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People with disabilities are sharing personal anecdotes of how society—and other external factors—make it difficult for them to continue their academic path.
It began with a thread from Christine Marshall, a University of California, Santa Cruz student and a queer deaf activist.
“#WhyDisabledPeopleDropout was created to expose the frustration and challenges disabled students face daily in public institutions,” Marshall wrote.
“Becoming exhausted from advocating for yourself is valid af and the educational system wasn’t developed for disabled people to succeed.”
Marshall told the Daily Dot she was inspired to start it after her professor sent out a mass email to her class asking for volunteers to help Marshall, putting her name in the subject line.
Sharing Marshall’s name so openly made her uncomfortable, and Marshall started the hashtag so others could share how such actions in academia make it difficult for disabled students to succeed.
“As a Deaf student in a public institution, I am already subject to stares and regular efforts to correct many misconceptions,” she told the Daily Dot over email. “In classes of less than 50 students with interpreters, everyone already knows my name and I feel a need to prove myself to avoid being patronized. So, this specific situation brought a ton of negative unnecessary attention that created a lot of anxiety and discomfort for me.”
While some Twitter users also shared stories of their privacy being compromised, many others shared how their struggle to be accepted in academic institutions started early.
Honestly, I never even pursued a post-secondary education because I was exhausted from the bullshit my high school put me though... AND they had a "DHH program"!— squaremeat (@squaremeat) April 23, 2019
I had very few friends on campus because I was «that girl with a interpreter» and they thought I wouldn’t understand them. Once I asked a girl something, she just stated at me, turned around and walked away. #WhyDisabledPeopleDropOut— Master-Mandarine (@ProEiszeitDeaf) April 23, 2019
#WhyDisabledPeopleDropout my at home tutor who was legally bound to come help me with schoolwork only showed up once or twice a week and did not understand the concept that i physically and emotionally could not preform for her at the drop of a dime— lu boo ✨ (@wstethenghtt) April 23, 2019
That this fight for acceptance begins so early is an important reminder of the role teachers and professors play in perpetuating certain stereotypes and making it complicated for students with disabilities to access accommodations or seek adjustments to their schedules or workloads.
“I think the world wants to pretend that it’s better for students in this generation compared to years ago and that accessibility has improved, but the statistics and reading the stories from #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout shows what an epidemic these problems are, how much work is left to do, and the diversity on campuses that has yet to be cherished and recognized,” said Marshall.
While dropping out might seem like a last resort, Marshall said it’s “logical when simply getting to class can be physically harmful and there are people in academia who will harass and perpetuate ableist discussion. Disability is a spectrum and different for every student,” she continued. “Society needs more representation, education, and discussion about #WhyDisabledStudentsDropOut and it is important to have ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance and FERPA [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] compliance on campus.”
⚔️— The Garden (@TheGardenGroves) April 23, 2019
Professors not being REQUIRED to follow our accommodations. #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout
Teachers who don't make a single effort to allow you to learn shit because it would be 'unfair' for the other abled students are #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout— Anxious pizza (@SjPatate) April 23, 2019
Because the school doesn't follow it's own policies on discrimination. Tenured profs are allowed to do anything with no recourse. #whydisabledpeopledropout— Pamela Hope (@PamelaHope3) April 23, 2019
#WhyDisabledPeopleDropout "But your grades are too low." My grades are a number. The value of my life and education should not be calculated in GPAs. I try, against all odds, yet in the end I am still just a number.— Galey (@miss_galey) April 23, 2019
#WhyDisabledPeopleDropout what people don’t get is that for many of us with disability... it’s not one experience leading to dropout, there’s a whole accumulation of internalised comments, belittling, low expectation & discriminatory behaviour in education which goes way back.— Ellen Fraser-Barbour (@ellenffb) April 25, 2019
For a large number of people, the issue boils down to how difficult it is to access disability accommodations.
“Disability is unique to every individual, diagnosed or not, visible or invisible you are valid and deserve the same rights to education as everyone else,” Marshall said. “Video content should have closed captioning. If your building isn’t wheelchair accessible, your institution has failed. Disabilities can visible or invisible, neither are cause for harassment or accusations.”
