I remember my first trip to the Disability Resource Center at the University of Florida. The first time that I felt that as far as my condition goes, I've had somebody who is on my side, someone who understands my limitations. I was sweaty and tired being on the bus system for a bit, trying to find this building that couldn't be more isolated on campus and it tried. I wanted to be on time. I was prepared for a really long conversation about what it is that I have and how it affects me. I was expecting them to demand loads and loads of paperwork, my medical history, current evaluations and for them to be skeptical about every single thing about me I reveal. That's what it felt like in Poland. The Disability Office at Warsaw University made me feel like I demanded special treatment when I asked for exam accommodations or any modification to my schedule. It felt as if I needed to defend myself every time I walked in with a problem. It seemed convincing the Chancellor's proxy for disability affairs was as big of a struggle as convincing the Chancellor himself. The Office Director was a blind man. He took great pride in telling us the stories of how he was able to study abroad with little or no help from others. And I understand his point. He wanted his students to be independent and a lot of them seemed joined at the hip with their mothers. This was particularly true with those with Cerebral Palsy. Many had overprotective mothers that went everywhere with them or did everything for them. Often the office would speak not with the student, but the mother. On the other hand, he didn't have a motor disability and really couldn't and didn't understand what it must be like. How it limits you and what it does. And as noble as his intentions may have been it was really not his place to raise us, as we were adults. It felt odd when it seemed like I had to explain myself to him. But then, it seemed like that everywhere I turned to in Poland. Doctors, benefits referrals. Like I needed to defend myself and to prove I'm not using my disability as easy ride. Imagine my surprise- when I come to campus in Florida gearing up for an argument and the first thing they ask is if I drank enough water. And then they insisted I have some. The man I had an appointment with was in a wheelchair himself. He told me that when he was in college he was afraid to drink. Because back then using a public restroom was problematic if you had a disability. He was also interested in getting me to calm down and breathe. It felt so amazing not needing to explain myself or being accused of things for once. Not only did he not question I needed the things that I needed but also had some ideas and suggestions of his own. It's astonishing how much better you feel about yourself and your disability if you're treated with consideration and respect. When you're met with understanding. But then, that wasn't the only time. I've written about my turmoils with immigration a few years ago. How I felt misunderstood, broken and lost. How nobody seemed to care and no one would listen as you yet again tried to prove something. What really brought me back was the treatment I got at UF's International Center. When I got through the door all worked up with another piece of bad news they would stop me right there to take me out of that mindset. A human reaction. A little bit of care. Somebody who listens. "Take a deep breath" they would say. "It will pass. It's not that important. Don't let it get to you". I didn't need to prove anything or explain myself, it felt like for a second there they cared about my well being. And that made a world of difference, although it didn't solve any of my problems. Human beings being human- isn't that a revolutionary thought?
I would venture to say that a bit of human to human compassion solved one problem - anxiety of the moment.ReplyDelete
It's great to hear positive stories. Thanks!