My name is Elena. I am working toward my associate's degree in computer graphics at the community college. I have Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease causing inflammation of the tissues, which can be painful. Recently I developed repetitive strain injuries (RSI) as a result of my muscle pain and weakness and extensive computer use. I take medications that partially control the Lupus symptoms. I do not have a visible disability, so sometimes people think I am faking or unnecessarily avoiding work.
My condition varies from day to day, but I commonly have muscle pain and inflammation. Sometimes I have severe acute episodes when I cannot leave my home, drive, or work. The variability in my condition means that I don't always know in advance when I will have to miss classes or when I will be too tired to complete assignments on time. My work in computer graphics requires sitting in one position for long periods of time, using my hands, and maintaining concentration. These work demands tend to increase my pain and aggravate the condition. My numerous medical appointments also cause me to miss some classes. In the past, I have gotten behind in some courses and have had to drop a course or take an incomplete grade.
I met with the disabled student services counselor. She suggested that I consider part-time enrollment if at all possible, even though it would reduce my financial aid. The counselor suggested that I speak with each instructor before the beginning of classes each term to explain my condition and to seek their advice about any course work I could do from home, rather than in the computer lab where the graphics software is located. I spoke to my instructors and found that I might be able to do some work on my home computer with two graphics software programs. My vocational rehabilitation counselor approved agency funds for me to get a new computer and the two graphics software programs. The assistive technology specialist at the college also went with me to the computer labs I would be using for my courses to check about special technology that might help me. He arranged for the college to buy a new ergonomic chair with more adjustments, wrist rests to ease my pain, and trackballs to reduce the amount of hand movement. The college specialist in ergonomic design and training met with me to improve my posture and hand use; she also gave me instructions in simple back, arm, and leg stretching to minimize my repetitive strain injuries. After I used the ergonomic chair in the lab, I again talked with my vocational rehabilitation counselor, and his agency then purchased a similar chair for me to use at home. The disabled student services office also provided note-taking assistance in courses with substantial lecture time.
This case study illustrates the following:
- Students with disabilities can work with college staff and faculty and outside agency counselors to facilitate academic work in majors that require substantial hands-on work and when the student's disability limits her/his ability to attend all class sessions.
- Student management of the disability is a key factor in being able to complete course work and minimize unnecessary aggravation of the disabling condition.
- Short-term compromises (e.g., part-time enrollment, reduced financial aid, extended time to complete a degree) may be an effective disability management technique.
- Simple assistive devices and basic training in certain techniques can facilitate a student's persistence and success.