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by Joy Cobb
I always knew that I wanted to do better than what was expected of me. I know this because of a drive that was inside me that was fueled by a fire - a burning desire to follow my dreams and not someone else's.
As a student in public school my academic performane ranged from mediocre to failing. In activities that allowed me to use my voice and express myself in other any form other than a test or exam, I excelled. My science fair project from 9th grade until 12th grade competed in the International Science and Engineering Fairs. I was a competitive Speech and Drama student. I was involved in theater. All the non-traditional areas that do not make the "Merit Scholar" or win a scholarship I did better at.
I led a life filled with the answers but had no way to get them out. Often my thoughts and ideas felt trapped. Sometimes I was so full of thoughts that needed to get out, I would blurt them out at the most inappropriate times and places. But I had a dream to go on to college and to go into a helping profession. So I had to figure it out on my own.
I have dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. I also have language processing disorders that affect my reading and writing. I have epilepsy but my seizures are controlled with medication.
For me this meant attending and failing out of three different colleges before I found the right one for me. This also meant spending 7 years trying to obtain my bachelors degree. It meant fighting with professors in order to get extra time on exams. It meant hearing over and over again how my being in their class was affecting the "academic integrity" of their course. I even had one professor make fun of me in the classroom.
All these issues had to be dealt with and I could not have done that without the help of the Disability Support Services office at my university. I had to learn to be a self-advocate but also ask for help when I needed it. I had to learn about things like the Vocational Rehabilitation Services that were available.
At the end of the seven years I had accomplished a double major from a prestigious university. I had planned to stop there. I was tired and I was ready to be done with school. But then a professor convinced me that I could get my Masters degree.
Reluctantly I went ahead and took the GRE's with accommodations and applied to graduate school. I did not get accepted. In fact, the letter I received made it very clear that I was not going to be able to succeed in this very competitive program with or without accommodations. I was devastated and I was ready to settle for what I had already. But then the same professor who encouraged me to apply reminded me that I had dreamed of being great and .."good was not enough when you dream of being great!" So I appealed the decision and I won the appeal. I was on probation the first semester, but I did fine. Three years after that I received my Masters degree.
Since my graduate degree, I have dealt with employers who were not so accommodating and others who have been great. I even had an employer stop the interview after I disclosed my disability and told him what my needs would be as far as accommodations. The rule of disclosure for an invisible disability, . do not disclose on the interview. I have learned as I went along.
Today I work in a field I love. My employer is very accommodating. I am able to tell co-workers what my needs are. And still everyday I learn a new lesson that helps me to be more assertive and knowledgeable about my needs. It has been on an educational journey and I am always learning how to learn.
About the author: Joy Cobb currently works as a project manager for MAXIMUS, Inc. on youth focused projects. As a licensed vocational rehabilitation counselor and rehabilitation provider, Joy has managed federally funded projects that provide services for disabled and at-risk youth and adults. As a private consultant, Ms. Cobb presents seminars and workshops on employment issues related to the disabled in the workplace.
She is the author of Learning How To Learn - Getting into and Surviving College When You Have a Learning Disability, now in its second edition.
Joy graduated from The George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, DC with a BA in Psychology in 1992 and received her MA from GWU in 1995 in Education and Human Development with a specialty in Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling.
For more information on Joy's work, visit www.learninghowtolearn.net
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