Tips for the Transition to Post-Secondary School for Disabled Students

news image

Lexi Tokhi shares her tips for disabled students entering post-secondary school (college or university), including having a strong support system, advocating for yourself, finding balance and keeping an open mind.

The transition from high school to post-secondary education is a significant one that helps you develop into the person you want to become and attain the goals you have for yourself and your future. Despite the low number of persons with disabilities in higher education, it is undoubtedly attainable, if you keep in mind factors like having a strong support system, advocating for yourself, finding a balance, and remaining open-minded.

Here are some tips for how I made the transition from secondary to post-secondary education as a disabled person.

1.    Build a strong support system

When making the journey to post-secondary education, having a strong support network is both a great advantage and a necessity. Since I'm the first person in my family to go to college, my family wasn't sure how to help me with the application process. They found other methods to help me, like going on tours with me and giving me the self-assurance to select a program I would enjoy and be successful in. My occupational therapist was also involved in the process, and she went to meetings with the attendant care and accessibility counsellors at my university. In the beginning, I definitely struggled with navigating a new environment, but I made sure to make use of all of the resources available to me. After reaching out to Student Accessibility Services, I created a letter of accommodations that outlined all of the support I would require to excel in my classes as a disabled student with Ehlers Danlos syndrome. Additionally, I utilized attendant care services, which enabled me to live on campus and still get the support I needed when I was living at home (grooming, meal prep, housework, etc.).

2.    Advocate for yourself and give feedback

I had the chance to take part in many incredible opportunities because I was quite active at my university. I participated in freshmen week my first year and remained a frosh leader for the following two. In my third year, I’ll be levelling up to frosh captain! In addition to this, I have been a peer mentor to several students and written for HerCampus, the online journal of my university. I'll also be starting my first job as a peer mentor leader in September. Despite my extensive extracurricular involvement, there were numerous occasions when I had to rely on my self-advocacy abilities to ensure that my accessibility wasn't overlooked. Because accessibility is frequently not mentioned directly during events and orientations for clubs, it can be discouraging for disabled students since they are not sure if they can participate and have their needs met. I was hesitant applying for freshmen week in my first year because I wasn't sure that I could handle it with my disability. I was worried about making sure everything would be accessible for me. Thankfully, after I spoke up for myself, the students in charge took the time to get in touch with me and ensure that I could take part in everything I desired, keeping my accessibility needs in mind. If I hadn't taken the chance and stood up for my what I needed to participate, I would have missed out on a very enjoyable experience.

3.    Find your balance (health, academics, social life)

Finding your balance while you're a student is crucial. The post-secondary experience is very intersectional, and to really appreciate college, you must place equal importance on your studies, social life, and health. Although it may seem silly, I found it useful to include precise times in my planner. I made sure to note down all of my due dates, since otherwise, I would either over- or under- relax (typically the latter). Although it might not be effective for everyone, writing things down always helps me. As a student, you have a lot on your mind, and having to consider your health and doctor's appointments can make things much more overwhelming. If you stay on top of things, it is definitely possible to have a balanced student and medical life. Sometimes things might not work out the way you want it to, but that’s okay. The most important thing is to listen to your body. Make sure you are eating well, staying hydrated, studying hard, and making time to go on adventures and enjoying your post-secondary life with your friends.

4.    Keep an open mind

The most important lesson I learned from my own academic experience is to always have an open mind. I discovered that I frequently had to “go with the flow” of things that happened. As a disabled person who frequently needs to plan ahead and take all potential outcomes of a situation into account, this was a concept that was challenging for me to understand. Although detailed planning might be helpful, it can also prevent you from appreciating and enjoying the present. Your post-secondary education is an opportunity for you to learn from your mistakes and explore your interests. There were many moments when I felt that university wasn't for someone like me, and my health needs were pretty inconvenient at times. However, I persevered, took my time, and now I’m on track to graduate next year with honours!

The best years of my life have undoubtedly been those spent in post-secondary school. In grade 12 I had expectations for the person I would become and the things I would do during my university years. Despite my unusual situation and needs, I was nevertheless able to lead a full life as a university student and be incredibly proud of my accomplishments while living my life with a disability.

Learn more about the transition to post-secondary school and scholarship, here.

Lexi is a fourth-year student at York University studying cognitive science. She is a CTN alumna, co-chair for the CTN Family Advisory Committee (FAC), peer mentor and a disability advocate at school and in the community. She is an avid reader and loves to write (while sipping on an iced matcha latte from Starbucks).Thank you to Lexi for sharing her story with us.