Julie Harmgardt is our December 2016 blogger. In her piece, Julie explores the process of transitioning from being a university student to the “adult world.” In particular, Julie looks at this process of transition from the perspective of persons living with a disability.
There are many exciting “firsts” in our lives as young adults. The first time you drive a car. The first time you go on an official date. The first time you host a dinner party and don’t burn the food. The first time you travel solo. The first time you live on your own at university or college.
For people living with disabilities, the next “first” can be intimidating, time-intensive and outright exhausting, instead of exhilarating: graduating university and entering the down-right scary “adult” world. It’s a lot more complicated than securing a job, going apartment-hunting, packing up personal artifacts and moving into a new apartment in a bustling city and effortlessly beginning a new chapter.
What we don’t realize until after we leap headfirst into “adult” life is the widespread web of support networks that campus life provides. There’s the on-campus health clinic to help manage the seemingly long list of health issues that accompany life with a disability, counseling services to assist with and encourage mental wellness, disability office to arrange classroom accommodations, accessibility committee to attend to structural barriers and academic hurdles, human rights office to investigate and address individual and systemic discrimination and countless student clubs that create important informal support channels. The university setting allows for the creation of a community of services within an easily reachable microcosm.
Graduating university changes everything. This centralized resource system vanishes in the blink of an eye; new alumni are abruptly separated from the services and community they require. It’s no longer as simple as sending an email to a designated university-administered account to assist with a disability-related request. “Adulting” with a disability is more demanding than most people imagine. There’s finding a new doctor who will take on a “complicated” case, mapping out accessible commuting routes and spaces at a new workplace and sourcing new support systems.
Living with disability is not a choice, but it forces you to make endless decisions. Informed decisions that can take days, if not weeks to properly evaluate what will best work in the circumstances. Being on your own after graduation means you have to advocate for yourself even more than before. You must become comfortable asking for the services you require, rather than having them offered to you. You must contemplate how, when and if you will disclose your condition to an employer. You must be resourceful in reaching out to others in the disability community to access the support you need.
The next chapter is exciting, fun and rewarding, but comes with challenges, particularly for new alumni living with disability. It’s important to recognize the hard work of members and staff of the university community who create structures that minimize challenges for students living with disabilities. They have provided us with a solid foundation to build on and now it’s time to spread our wings and fly. It may be more challenging for us than for others, but the sky’s the limit!