The Marshak et al. article outlines a study that attempts to discover why many college students with registered disabilities do not utilize accommodation services available. The study was done at a mid-sized university and involved sixteen students who were registered as having a disability. The results suggest five major reasons that students do not seek aid on campus. These categories include: Identity Issues, Desire to Avoid Negative Social Reactions, Insufficient Knowledge, Perceived Quality and Usefulness of Services, and Negative Experiences with Professors. The report concludes with suggesting future action for disability resource centers.
The example that stood out the most to me was the student who discussed how difficult it was for her to seek help because she lacked the knowledge of how to explain her disability. Though she had an official letter requesting the accommodations she needed, she had to approach the professors in person. When suggested to just go by the letter, she responded, “No you can’t go by it, because no one’s ever sat down and explained to me in the first place [my disability and need for accommodations]…” (Marshak et al., 157). This issue is altogether too common. Many health professionals do not give sufficient explanations of mental disabilities when diagnosed. In addition, mental disabilities vary vastly between individuals, thus one block explanation does not apply to many people with the disability. The difficulty of explaining a hidden disability also ties into the stigma that society has placed on them. The manifestation and origin of this stigma is something I am strongly considering researching later in the course. It is something many of my friends and I have experienced, and I wish to take a more objective look at the phenomena that affects so many people so negatively to begin the battle of changing it.
Christine Miserandino told the story of explaining her life with a chronic illness to a friend in this article entitled “The Spoon Theory.” Miserandino has Lupus, so life is not as simple as it is for a healthy person. Every action takes energy, a limited resource for those with hidden disabilities. To portray this, Miserandino gave her friend spoons then took one away for every significant action. As there weren’t enough spoons to complete everything her friend wanted to do that day, the point hit home.
The Miserandino piece hit me deeply as well because it related so much to what bad days feel like to me. I’ve been trying to think about how buildings on campus could be better suited to deal with people with depression, like me, but also other mental illnesses. One barrier I see right now is tight spaces, especially in hallways. The hallway in the physics building outside of 112 and 114 has low ceilings and is relatively narrow. Right when classes end, that hallway is completely packed with students. It’s a nightmare for those with anxiety, claustrophobia, and other illnesses. More open spaces are important. Buildings could even use color as slight optical illusions. Another roadblock in accommodating students with mental disabilities is the fact that many people still do not realize how serious mental illnesses can be. While other, physical illnesses may excuse absences from class, very few professors and instructors acknowledge mental illness flare ups to be legit excuses for missing class. The DRC may have resources to account for this; I will need to do research. There are many other barriers that students with hidden disabilities, specifically mental disabilities, face that I hope my group and I can address in our report.
In a time when many minority groups are speaking out against prejudice and misrepresentation, Dolmage writes to address the stereotypes of disability as presented in media and popular text. Through examples to movies, texts, and even television programs, he identifies eleven main myths, a term he defines as images with meaning attached to them that are often viewed and consumed (31). The goal is to draw attention to these tropes of disability in popular culture and explain their harm and lack of merit.
As I read the text, I was shocked by how familiar the myths were, not by name. As much as our society brags that inclusiveness and accurate representation have drastically improved, the myths Dolmage describes are still ingrained in the image of disability in media. In the few movies I have seen that include characters with disabilities, the writers employ many of the myths, particularly the idea of Kill or Cure. By the conclusion, the character with disability either appears to be cured or has been removed by imprisonment or death. Even in two movies heralded revolutionary in diversity, this myth holds true. In Silver Linings Playbook, the last scene shows the two protagonists, both affected by mental illness, seemingly content and “normal” in each other’s arms. Saw Gerrara, a resistance leader in the highly celebrated Rogue One: a Star Wars story who had been wounded and left with two limbs, is killed in the strike on Jedha City. It is remarkable that even in the year 2017, even in films praised for being inclusive, disability is still subject to demeaning stereotypes and ends. Identification of the myths that have become the truth of disability in media is the first step towards changing the rhetoric, but action must be demanded before change can occur.