Some of the most extraordinary college graduates I have known have come with some extraordinary challenges and special needs.
They have come to campus in wheelchairs, with seeing eye dogs and with signing partners.
When I say extraordinary I graduates am not just saying that their particular physical challenge made them so, I mean that they were award-winning, top grade producing, kick-ass students.
Having dealt, sometimes for a lifetime with a physical or special needs learning disability has seemed to have strengthened their resolve.
There was the mother who went back to school after her kids were in high school despite the fact that she was both blind and widowed.
Life had hit her hard. But she was determined. She graduated from college with top honors in math and has gone on to graduate school to become a teacher. There is the Dean who had a stellar academic career though he too was blind.
There is the young woman cheerily wending her way to her science lab in her wheelchair. There is the junior who despite the autoimmune disease known as Lupus goes to Italy for a semester.
There is the special needs student who takes top science honors along with her team of signers who help her overcome her deafness.
These are all physical special needs and countless more struggle with special needs challenges in the learning, reading and speech and language areas.
Thanks to the American’s for Disabilities Act colleges are fitted out with resources to assure that those with permanent disabilities and those who just have a short term issue resulting from an illness or accident, all have the chance to go to classes, navigate the campus, engage in activities and generally have a full college life.
What is important is that these special needs students take advantage of all there is to offer.
If you are one of these students, first find the office or offices that can help.
They may have different names on different campuses but an adviser will know. It may be taking a test to see if there is a learning disability impeding your academic progress.
In that case, you can get a special needs validation which means getting more time to take a test or permission to type papers or exams in class when dyslexia is at hand.
There are computers that can read text and recite the text out loud to the special needs visually challenged students. The campus must provide some level of signing support for those who need it during lectures.
Ramps and low curbs and other forms of access are mandated by the law for those with special needs. The infirmary may have to keep your particular meds around and know how to treat emergencies with a chronic illness. The support is there.
What can be hardest for those with special needs is feeling different.
The special needs folks I mentioned above all have an attitude that is golden for all of us.
They simply do not seem to worry about what others think.
They exude a quiet confidence that suggests that someone has loved them very much.
In the process they have learned to love themselves.
They have learned that learning is something they can do as well as if not better than other folks.
And, these special needs students go for it.
Unlike many, if not most, students, special needs students know they need help to get through life and so they do not hesitate to ask for it in any aspect of the college experience.
Thus they may succeed because they can reach out where others would not.
Dr. Cantarella is the author of I CAN Finish College: The Overcome Any Obstacle and Get Your Degree Guide She is also and a consultant on higher education, access, success and how to get help in college for special needs.