Over the past few months in anticipation for the launch of Making Minds Handicap Accessible: The Classroom Experience, we at Handicap This Productions have remained focus on providing content beneficial to high school students and teachers. Well most high school students eventually become college students.
To address this challenging transition we welcome guest blogger Devin Axtman. In addition to his personal experiences with cerebral palsy Devin works as a GA for the University of North Texas’ Office of Disability Accommodation.
Life is full of transitions. A transition could be moving to a new place, graduating high school, or going to college and living independently. Transitions are tough and they can be especially tough if you experience impacts from your disability. So how do you find inclusion during the various transitions in your life? I have some tips. Be yourself, rely on your existing supports, and seek out new supports.
I have had numerous transitions throughout my life. I am currently in the middle of one as I am finishing grad school and progressing towards my first fulltime job. However, by far my biggest transition has been moving from my hometown in North Dakota to a large suburb. My first high school had nearly as many people studying and working as my hometown’s population.
As a “new kid,” I thought I had to dress and be like everyone else while downplaying my disability. I use a wheelchair, but I was determined to not be known as the “kid in the wheelchair.” Everyone in my hometown knew me and accepted my disability. I didn’t think people would accept my cerebral palsy in a bigger town.
However, I quickly realized that people knew I was trying too hard and true friends did not care about my disability. I decided to be myself and emphasize my disability by making “cripple jokes.” I was no longer the “kid in the wheelchair.” I was Devin. Not everyone has accepted my expression of my disability, but I am much happier. To find true inclusion I pursued my passions and personality.
Of course having a support system helped. I feel it is easy to forget about your existing supports when you are going through a transition that forces you to break through your comfort zone. I relied a lot on my family when we moved to Texas. Your existing supports have been there and know you better than anyone else. It is critical that you use them.
Finally, it is critical that you seek out supports that can help you find inclusion while transitioning. It’s very important to seek out supports that can help you with your disability. This will obviously depend on the transition you’re in, but supports to help with your disability could include accommodations for school, centers for independent living, peer support groups, and many more. These supports can give you an empathetic place to lean on when things get difficult.
However, it is equally important to remember to seek supports that are not directly related to your disability. Some examples of those supports include teachers, friends, and organizations. I always leaned on teachers or co-workers to help my transition while I learned the ropes.
Now it can certainly be tough to make friends and meet new people while transitioning. An easy way to make friends and find inclusion is joining organizations or groups related to your hobbies and interests. I know what it’s like to be worried about someone not including you because of your disability. However, if you join a group of people who are interested in the same things you are, people probably won’t care about your disability.
The inevitable transitions that occur throughout life are definitely scary. Having a disability can make transitions even scarier. However, you can make transitions less scary. Take control as much as possible. Be yourself, rely on your existing supports, and seek out new supports.
More About Devin Axtman:
Devin Axtman is a student at the University of North Texas, studying rehabilitation counseling. In addition to his personal experiences with cerebral palsy, he has helped others transition working in the University of North Texas’ Office of Disability Accommodation. Connect with Devin on Twitter.