I dropped out of college 2x & eventually switched to a totally different field. There were lots of reasons for this, but disability accommodations being hard to come by was a major factor. Really feeling these #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout tweets.— Josh Guberman (@josh_guberman) April 23, 2019
#WhyDisabledPeopleDropout Because sometimes mainstream education is just not for us. But there are little to no alternatives and often we are simply expected to attend anyway.— Galey (@miss_galey) April 23, 2019
Because campus housing isnt accessible. #whydisabledpeopledropout— Liz (@Lizbeth_City) April 23, 2019
Because It takes three doctors visits meaning three copays I don’t have to get the right letters to be considered for accomadations #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout— Emeric Davis (@DavisEmeric) April 23, 2019
For my new master programme starting this autmn, I don’t have an interpreter. They refused it because I already have another master degree (with which I can’t find a job!). I already have nightmares because of this. #WhyDisabledPeopleDropOut— Master-Mandarine (@ProEiszeitDeaf) April 23, 2019
In the Twitter conversation, some also said they spend so much time navigating administrative loopholes, it takes away from their time dedicated to studying. In 2017, HuffPost reported high schools often don’t teach disabled students how to manage their time or self-advocate once they’re in college. The report claims about one-third of students with disabilities who enroll in a four-year college program graduate in eight years—not because there is a lack in the skill or knowledge on the part of students, but because there is a lack of access and continued support.
Beyond school, the challenges are transferred to a professional setting as well, whether because of the lack of disability accommodations in the workplace or simply not getting hired because of their disability.
Because they'll tell you all about their Disabled alumni but won't talk about how they don't get jobs. #whydisabledpeopledropout— Liz (@Lizbeth_City) April 23, 2019
Because the hiring staff won't hire disabled ppl or view successful disabled people as role models to the next generation of disabled students. #whydisabledpeopledropout— Pamela Hope (@PamelaHope3) April 23, 2019
Because they're discouraged from even thinking about applying, and not given the tools abled students receive in the application and transition process. #whydisabledpeopledropout— Pamela Hope (@PamelaHope3) April 23, 2019
I quit on my first internship when I went to meet with the lady I would be working with and she told me that "she hoped she would cope with me because disabled people are difficult".First interaction, mind you.Profiled & demotivated I quit after a few #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout— Wanja (@wanjaah) April 24, 2019
And disability is written out of the histories of historical figures, authors, artists, etc. #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout— Pamela Hope (@PamelaHope3) April 23, 2019
While the hashtag points out these challenges, some are also sharing their successes.
But I'm telling you, today I'm fucking proud I made it through 11 years of school, dealing with these kind of remarks EVERY DAY. #WhyDisabledPeopleDropOut— Tired snowflake (@Itsstillsnowing) April 23, 2019
Just heard about the #WhyDisabledPeopleDropout hashtag -- it is brilliant, necessary, devastating and important. 75% of my work in a phd program is on access. #WhyDontIDropOut is a daily question. The answer is usually other #DisabledStudents. https://t.co/SFE3XUqYP3— Katie Savin (@KSavin) April 23, 2019
Many in their messages ask academia to take note of their concerns, and Marshall said she herself has learned a lot about disability accommodations (or lack thereof) from the community through the hashtag.
“There are very real physical barriers that prevent students from simply being able to attend classes and a huge lack of support on college campuses, particularly for students with mobility aids,” she said. “It’s 2019, educational buildings should have a working elevator. The treatment of mental and learning disabilities is also quite appalling. Invisible disabilities exist and are valid.”
Once again, the disabled community is taking the time to teach the world how to make it accessible and better for them.
“Disabled people deserve access to education,” added Marshall. “I am determined to keep pursuing my education in hopes to change [society’s] misconceptions and create authentic representations of what intersectional deaf and disabled people experience in this world and I hope to continue advocating for accessibility wherever I continue my education.”
Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque