This article originally appeared in the HuffPost on June 29, 2017.
My family and I just returned from a two-week whirlwind tour of five colleges across four states. My oldest daughter Julia will be a high school senior in the fall so we used part of our summer vacation to visit the colleges that she is most interested in. These visits were all the more important because Julia is a person with special needs and we needed to see what accommodations each school would be able to offer. While my daughter may have physical challenges, mentally she is on par with her peers so there is no reason why she cannot attend the University of her Choice. For years, we have prepared for this moment. Along the way, there were three lessons that we used to give her the confidence to follow her own path.
We always encouraged Julia to dream big. From the start, we didn’t set limits on her life because of perceived disability. We always taught our daughter that although she may be a little different than some of her peers (she is deaf and has cerebral palsy), she can accomplish her dreams in life. She just needs to find another way. She has a love of technology and a passion for making videos and wants a career where she can be an advocate for people with disabilities so we started to look at schools that offered degree programs that would align with her interests. As one who is intellectually bright and dreams big, she sees no reason why she can’t succeed at Ivy League schools such as Harvard or Brown University. In addition, she is proud to be deaf and naturally, she wanted to consider Gallaudet University along with other schools that have programs catering to the deaf. She is also proud of her African American heritage so she wanted to consider Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well. Since she has physical challenges, she wanted to make sure that whatever university she chooses to attend can accommodate her needs and lastly, she wanted to compete for scholarships so that she would not burden herself (or Mom and Dad) with the financial challenge of paying for college out of pocket (Thank you God). With these requirements in mind, we started the process of preparing our daughter for college.
Julia has always had a pretty packed schedule. She goes to school, has a ton of homework, participates in a ton of extra curricular activities, and still finds time for community activities and family time. In order to accomplish all of this, she needed to plan ahead. Her college search is no different. Julia is big on research so she looked at a variety of schools that she thought could meet her criteria. To help her out, we began to use part of our summer vacations to take a look at some of the schools that piqued her interest (for example, last year we did a road trip to visit the southeastern United States and ended up visiting schools in 8 states). Over time, she narrowed her choices to the five schools that we toured this summer and now has a good understanding of what each school has to offer, but this was only possible because she planned ahead.
I always liked the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared.” I guess that rubbed off on Julia. Before visiting various colleges this summer, Julia already had an idea of what field she wanted to study and the environment in which she would feel most comfortable. In addition, she has worked hard to maintain a very good GPA, and has already taken the American College Testing (ACT) college entrance exam in order to be fully prepared for her college tours. At each school, she talked to admissions counselors, current students, and other support offices such as Housing and the Office of Students with Disabilities (at the university level, provisions under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act no longer apply. Instead, she now falls under the purview of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means that careful consideration of student support services is key) to get a true picture of what it would be like to attend each University as well as a true understanding about the probability of acceptance and scholarship opportunities.
While we as parents will be sad when the day comes that she goes off to college (I’m sad thinking about that day already), we can only hope that the lessons that we taught her will prepare her for whatever challenges she faces.