How self-advocacy helped me fight for my rights in college

I still remember the classroom’s stunned silence that followed his words: “You’re a liar.”

My trigonometry professor was refusing once again to provide accommodations for my math learning disability. He didn’t believe I needed things like double time on tests. I had tried explaining to him what dyscalculia was, how it affected me, and how accommodations help me learn and succeed. But still he refused.

In his view, what I needed was much simpler: “You just have to be positive and change your attitude about math.”

His disregard for my dyscalculia brought back all the negativity I had felt about myself, all that I had worked so hard to change. I had cried so many tears, struggled for years, powered through countless many hours of tutoring, and had finally believed in myself enough to take college-level math courses. And then this happened.

I had just completed my first year at Arizona State University (ASU). I enrolled in two summer math courses at a community college: Algebra and trigonometry. I needed to pass these classes so I could take statistics in the fall as part of my psychology major at ASU.

While algebra was going well, I was hitting a brick wall with my trigonometry professor. A conversation with him about his failure to provide accommodations for a quiz is what led to him calling me a liar in front of my classmates.

But I refused to give up. All throughout high school I had been encouraged to become a self-advocate. 

I was encouraged to be involved in my IEP meetings, to know my strengths and weaknesses and to stand up for my right to an equal and productive education.

So, with the help of my special education teacher, I signed up at the ASU Disability Resource Center (DRC). This turned out to be one of my favorite places on campus because of the strong sense of community I felt with the other students there.

The disability services and accommodations had been very helpful my freshman year at ASU. I felt prepared mentally and academically for the math courses at the community college. My tutors and mentors were ready to help me, and ASU had sent paperwork to the community college to ensure I would receive disability services there as well.

When the trigonometry professor refused to accommodate me, I reached out to the community college’s disability services office. I also talked to the dean of students. I looked for and found the people at the school who were empowered and prepared to step in when issues like this arise. And the end result is that the professor had to take a Disability 101 course.

I ended up doing well in the class. But my experience made me think about how many students might go through a situation like the one I went through but don’t have the support I did. So many students don’t even know there are disability services.

The experience helped me become even more proactive. When I started taking statistics this fall at ASU, I gave my professor and teaching assistant a dyscalculia info sheet that I had made. I told them how well I wanted to do and how dedicated I would be, and they were so helpful and understanding.

Now midway through my second year at ASU, I feel resilient. But I know what it’s like to feel broken and to feel diminished by someone who is supposed to support you. I also feel a sense of accomplishment that I learned to stand up for my rights and for my education no matter the challenge or the situation.


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