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College and the Shore: My college experience – review of “College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong” 

Society tends to overvalue college as a necessity. We constantly hear about student debts, tuition costs, and about getting a great degree, but in a job market that turns that degree holder into a McDonald’s employee.  Yet, for many people, college has an unique cultural identity unmatched by the outside world, with guarantees of some form of a future. Having a degree is helpful for the careers of someone with autism—one of my professors claimed to have had it, and that many of his fellow professors have it too.

A keynote speaker for the Autism At Work Summit was a Professor of Special Education at Adelphi University by the name of Stephen Shore, who worked on a book in 2015 called “College for Students with Disabilities: We Do Belong”, a series of stories of different disabled groups and individual anecdotes about how tough it can be to survive from childhood to getting to college to working, with any disability. Intellectual, physical and mental disabilities are all profiled in this book, and it was decided that I intersperse my reading of the book in chronicling my educational pathway. In order to do so, I must also give a little pre-Collegiate history….

I got proper accommodations going through my public high school, only because my parents fought for those changes to be made. When my writing became illegible, I was allowed use of a word processing machine from the Special Education Department, and my parents were allowed to pick teachers that suited me after horrible class time with a horrible teacher. I even got accommodations related to where I could eat lunch, since the cafeteria is terrible for people with autism—too much noise, too many people. I was able to take that time to study.

My requirement to go to college was to go through a transition program called Academic Success, which doesn’t exist anymore. In Shore’s book, a representative from the transition program: College Living Experience, directed by 20 year veteran Kelly Miller of The Bridges of Adelphia Program, had a chapter in the book. A transition program is meant to give students with disabilities an understanding of what people expect from you in college, while helping set up proper accommodations in case the student needs extra help in anything. While it wasn’t perfect, the program may have helped me a lot in getting used to the college life.

After I left the transition program while moving on with college, I ended up doing the accommodating more than being accommodated for. I signed up at the Student Accessibility Services Office at Florida Atlantic University to help out a fellow student with a learning disability as a note taker. The biggest lesson in reading Shore’s book was a little gesture like being a note taker is so undervalued when helping people with disabilities. We often take for granted what can help the disabled population, and some of us would prefer to take the easy route of not analyzing supports systems or not considering college in the future of a disabled person.

Would I recommend the book? We like to think of this generation of people as being the most tolerant and accepting of others, but, obviously, in these institutions of higher learning, which also seek to prove themselves as being tolerant and open to all kinds of people, sometimes this ugly nature of sneering at people’s differences and treating them as invisible can still happen. It is more than a book about college but a cultural expose and thought piece too. Compelling underdog stories of students from all walks of life who seek to show that anyone is able to go to college and plan their future in the way they seek it, overcoming adversity wherever it may be. My answer is: Yes!