The Difficulty of Navigating Academia as a Disabled Student

This blog’s a bit of a weird one. And not something I’d usually talk about. This one’s about what it feels like to be questioned academically because of things connected to my disability, along with a little story of when I felt like that.

The first thing I need to make clear is, I have Cerebral Palsy. It is a neurological condition which DOES mean it affects my brain, however, (as I discussed in “Disability & Language” when I stated why I don’t like referring to Cerebral Palsy as the neurological condition it is) it also DOESN’T affect my “brain”, in that it doesn’t affect my intelligence or my ability to participate in academia like everyone else.

Another part of the reason being questioned like this can hurt is because I pride myself on my academic ability. It’s the one thing that just seemed to click with me. Everything else I’ve had to work at and gain confidence in myself and my ability to do it, but books and academia just seemed to make sense from the start.

Now onto story time and the reason why I decided to write this post. Most of you may well know by now that I’m heading into my final year at university in September, and THAT means it’s time to start thinking about dissertation. I knew I wanted my dissertation to involve FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) so I went to my personal tutor to ask if the university would be willing to let a lowly undergraduate like myself use the big fancy FMRI machines (because they are rather technical, and I heard several things from different people about whether undergraduates were allowed to use the FMRI machines. Yet right after I’d asked this question, my tutor’s response was: but they’re magnetic so *looks at chair, then at me, then back at chair* how are you going to…?  what they meant, without finishing the sentence was: how are you going to take the giant metal thing in which you sit near the magnetic machinery? And don’t get me wrong, this is a valid question, it’s just more of an “ugh, I’m here asking if my dissertation idea is too advanced for you to let me do it (spoiler: it was) and you’re questioning how I’m going to take my wheelchair near the machine like I haven’t possibly thought of that before this meeting, really?!”

For those of you wondering about the solution. Transferring out of my wheelchair is a thing that I can do. This odd assumption that a wheelchair automatically means you’re paralysed needs to stop, for some people like myself, a wheelchair just allows you to do more and live life more. Also, even if transferring out of my chair wasn’t an option, I’d figure out a way to make this situation work, I always do. Academia is the one area where I don’t see the impact of my condition, and I’m determined to keep it that way.

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels)

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