Managing My Disabilities at Mac

November 22, 2019 | 3:30 PM
Monteirra Alexander '19, ASL & Psychology Major

Having disabilities is challenging, especially if you have a platter full of them and they’re all located on your face, causing you to have:

  • visual and hearing impairments;
  • paralysis on the left side of the face; 
  • severe lockjaw (tetanus);
  • speech impairment/impediment (difficulty to speak clearly); 
  • and trismus (spasms of jaw muscles).

The inability to open my mouth has caused many challenges by itself. One of these challenges happens when random muscle spasms occur in my head and cause more stiffness in my face. In addition, yawning can be challenging. When I yawn I have to make sure that I pause and massage my right submental lymph node, otherwise there’s more pain in my face and I’d have to walk around with my head at a weird angle. On top of all of this, eating becomes challenging because I must puree my food before I can eat it. The pureeing process can take about a half an hour just to deform the meal depending on the food’s texture. Then, I need to pour the pureed food through my mini food strainer to make sure that the stubborn bits of food particles don’t cause any problems while I eat. Lastly, communicating with others is also very challenging because it can be frustrating when people ask me to repeat myself over and over again while they’re frustrated because they can’t understand me. Along with my speech impairments, my visual and hearing impairments require me to sit in front of the person I’m communicating with, so I can see and hear them. 

With this in mind, working with my disabilities at MacMurray isn’t as challenging as it was on other campuses that I’ve been to. The workers on Mac’s campus help me find ways to manage my disabilities so that they’re a little easier to deal with. The Office of Disability Services, located in the library, helped me in receiving accommodations after I’d applied to be a student and live on campus. One of the accommodations I receive is related to my academics. It gives me the right to sit where I need to in the classroom in order to hear the professors and see the font on the PowerPoints. Also, when it’s time to take exams, with the exception to my American Sign Language (ASL) classes, I take the tests in the disability services office where I’m given extra time to complete them as well as the opportunity to think out loud. Another accommodation that I have is a special meal plan since I can’t open my mouth. With this accommodation, I’m able to go to the back of the kitchen to puree my food and I receive a nutritional drink with every meal to help maintain my weight as well as fulfill my daily nutrition goals. With my room and board accommodation, I have a single room for my blender and suction machines, so I don’t have to worry about bothering a potential roommate with the loud noises they make.   

Although these accommodations are extremely helpful, I still have to do my part in making sure that I succeed in my classes, such as studying for exams. When studying for ASL exams, I just practice the signs in front of a mirror throughout the days leading up to the test. For my psychology exams, thanks to my psychology advisor/professor, I’ve learned new techniques to make studying for psych exams easy and, dare I say, fun. One of the techniques that helps me in studying for these exams is rewriting the notes. Yes, it’s time consuming, but it helps me to understand the material more as I write and paraphrase what was on the PowerPoints. If I don’t understand the material, then I check on YouTube for visual presentations. Here are other techniques that I’ve used to ace my exams:

  1. using different colors – one color for the notes, one for underlining words in the vocabulary to simplify the meaning, and one for making shapes around a chunk of notes;
  2. draw the notes if possible;
  3. make acronyms;
  4. use a rhythm and/or a funny voice to help the material stick (I’m weird and proud of it!);
  5. take breaks between study times;
  6. avoid electronics and other distractions;
  7. set a time to stop studying for the day;
  8. quiz yourself in the morning;
  9. go to bed early the day before the exam; 
  10. keep saying, “I got this;” 
  11. and don’t sell yourself short.

Besides my exams, managing course work and having fun is a challenge, especially around midterms and finals. In order to maintain this balance, I do my assignments in pieces. For example, if I have a paper to do and I know when it’s due, then I’ll write the paper in parts. This could be as simple as typing in the sections of the paper or writing a few paragraphs a day. If I’m stressed out about an assignment then I can’t function, so I take a break and come back to it later to try again. One way that I take breaks from assignments is attending events around campus, such as concerts, Bible studies, game nights, sport games and guest speakers. Another way I relieve stress from my classes, if the weather is acceptable, is to walk around campus while listening to music.    

My time here at Mac is ending soon and I’m graduating next month, but before I finish this semester, I want to thank all of those who have helped me through my time here. Thank you, Ms. Gina Hamilton, Beth Oberg and Misty Eisfelder, for taking the time to learn about my disabilities and making sure I had the accommodations to fit them. I also want to thank Susan Hall and Dr. Shahyad Ghoncheh, my advisors, for taking the extra steps to help me in succeeding in the ASL and psychology programs. Ms. Anne Goodman, thank you for the career opportunities and experiences that you’ve given me. To my other professors and other faculty members, thank you for making me feel more comfortable as a student with disabilities. Caring for others is what being a part of the Mac Fam is all about. I’m so pleased with my choice to come here and I definitely recommend that others choose MacMurray College, too. 

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