Growing up, all I ever heard was, “College is the best four years of your life! I bet you can’t wait for it!” I grew up in a rich area of Long Island, where your success was measured on where you went to school, how rich your family was and what job you had after college. My path was different. I’m learning disabled, so school wasn’t the easiest for me. I was born four months premature and because of my prematurity, I had a couple of complications. I have short term memory loss (like Dory from Finding Nemo) and my brain takes longer to process information than the nondisabled person. I also struggle with fine motor issues, so learning how to tie my shoes and buttoning buttons was hard for me. In Elementary School, I was in speech and was in Occupational Therapy for my fine motor skill issues. I was mainstreamed in all of my classes. I was doing poorly in math in middle school and struggled with adjusting academically. So, I was put in the Resource Room program, a class that only students with disabilities could take to get extra help on homework and tests.
I spent most of my middle school and high school years fighting for teachers to believe in me.
I asked questions in class, went for extra help, and did my homework. For some students with learning disabilities, they could take a foreign language, but I couldn’t. I always felt jealous of my friends talking about their Spanish and French classes, when I wasn’t allowed to take a language because I had a waiver. Some of my accommodations growing up were extra time on tests (time and a half), taking tests in a separate location, having questions read and I would type my essays on a computer instead of handwriting them. Although I was sort of excited for college, I was anxious about how accommodations worked in college. I was part of the first class of a new BFA Musical Theatre program; my first semester of college was that first program’s semester of college too. I knew that I would have to go to the Disability Center and make an appointment to show them my Individual Education Program (a document tracks your progress as a disabled student) and what accommodations the Disability Center was granting me. Getting accommodations can mean a myriad of different things. It was the first time that teachers didn’t just know me, that I had to self-advocate for myself as a disabled student. I was granted extra time on my tests and I did take them in a separate location. I was really unhappy and I felt in my gut that I had to leave knowing I wasn’t in the right place for me. I was embarrassed about transferring because I wanted to show people (peers, teachers who didn’t believe in me, etc.) that I was capable of living on my own. I had worked so hard to get into college to get into a BFA program and I was leaving a program I worked so hard to get into in the first place?! I transferred to a huge community college, where I just took liberal arts classes. I decided to take liberal arts classes so that I could get all the requirements done, so I could finish whenever I would last go to undergrad faster. This was the first time that people didn’t already have a set thought pattern about me and while it put me at ease. I was taking the maximum amount of credits to graduate faster. I ended up getting a BA degree, instead of a BFA. I went to three schools in four years and transferred colleges twice. I believe college can be a great learning ground to learn about yourself and career interests, but I don’t believe it’s the best four years of your life. I am relieved not to be in school anymore and not having to worry about my grades. In a lot of ways, I felt held back by the school and I’m grateful that I don’t have to worry about it anymore. Our society needs to realize that the disabled community is ready and wants to work. Just because someone’s brain works differently or that they use a mobility device doesn’t mean that they are incapable. By law because of the American With Disability Act (ADA), jobs and employers must be willing to make accommodations if you self identify as disabled. I have learned to self-advocate for myself in the various jobs I had before COVID19 (temping, Brand Ambassador, Ushering, etc.). It feels scary and can make me anxious sometimes, but I know that I’m better off self-advocating for myself, so I don’t hurt myself or other people. As Captain Holt on Brooklyn 99 once said, “Every time someone steps up and says who they are the world becomes a better, more interesting place.” Instead of hearing “College is the best four years of your life.” I wish I heard more that college is only a chapter of your life and you can determine your future, no matter what school you go to.
Ariel Kurtz is a performer and writer based in New York City. Her poem "Seasonal Depression: Opening Night" has been featured in Royal Rose Magazine and "Without A Dad" in Unread Magazine. She is passionate about sharing work about nontraditional families, mental health, disability and love. If you would like to learn more about her, visit www.ArielKurtz.com or follow her on Instagram/Twitter @ArielKurtz13. (She/Hers/Her).