This is not a blog post about dysautonomia. This is political, and if that upsets you, I’m only a little sorry.
There aren’t words to describe how upset it makes me when I watch an Education Secretary Nominee say that complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal civil rights law, should be left to the states to decide. Whether she understood the question or not—it makes it clear that students with disabilities are not her priority, and that’s so many layers of unacceptable for the person leading the Department of Education to believe and say.
School was not easy for me because of my health. I was undiagnosed with dysautonomia growing up, and had several other very diagnosed, very real illnesses happening concurrently with the undiagnosed malfunctioning of my autonomic nervous system. I dealt daily with a digestive system that didn’t like me very much and a cluster of mental illnesses—ADHD, OCD, anxiety and depression. Oh, and I was a teenager. (Mix until blended.)
I missed school frequently. Not because I was lazy or a bad student, but because I could barely function so many days.
I had a difficult workload—honors and AP classes. Difficult extracurriculars—I was on my school’s newspaper and had a leadership role every year I was on staff. It was my passion and it challenged me like nothing else. But I wanted it that way.
My guidance counselor told me to take it easy, that I wouldn’t be sick, that I wouldn’t be stressed if I took an easier course load—but I knew myself better than she did. I knew I would be stressed no matter what, because that’s how chemical imbalances work. I was going to do this my way.
It took me four years to get my Section 504 (another story for another day) but it was the best blessing I’ve ever received—it enabled me to customize my education to best suit my needs. My teachers were given the allowances and rights they needed to help me. They were allowed to give me spare textbooks to keep at home and in my locker, they were allowed to give me an extra day for my papers every now and then, they were allowed to let me work on things a little bit differently, so long as we kept in touch.
Because of my Section 504, we were able to switch my schedule half way through my senior year to half-days to try and promote my health. We were allowed to drop classes that weren’t necessary for graduation that were too much of a hindrance at certain points.
I missed over a month of school my senior year because of illness and disability. My assistant principal told me I may not graduate. But because of the accommodations my teachers made and the plans we made together, I graduated with a 3.7 GPA and as an AP Scholar with Distinction from the CollegeBoard.
I share this story because I am not special and should not be a special case or special story.
My graduation success should be the norm.
Students with disabilities across the country should be granted Section 504s (much sooner than I was, because four years of fighting is absurd) and experience every bit of protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act, as it is a federal civil rights law.
It should not vary by state. It should not vary by county or by school or even by guidance counselor.
The Nominee for Education Secretary should feel these things passionately in their heart and be the strongest proponent for them. The disabled are marginalized members of society and to be disrespected this way is unacceptable.
I won’t be quiet about this. I am so angry.