Disabled Students Association club members overcome adversity on campus

by Mar 3, 2013 11:39 am

James MacKay knows what it’s like to persevere through adversity. As a student with Tourette Syndrome and president of the Disabled Students Association, he thrives on campus.

“I was in (a child development) class and (the teacher) questioned my ability to take care of children because they thought with my Tourette’s, or my tics, it would be harmful to children,” said MacKay, a junior history major.

According to MacKay, the professor called the Disability Resource Center and asked him to transfer to another class.

The center contacted MacKay and gave him the choice to fight to stay in the class or to transfer out of the class.

“I chose to fight to stay in simply because when you have a disability, you know your own abilities. And what the Disabled Resource Center teaches us is to provide for ourselves, and a lot of times students have to do that,” he said.

After being observed for two weeks, he proved that he could take care of the children, MacKay said.

According to Mackay, at the end of the class, he passed with a B and the professor told him it was a pleasure to have him in his class.

Mackay said he can control his tics for about two hours because he has been training himself not to do it.

“It’s like a water tank that fills up in the rain. Eventually that tank is going to fill up and you can let it out in a flow, or you can let it out in a torrent," he said.  "It just depends on how you want to let it out. So the water comes out, and it eventually has to come out. It’s all up to you how you want to let it out. Stress is a major factor.”

He practices breathing and stress exercises and martial arts to alleviate tics, he said.

According to Mackay, he would focus on breathing before going into the class and tics were never an issue.

 He said that taking care of kids is therapeutic for him.

“The only reason why I talk about it is because it’s the only situation I feel comfortable talking about with other students because it’s a point of education. I don’t say it because I’m angry or because I hold it against them,” he said. “It’s not that he was a bad instructor. He was just trying to do what he thought was right.”

Oliver Deeley, a senior management information systems major and treasurer of the Disabled Students Association said he has also had a few issues dealing with his disability in an academic setting.

According to Deeley, the most recent misunderstanding happened in one of his management information systems classes.

“I was listening to a lecture and I kind of got sidetracked with some issues on my computer. My professor chewed me out,” he said.

Deeley said the professor asked to speak to him after class and he explained that he has Asperger Syndrome and defiance is part of his disability.

“I can get concepts very easily. People with Asperger are what we call ‘little professors.' They tend to understand concepts, pick things up very easily, but at the same time they’re shy and very quiet sometimes. One of my greatest weaknesses is I get sidetracked very easily,” he said. “I tend to be good at mathematics and good at science. I know a lot of facts about history.”

According to Deeley, the incident was more of a misunderstanding and the professor was very understanding.

Another setback happened for Deeley when he failed Writing Competencies through Genres, a substitute class for the Writing Skills Test, twice, he said.

According to Deeley, he had only two chances to pass the class.

“I had been down before, but not like this. I refused to come out of my room for almost a week. It was hard,” he said.

Deeley said he had a hard time passing the class because he is defiant and likes to figure things out on his own.

“I’m what you call a lone wolf,” he said.

According to Deeley, he learned to lean on the Disability Resource Center for help and that is what got him through to Composition 1  by letting him take the course again.

“If you seek every tool that you can find, it will take you a lot further in life. It will take some of the pain off your shoulders, make things easier. You don’t have to do things alone," said Deeley.  "There are others that will help you, kind of guide you through what you need to do.”

According to MacKay, the pair put what they’ve learned from these experiences into the Disabled Students Association.

Club member Kelli Lee said she has been a member of the Disabled Students Association for a while, but has not been to the meetings. She said she joined to meet more people and is starting to get back into it.

“I’m a big advocate of disabilities on and off campus,” she said. “I want to spread disability awareness on campus.”

The campus should be inclusive to people with disabilities, according to Lee.

“There are many organizations on campus, but not many disability organizations, even though there are many disabled students,” she said.

According to MacKay, the Disability Resource Center provides support and services for 1,200 disabled students and campus employees.

MacKay said both disabled and non-disabled students attend the club meetings.

The club tries to cater to all students who come to the meetings by making sure everyone feels comfortable asking questions and sharing anything, he said.

“We welcome anyone who walks through our doors,” he said.

According to MacKay, there are officially 15 members in the club, but only a few attend the meetings.

“When there’s a problem, we teach you to be your own advocate. And the Disability Resource Center does provide training for that, to teach us how to help ourselves,” said MacKay.

But when an issue arises with a faculty member or professor, they are basically on their own, he said.

According to MacKay, the Disabled Students Association provides info to help students with these issues.

“There’s a lot of ignorance on campus simply because people don’t know or there’s the shock factor," he said. "They don’t know how to handle it simply because they don’t have the training.”



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