Tag Archives: Back To School

The UNlimited College Experience

On Monday I went with my in-laws to drop my sister-in-law off at college. I was so excited that you would have thought I was the one starting on a new adventure. My sister-in-law has chosen to attend my alma mater, Grand Valley State University, and I can’t help but feel like her experiences there are partially my responsibility. I know that’s silly, but I just want her to have a great experience.

I loved college; it was easily four of the best years of my life, part of that is probably because high school was pretty terrible for me. I was the first person in my immediate family to attend a four year university. Having a disability seemed to make this accomplishment even more important, although I didn’t particularly think so. College was always something I knew I would do, but there were still some challenges that needed to be overcome. If you have a disability, and plan to attend college, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Every college has an office that is supposed to tend to the needs of students with disabilities. My advice is to contact these offices before you are admitted. That’s right, research the services that are provided for students with disabilities and make that research part of your decision to attend. Accessibility should not be the only reason you attend a college, but it should probably outweigh the male to female student ratio, or the food selections.

My second piece of advice is to visit the campus, more than once, before accepting admittance. Especially if you have a disability that will affect how you navigate the campus. Because I had visited Grand Valley several times before becoming a student, I knew I would need a power chair in order to be fully independent. I never considered a power chair before, at this point I had only been using a manual chair for a few years; this was not something I would have thought of had I not thoroughly toured the campus. When you visit campuses you might discover that you will want an aid, a service dog, or another accommodation to help you navigate. You may also discover that the campus is not as accessible as you had been led to believe.

My last piece of advice, do not be afraid to speak up and ask for the things you need. In my first year at GVSU, I found out that there were many small things that made it difficult for me; doors that had no buttons, counters that were too high, restroom stalls that were too small. I wrote a letter to a school newspaper called The Rant. Days after it was published, I was contacted by the dean who wanted to tour the school with me; I was able to point out the things that were not accessible and explain why they needed to be adjusted (which is not always obvious to those who don’t have disabilities). Not only were these things improved, my advice was used for future projects.

College can be a great experience. It can also be a not so great experience. Sometimes situations will be out of your control; but embrace the things you can control to make it the best experience possible. College isn’t just about getting a degree. It is also where you learn about yourself, your needs, your strengths, your weaknesses and really grow into yourself.

Back To School!

It’s hard to believe that we are beginning Labor Day weekend. It feels like I just cleaned up from the Fourth of July party. Oh wait, I did just finish cleaning up from that picnic. Oh well, I never claimed to be a good housekeeper!

With Labor Day approaching, all efforts in my house are pointed towards the same goal. I need to get my son (who is entering the second grade) and my husband (who is a teacher) ready for the new school year. It’s safe to say that neither are terribly excited about their vacations coming to a close, so out of respect I’m trying to keep my elation to a minimum.
This year my son will be attending a new school, which means that he is allowed to pack his lunch for the first time. It will be nice to pick him up knowing that he has eaten a good lunch. Last year I was able to predict the days he would not eat based upon the provided menu. Neither one of us enjoyed the “I’m starving” afternoons!

Wanting to make lunches so delicious that he would refuse trading with a classmate, I set out researching containers and lunch boxes. I came upon this fantastic lunch box kit from Rubbermaid. The containers are the perfect size for treats and goodies, and nothing crumbles or crushes because it is protected within the hard plastic. The containers click into an icepack so everything stays cold until it is time to eat.

Knowing my own limitations when it comes to cleaning, I decided to be proactive and bought two kits. I also ordered the salad kit for my husband, hoping to save him (and our bank account) from the daily visits to the salad bar. Of course, now that I have all of the containers I am going to have to figure out how to fill them. I wish that solution would be as easy to find!

With the lunch box conundrum solved, I have moved my focus towards the traditional “Yes, I’m an amputee” presentation I give to my son’s class. I have found it helpful to address the issue quickly, encouraging his classmates to ask their questions at one time. I don’t want his new friends to be fearful of my prosthesis, and I have learned that talking about it from the start helps to make everybody more comfortable.

Although talking about prosthetics and amputees is the norm in my house, it is completely unknown for many children. I begin the talk by keeping it as simple as possible. I try to strike the balance between providing enough information to quell their curiosity while not overloading them to the point where they become fearful.

I usually explain that I had an accident and the doctors tried to fix my leg. When they couldn’t fix it, they decided to give me a new one. Taking off my prosthesis and encouraging the students to hold it, try it on and ask questions at the beginning of the school year goes a long way towards demystifying the disability. By talking about the prosthesis and answering all questions at the beginning of the year, I quickly become just another Mom in their eyes.

I’m hopeful that exposing these children to limb loss at an early age will encourage them to grow into accepting adults. I have come to accept that I won’t change the world, but I haven’t abandoned trying to change my little corner of it.  I wish everybody a happy, and safe, Labor Day weekend!

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.


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