In learning how to balance school, work and finances while dealing with the other crushing responsibilities of adulthood, one service on our campus commonly goes unnoticed. Without this service, my college experience would be much more difficult. Student Disability Services (SDS) is a resource “designed to help USF students with disabilities serve as fully contributing and actively participating members of the university community. Toward that end, SDS promotes a fully integrated university experience for students with disabilities by ensuring that students have equal access to all areas of student life and receive appropriate educational support and services to foster their academic and personal success.” I came straight out of high school with a recent hearing impairment in addition to the rest of my health challenges. Neurofibromatosis is a health condition where benign tumors grow along the nerves, and up until high school I had to miss days of school for surgeries, treatments or doctors appointments. Last year, I had brain surgery and got a tumor from my hearing nerve being removed. The damage to the hearing nerve is why my balance is bad, walking is hard, why I can’t hear well and why I experience ringing in my ears.
For the first half of the summer, I was trying desperately to register for classes on my own and figure out how to navigate the Lone Mountain stairs without help. It’s hard enough for able-bodied students to climb those stairs, but for me, it poses as a dreaded daily challenge and can sometimes be close to impossible. Someone told me to get in touch with Student Disabilities Services, who immediately set me up with a specialist who has helped me navigate college and my health at the same time.
However, SDS can’t give accommodations for everything I face. While most people have no problem ordering boba or ordering at a noisy restaurant, for me, it is like trying to hold a conversation with someone at a concert. It is difficult for me to hear what is being asked of me, whether it be as simple as asking the sweetness of my drink or if I want onions in my pho. If my roommates are there, they will use sign language to reiterate the question to me. Once, I got asked by a LoMo security guard if I was okay because I was swaying when I walked and bumped into a wall. I think he thought I was drunk. It was embarrassing to tell him that I was fine without explaining my health challenge or its side effects.
SDS immediately rallied behind me, and after I received certain accommodations such as priority registration, real-time captioning for my hearing impairment, extra time on tests and access to the public safety shuttle, they continue to do their best to make sure I have a happy, healthy and safe experience at USF.
However, my feelings towards SDS are not always so positive. Sometimes I get in funks about my hearing and health condition and feel mad, sad or both. I can either internalize my feelings or lash out, and recently, SDS has been the target of my anger. Sometimes their services can feel so inconvenient. For instance, if most people wanted to go to an event, they only had to worry about finding a ticket. If I would like to go to an event, I need to decide a week before the event and let SDS know so they can get a real time captioner for me. I still feel limited by the lack of spontaneity that my hearing impairment and health challenges can give me.
After talking with a friend who is also a part of SDS, he made me realize how much SDS really does for their students. SDS does a phenomenal job of being there for the students who need them. My specialist responds to my emails in 48 hours or less, and SDS in general is very timely, helping me as soon as they can. The office is filled with genuinely kind people, and their friendly and caring attitudes gives off an office atmosphere bursting with compassion.
This recent conversation has filled me with the utmost gratitude for SDS, and I am very happy and lucky to be a part of them. They always do their best to meet a student’s needs and truly do a fantastic job of living up to their name.