Essay: My disability doesn’t make me an ‘other’

Jaggar DeMarco, a senior majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet columnist.

Media Credit: Emily Robinson | Design Assistant

Earlier this semester, I had yet another hard conversation about my disability: I had to appeal my financial aid rescission after receiving multiple “incompletes” in classes during the fall term. I wasn’t able to turn in assignments on time due to a stint in the hospital, a subsequent period of recovery and lack of availability from the “scribes” who help me write my assignments.

If less than 75 percent of credit hours are not fulfilled for two consecutive semesters, then financial aid is revoked. I received an email the week I returned to campus this spring notifying me that I lost my financial aid, despite having conversations with my professors and planning when I could finish outstanding assignments.

To explain why I couldn’t meet satisfactory academic progress, I had to fill out a form for the financial aid office. When checking boxes on the form, there was only one option that applied to what I was going through: “other.” Options like “illness” didn’t explain my life here.

The system doesn’t account for students like me who face underlying issues in completing coursework.

I know that University officials don’t mean any harm in using the word “other” on the form as a classification. But for me, it was emblematic of my entire GW career. I don’t exactly fit the mold of a student no matter where I go. More often than not, I am an “other” on campus.

I have the burden of justifying my presence at GW by explaining my disability. I face challenges that professors and students cannot understand. Over the course of my four years at GW, I’ve had so many tough conversations that it’s exhausting to think of having them again.

I’m not able to get into some academic buildings – like the townhouses on G Street – which has forced me to initiate awkward conversations with professors about why I can’t meet them there.

When a class is scheduled in a building on the opposite side of campus, I have to advocate to Disability Support Services to move that classroom to avoid the lengthy, and perhaps impossible, commute in the cold winter months. Most students schedule their classes with time in mind, but I also have to consider their location – something most students would not understand.

And when my classes are moved, professors complain about the new spaces. One of my professors complained almost every class about the shortcomings of the newly-assigned classroom. I never told any of my classmates – or even the professor – that I was the reason why we had to change locations.

And on multiple instances in class, I have had discussions with other students who say deadlines are helpful for them because they force them to accomplish their goals. For me, few things are more anxiety-inducing than impending deadlines. I feel I am always at the mercy of other people to accomplish my tasks. I can plan ahead all I want, but to a certain extent, some part of the process is always out of my control. I heavily rely on other people’s schedules to help me accomplish school work. Besides that, I don’t have control of my health, either.

Every time I have conversations with my peers like this, I find myself back at the drawing board – once again, explaining why I am here and why I need certain things other students don’t to adequately achieve my tasks.

Becoming a columnist for The Hatchet has given me a platform to write about different disability-related issues on campus. The newspaper was a place where I could hopefully reach the entire University community with a column, instead of talking to just one person at a time.

The first time I wrote for The Hatchet was about a month into my freshman year. I submitted a letter to the editor in response to a news article about Disability Support Services in which I was quoted. I introduced myself to the GW community because I felt misrepresented in the news article. I wanted Hatchet readers to hear about my experiences and let people know that despite my visible differences, I am not actually that different from other GW students – and I wanted the same freshman experience as anyone else.

That was my first time speaking publicly about what it means to be a disabled student on campus, but it clearly was not the last. However, writing columns isn’t enough to solve all the problems disabled students on campus face: People should try to understand our challenges.

It isn’t lost on me how lucky I am to even be here. I sometimes feel bad complaining about GW and higher education in general when I am weeks away from graduation. There are so many members of the disabled community that couldn’t dream of making it to graduation – let alone pursuing a five-year, dual-degree program at GW, like I am.

However, as a person who does have this privilege, I have a responsibility to speak out and represent the interests of the people who cannot be here. I need to serve as their voice within the institution, in the hopes of one day helping more disabled students participate in higher education, as well.

The physical and emotional obstacles that I have encountered at GW will likely never change – at least not any time soon. The thing that could change is awareness. My first letter to the editor, this essay in my senior year or other things as small as these can show that while the disabled community has gained a voice on campus, there are ways to show we are more than the “other” box.

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