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Accessibility Reflection

Alyssa Schoenfeld

Accessibility Reflection

Dear my education, and, my brain,


As E.E. Cummings says, “To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing it’s best to make you somebody else is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight. Never stop fighting” (Editors, 2019). I’ll admit, I have a good life with two parents who love me and a pesky little brother who does his job at sufficiently irritating me, and the most amazing black lab named Brady who loves me unconditionally, even when I am less than perfect. However, that’s not to say that my life has been easy. Each of us has OUR story to tell, and I’d like to implore you, my education, to remember that not all students are created equal and that my disability does NOT define me. Nor do OUR disabilities define US. WE are more than a label and my education should not be compromised because I have a learning disability.

“Access to education for all Americans has been on the national agenda for 70 years, since President Harry S. Truman’s 1947 Commission on Higher Education for Democracy. The commission identified five barriers to access: income, race, religion, geography and gender” (Levine, 2017). While I commend President Truman for bringing educational access disparities to light, I find myself concerned with the lack of equal educational access for those with disabilities. While I believe that the Commission’s definition of access is essential, I feel the meaning of accessibility has changed. In fact, “people with disabilities constitute our nation’s largest minority group” (Snow, 2005, p. 1). For the purpose of this letter, I’m exploring learning disabilities, some of which include, but are not limited to: attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, traumatic brain injuries, hearing disabilities, and autism spectrum disorder. Students with disabilities often aren’t able to obtain the education they need due to lack of funding and adaptive curricula which bars them from equal access to education.

Dear my education, my fellow college peers who also are living with disabilities face experiences and dilemmas so complex they force us to consider dropping out for fear that we are failing. While “neurotypical” kids in college may feel the urge to drop out because of failing a class or getting a bad grade on an exam, the same feelings are amplified for those of us with disabilities. One way to address this issue is to educate professors, instructors, mentors, and other college professionals on what motivates each student with a disability. For me, my motivator is my end goal of becoming a doctor and while I’ve heard countless times that won’t happen for me, my motivation is my desire to succeed and prove it to myself. To become successful in a college environment however, a student with disabilities needs motivation, coping skills, and support. If you, education, were to encourage rather than break down those who have learning or intellectual disabilities, the result would be overwhelming and resoundingly successful. Physically and emotionally, students with disabilities are at a disadvantage in the world of education. For students using wheelchairs, the lack of ramps is a significant issue that physically prevents one from obtaining education in physical classrooms. Some universities are also not equipped with the proper medical services such as an interpreter for those who need sign language, which also affects the ability of students to obtain the education they are entitled to.

Oh, education, I almost forgot to mention that if I, as a student with a learning disability, have difficulty taking notes face-to-face, or need clarification on a previous lecture, or need more time on an exam, and ask for help, I have been told to “suck it up” and figure out something that works because I’m on my own in college. Instead, WE need to ask what we can do to help each other collectively and contribute to the success of each other. Instead of characterizing those with disabilities as dumb, incapable, and inferior. WE need to shift OUR thinking towards “people first language”, which “isn’t about being ‘politically correct’. It is instead, about good manners and respect…” (Snow, 2005, p. 4).

Dear my education and my brain, I have ADD. For the vast majority of my life, I refused to admit I was different. I refused to think that school was difficult for me because I have a learning disability. As a student in elementary school, I often found myself having trouble focusing in class, especially on something I wasn’t passionate about. I found myself finishing my work quickly in class, but spending hours at home doing homework. Then, I think I finally realized, maybe accepted, that something about me was different when I started getting report cards. Sure, my grades were “exceeds expectations” or “exemplary”, my teachers exclaiming I was gifted, full of potential. Then, the comment section, glaring at the bottom of the page read: “Alyssa is a joy to have in class, she’s constantly trying to learn new things, and she has great potential, but she talks a lot and often has to be reminded to stay on task”. I think my parents knew I had a learning disability long before the comments on my report cards, but this was my first real glimpse seeing myself through the eyes of someone else who saw me as “smart but distracted”.

Part of having attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder ADHD/ADD is that I often can’t focus, even when I try extremely hard. In addition to my inattentive, distractedness, I found myself spending copious amounts of time on homework. Sure, I got the right answers and I could do all my times tables in first grade, but I didn’t realize that doing my math problems or writing an assignment for school took me hours, which took my peers a matter of thirty minutes. I still felt that I was successful and didn’t feel the need to do anything differently. While many of us experience “symptoms” of ADHD/ADD, like inability to focus, my diagnosis of ADD makes a lack of focus much more severe, my sense of time is warped (when I feel like I’ve spent an hour on something it’s really been three), I can’t sit still which can be distracting to myself and my peers, I talk excessively (my parents remind me of this constantly), and it’s difficult to shut my brain off enough to regulate my sleep. In a TED Talk called “This is what it’s really like to live with ADHD” by Jessica McCabe, 2017, ADHD is like “your brain keeps switching between 30 different channels and someone else has the remote” (10:30).

Then, I made the transition from middle school to high school and my struggles became greater, my time spent doing homework only increased, and I wasn’t about to take myself out of my college classes either. That’s when, with the help of my family, I made the decision to take medication for my learning disability. At first, I felt scared and anxious because I didn’t know how my medication would help or how other people would look at me. In all honesty, I felt like my peers and teachers might just think I “had some trouble focusing” and in reality, I went and got a prescription when I didn’t need it. When I felt like that, I had to remind myself of the multiple hours I spent doing homework that took my friends one hour. I reminded myself that my disability is real and that I learn differently but that doesn’t mean I’m not capable. So many times in my life, I’ve been told that I have ADD which means I can’t be a doctor and for a long time, I believed that. I believed because of my disability somehow, I was lesser and not entitled to education, medical school, and a successful life simply because of my diagnosis. Instead of looking at my diagnosis of one of exclusion, I view it as a diagnosis of inclusion because I have learned so much about myself as a person and student, but I feel my experiences have made me more compassionate and empathetic towards those who also have disabilities. While it feels strange to say that I am part of a minority, it has allowed me to see the need for change and adaptation.

Thus, I wish not to critique the education system, but implore change, and support those with all kinds of disabilities be it physical or mental, in their educational pursuits. I wish to inspire those around me to tell the story of WE and how WE can lift each other up. I ask my audience to consider the value of helping those with disabilities in their quest for knowledge. Just because I have ADD, that does not mean I can’t learn and that I won’t be successful. I graduated in the top 10 students of my glass with a 4.1 GPA, it just took more work, sweat, and tears. My name is Alyssa Schoenfeld, I’m turning nineteen years old in March, I have a second degree black belt in taekwondo, I had my own cupcake catering business, I love football, I love the color blue, I want to become a surgeon, and, yes, I have ADD. So, dear my education, let me be ME. Let US be US, because our diagnoses do not define us.





















Editors, A. (2019, November 21). Your day is getting better – starting now. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

Levine, A. (2017, November 6). Inside higher ed. Retrieved February 25, 2021, from

McCabe, J. (2017). This is what it’s really like to live with adhd. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from

Snow, K. (2005). People first language.