Super Crip Syndrome and #BackToSchoolWhileDisabled

I want to tell you a story. I have spent a majority of my life dreaming of the future—dreaming of college and all of the things I would do there. As a kid living in New York City, I would spend some of my free time going on college tours around the city. I had an entire library of college brochures and course catalogues in my bedroom. I was eleven, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. I knew everything I wanted to be. I was going to be a trial attorney (probably too much time spent watching Law and Order or reading Mary Higgins Clark books). I had even successfully lobbied my parents to let me go to law camp for the summer (yes, I was THAT nerd).

I graduated from high school as a strong student and headed to college with my plan intact. I was so excited. I was geared up, I had read all of the necessary materials and couldn’t wait to start.

I wasn’t prepared for how difficult school was for me. I worked hard, but couldn’t seem to land the same grades that came easily to me in high school. I began to spiral mentally, but couldn’t bring myself to ask for help. I couldn’t let people see me falter or fail. Too many people believed my life story to be their inspiration. I couldn’t afford to be less than that. I was even awarded to that affect at my high school graduation.

High school aged Imani in a white cap and gown walking down the aisle towards her seat.

My depression spiraled to the point where I decided to drop out shortly after my first year, I had been snowed into my room for nearly two months during the blizzards in 2009 and my professors couldn’t understand that I couldn’t walk through ice on crutches. I was privileged enough to have family come and get me, I couldn’t bring myself to reach out for help. After all, I was the inspiration.

I spent about 6 months out of school before returning. I (at the behest of family) sought therapy and wound up graduating with my bachelors in 2013 and (as many of you know) my Masters (in Paris!) this year.

I tell you this story, because I don’t want any of the people that follow this blog, or my twitter feed, to think that the strength in my voice now, never wavered or went without needing to be nourished. I grew up believing that my successes were only meant to feed the lives of the people around me, but that notion nearly killed me.

College is, for many, the first time students are without the direct supervision of their parents, but for disabled students, the responsibility thrust upon one’s shoulders is compounded. Disabled students are confronted with the need to advocate for ourselves in every single aspect of our lives which can be overwhelming.

If you’re scared that this pressure may get to you, I want to let you know that you deserve the ability to be vulnerable. You are deserving of the help you need no matter how it might look to anyone. Society has a habit of making disabled people the beacons of hope and possibility for a world that constantly makes us jump through hoops just to access public spaces, but you owe no one your successes who cannot tolerate your vulnerability and humanity. Your goals and dreams should be your own to fulfill and not carry the weight of an ableist world. I smiled and grinned my way through thirteen years of schooling because I believed that that was the only thing I was of use for. People rarely asked me about my bad days unless there was physical evidence.

I hope that in writing this, you come to the conclusion sooner than I did that you are in pursuit of you goals for you and what you want to accomplish in this world, not because people need you to be a hope trophy. You’re in school to reach the star with your name on it, not so everyone can stop and stare on your way there.

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  1. This is a very well written article. I agree with what you said about asking for help and the extra pressures placed on disabled students to go above and beyond the able bodied students. I wrote a film called “A Stroke Of Endurance” about college experiences of disabled students and disabled professors that covers similar issues available online for free here Open captioning and audio description for the film is here in case you are interested.

  2. I became disabled as an adult, which is not easy, but the situation you describe sounds completely overwhelming. People, in general, seem to want to be helpful, but sometimes, it’s more for them than it is for us. I can’t help but think that on some level, they’re so glad they aren’t me, that “helping” me makes them feel good. College years are so challenging. I’m surprised there wasn’t someone in regular contact with you when you started. There should have been, in my opinion. Colleges are required to provide certain services to you and others with disabilities. But the ADA was supposed to make sure businesses were accessible, and THAT didn’t happen, either. Thanks for your piece. We still have so far to go. I’m glad your family helped you & you’ve achieved so much.

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