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College and Chronic Illness: Talking to your Professors

Another title for this post could be learn from my mistakes. My freshman year I did not inform my professors of my chronic illnesses until I am in the ER and could not make the deadline for two papers or to the respective classes the next day my first semester. Thankfully those professors were very understanding. You would think I would have learned but second semester I waited as well and found myself on the bathroom ground working on a final when I should have been in the ER because that professor was considerably less understanding although maybe she would have been had I mentioned something before that night. Anyway back to the topic at hand.

From my first ER trip in college, too bad it was far from my last...
First off as I mentioned in my previous post make sure you go to your campus disability office with a letter from your doctor explaining your symptoms and/or illness, what accommodations you need (my school asked if I need anything not on the list so it may have not been necessary but better to be over prepared than under), and make sure it is on official letterhead. Then they should be able to set you up with an adviser and put your accommodations into place.

Next the week before your classes start contact your professors by email. My school as an online portal for anyone registered with the office of disabilities that I can use to send a letter informing my professors of my accommodations. I can even customize the letter since I don't think my professors need to be aware my housing must have a kitchen and a private bathroom. Once they read the letter the system also sends me a notification to let me know.

Then I like to talk to my professors right after the first class. However one reason I do it so soon is I am typically connected to pumps that have a tendency to beep at the least convenient times, but I would say you should approach your professors within the first week or two of the semester. Depending on how much time you need to discuss your accommodations you may want to just do talk right after class or set up a time for you to talk during business hours.

Tips for the actual talk- first off remember you only have to share what you want to. The professors do not need to know why you have accommodations. I am a pretty open person coupled with the fact I actually have tubes coming out of me I have found it easier to give simple explanations of my medical condition but it you don't feel comfortable doing that do not feel that you have to or should. I like to point out which accommodations I am most likely to actually you (,my adviser set me up with a couple I probably will never need but said it was easier to start with them then add them later). I then reassure the professor I do my best not to use my accommodations and if I am out (one of my accommodations is to have more absences than generally allowed) I will contact a fellow classmate.

As a follow up I do try not to use my accommodations unless I absolutely have to and then I try to be as proactive and responsible as possible. I stay in constant contact with my professors, if I miss class I email them (in advance if possible), if I start to flare up a few days before an assignment is due even if I think I can make it in time I email a warning that I may need an extension. Once a few professors know you will not take advantage of your accommodations word will travel. Chances are you will encounter difficult professors once in a while but it helps when you have a department of professors or two that know you and can attest to you as a good student.

If any readers have any questions or their own tips please comment!

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