The Payoffs of Perseverence

In Features, Letters To The Editor, We Hear Ya! by Our Readers

Although it’s easy to say that an important principle in life is one of perseverence, it’s a little harder to live by that principle when we’re faced with obstacles in our everyday lives.

Suddenly we have guilt to grapple with: guilt for not being like everyone else, guilt for causing trouble, guilt for having “special needs.”

I found myself unexpectedly put into that position when I signed up for the summer session at my university so I could earn the last 6 credits I needed to graduate without having to come back in the fall.

It was the first time I’d be attending school in a wheelchair, and I had no idea how many times I’d have to forcefully put giving up out of my mind.

The university has a department called the Office for Students with Disabilities. Among other things, they have 3 golf carts at their disposal to transport disabled students across the very large and uneven campus as needed. The university sits on 1,200 acres of hills and gulleys, making a walk from one class to another more like an all-terrain hike.

Since all city buses in San Diego are equipped with lifts for wheelchairs, I figured I could take the bus to school and then ask the disability office to take me from the bus stop to my class – about half a mile away and up a very steep hill.
Naturally, it wasn’t going to be that easy.

I first had to go into the disability office to fill out three long forms, then give them my doctor’s number so they could have him verify all my information.

After eight days of continuously calling both my doctor’s office and the disability office to get the forms faxed and faxed back, the disability office then contacted me to tell me that they didn’t have the funding to operate the golf carts during the summer, so they had no way of getting me to class.

I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t told me this earlier, when they knew that was the only thing I needed from them. I was shuffled around from department to department within the transportation division, with everyone always telling me that they either weren’t equipped to handle a wheelchair or didn’t have any funding during the summer.

Someone went so far as to tell me that I should just “book it,” as if that had ever even been an option.

Meanwhile, classes had started, and I was not letting this session slip out of my grasp, so I was taking a taxi to and from class everyday. Although I lived relatively close to campus, it was still not an ideal solution, and I refused to accept that I was going to have to shell out $30 daily for five weeks — on top of the tuition I was already paying.

I sent messages to the dean of the college, and refused to drop the issue with the disability office. I threatened to go public with the fact that in this day and age, this major university was still not equipped to handle disabled students. I threatened to sue. I threatened to show up at the administration office and not leave until they gave me a solution.

When the taxi driver one morning told me that the school “didn’t owe me anything,” I refused to let doubts even enter my head. I had the right, just like any other student, to go to school. I was paying tuition, just like everyone else.

Unfortunately I couldn’t walk to class like many students, but I didn’t think it was right that the school would just allow me to miss out on my courses because I needed a wheelchair to get around. I put feelings of guilt out of my mind and focused on what I was trying to achieve.

After two weeks of constant calls and emails, the disability office miraculously found someone who could drive a golf cart to take me between the bus stop and my classrooms. From then on, everything went off without a hitch. To this day, I’m not sure if what they did was against some rule somewhere, and what exactly it was that made them finally decide to accommodate me… but I do know that I have my hard-earned degree.

It’s easy to feel like I’m asking too much and causing trouble. It’s easy to drop an issue because it seems like it’s all more trouble than it’s worth. But I honestly believe that I had a right to attend my classes, and if I needed assistance from the school to do that, that they had some obligation to provide that assistance.

I consider that summer session to be a battle that I fought hard to win, and a very real payoff from perseverence.

Kira Lee

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