Who are students with disabilities?

The connotation of the word disability for the general public is often a person who faces challenges when walking and uses a cane or wheelchair to get by; or someone who has an inconvenience physically interacting with the environment, whether it is through mobility or language. Although these are indeed defined as disabilities, they are just some of the many shapes that disabilities can take.

Therefore, describing a student who happens to have a disability does not necessarily depend on physical traits: according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, an individual with a disability is a person who has an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. This impairment might be physical or mental.

Most of us are familiar with physical disabilities, or those distinguishable through our senses, but we often disregard disabilities that are not readily apparent — the ones we can’t ‘see’. A huge range of disabilities currently recognized in today’s medical community are completely invisible and can hardly be reduced to an exhaustive definition or symptom. Chronic pain, for instance, may leave  one capable some days and absolutely crushed on others. On the other hand, epilepsy can create a seizure with no warning whatsoever. Anxiety might stop  someone from completing the simplest of tasks; and diabetes, which is often overlooked as a disability, can affect  vision and cause fatigue.

Moreover, disabilities have no set timeline. They might be permanent, meaning they are always present, such as local and generalized paralysis and dyslexia; but they also might also be chronic, which means  their symptoms repetitively ‘come and go’ with time, such as Crohn’s Disease or seizure disorders. A condition might affect a person  from birth, like genetic conditions such as hereditary hearing loss and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or might develop later with age such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Consequently, there is no one sign or symptom to define a student with a disability. A student with a disability is anyone who falls under the umbrella of having a condition that affects their ability  to interact with their internal or external environment.

The Office of Disability Services has resources on campus available for all students who experience any condition that might interfere with their development at Columbia. If you feel that you or someone you know might have a condition that qualifies as a disability, Disability Services has walk-in hours Monday through Friday with coordinators available to answer all your questions. The hours are listed in:

https://health.columbia.edu/getting-care/drop-offices/disability-services-drop-hours. If you have any questions or concerns that could not be adequately addressed otherwise, feel free to reach out to ae2502@columbia.edu.