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad word. I use a wheelchair or walker at all times, and am not ashamed or embarrassed by this. However, I live in a world that is not friendly to the disabled which can sometimes include academia.
Don’t get me wrong: I am very fortunate to attend a school with the resources to help students like me. All I have to do is ask for elevator access or more time for an automatic door button, and my concerns are immediately addressed. My department is the same. Overall, it is very supportive of me and provides me with the resources I need to succeed. I’m able to attend class, see clients, teach, and have a relatively “normal” grad school experience (if there is such a thing). I have to work harder sometimes and consider logistics such as conference accessibility and physical needs, but I see these as necessary annoyances to deal with in order to achieve my goals. I haven’t succeeded in spite of my disability, but rather with it.
I’m really happy with where I am. I have no doubt that I’m pursuing the (wheelchair-accessible) path I’m meant to. Still, I sometimes feel that I’m alone in this intersection of disability and academia. Graduate school is difficult enough without the feeling of being alone and isolated.
As both a disabled student and aspiring clinician, I believe it’s so important to emphasize that diversity is not just about race and ethnicity, though those are valuable to discuss. True diversity is recognizing and addressing the full range of human experiences and allowing all voices to be heard.
The disabled population is often overlooked. Almost 13% of Americans identify as disabled (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017). In this population there are higher rates of depression, anxiety, and victimization (NICE Clinical Guidelines, 2010; Hughes et al., 2012). Despite these statistics, fewer than 50% of social science graduate students receive disability training (Bogart, Rosa, Estill, Colton, & Bonnett, n.d.), and even fewer (10%) identify as disabled (National Science Foundation, 2017). An APA-conducted survey of disabled graduate students, the main barriers that face disabled students are stigma, lack of awareness, and accessibility concerns (APA, 2018).
I am confident the playing field can be levelled. At a practical level, institutions should provide accommodations, whether that is ensuring that a building is ADA compliant or offering a reduced course load. Second, programs can increase their recruitment of disabled students. This involves disseminating information to local organizations and ensuring websites are easily accessible. These students can later become mentors to guide a new generation. Finally, the burden of advocacy should not fall on just those with personal experience of disability. Students have the responsibility of speaking up for their needs, but mentors and departments should also be advocates.
I believe the discipline of psychology should do more in encouraging the growth and potential of students with disabilities. Often the world is dismissive of those who are disabled. It’s not up to students to prove they are more than a stereotype. Instead, those in charge should take it upon themselves to ensure that non-traditional students are given the chance to flourish. I have found my niche in psychology graduate school and want nothing more than for all students to have this opportunity. I believe that with awareness and acceptance, any talented student can survive – and thrive – in grad school.
American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Students with Disabilities in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/pi/disability/dart/toolkit-one.aspx
Bogart, K. R., Rosa, N. M., Estill, M. C., Colton, C. E., & Bonnett, A. K. (n.d.). Teaching about disability in psychology: An analysis of disability curricula in U.S. undergraduate psychology programs.
Bureau, U. S. C. (2017). American FactFinder – Results. Retrieved October 14, 2018, from https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_15_1YR_S1810&prodType=table
National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2017. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017. Special Report NSF 17-310. Arlington, VA. Available at www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/
NICE Clinical Guidelines, N. C. C. for M. H. (2010). Depression in Adults with a Chronic Physical Health Problem: Treatment and Management. (Vol. 91). Leicester (UK): British Psychological Society. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK82930/