Denied my education because I’m disabled

I need to take a few minutes to share how one college has ruined my life. I’ve fallen so far between the cracks right now that sharing my story here is the only way to have this not go completely unseen.

As most of my readers know, I am disabled. In case you don’t know, I have autism (used to be Asperger’s) and I lost the use of my right hand due to a surgical error just over ten years ago. I didn’t get my autism diagnosis until I was 25, so I never had accommodations in public school. As such, I almost failed out of middle school and completely failed out of high school. I got a GED and was told I was the first in Florida to get a perfect score (the person who told me probably meant the first she’d seen, because being the first ever seems unlikely to me).

I was a musician before my hand got messed up. I was very happy with what I did, and I was damned good at it. I had a random accident, tore a ligament in my wrist, and ended up with a very bad surgeon who made a mistake and covered it up. By the time it was fixed, I was on a road to many more surgeries on it and a lifetime of chronic pain. As it stands now, I have 30% use of that hand and just about everything hurts. It ended my career as a musician. Sadly, the state of Oklahoma has perverted tort laws so much, that I had no way to sue the doctor and hold him responsible for what he did to me. He suffered no punishment.

It took me a few years to come to grips with what happened to my hand and the injustice that I couldn’t do anything about it. Eventually, I decided to go to college and see if I could turn my love of biology into something there. I started at a community college in Oklahoma and they were wonderful. I have never felt more welcome in my life. Added to that, I actually got real accommodations that put me on an even footing with other students! Instead of failing, like I did in high school, I was top of my class. I finished in three years with a 3.7GPA (3.9 in biology classes only) and an Associates Degree with Honors.

I had the choice of several schools to transfer to for furthering my education. In my time at the community college, I made the realization that I wanted to be a college professor. It would be the perfect subject for me. Not only can I ramble on about topics I love endlessly, I’d guess that somewhere between 50-75% of college professors are aspies (undiagnosed because of when they grew up). After touring a few schools, I settled on SUNY-ESF in upstate New York.

SUNY-ESF (State University of New York, Environmental Sciences and Forestry) has a hell of a reputation. They’re regarded as one of the top biology schools in the world and are known for being extremely rigorous. They’ve been around since the 1800’s, too. I saw absolutely no red flags when I toured the school, either.

My partner and I used what little savings we had to move from Oklahoma to Syracuse so I could attend this school. It cost about $10,000 to move here. Cross country moves are NOT cheap, especially with pets. I enrolled in ESF and got in without any issues– which is no real surprise, given my GPA and references.

ESF ended up being a shit show. Despite setting up accommodations well in advance, I got none. My early enrollment didn’t happen. I had to enroll with all the other new students the Saturday before the semester. Despite my handicapped parking permit, I was denied a parking spot on campus that same day. I was required to park almost a mile off campus, down a steep hill, in a student lot with no handicapped parking spots, no security, and no shuttle to campus. I was not given note takers in my classes. I was not given testing center access for exams. I was banned from using my tablet in classes and had to drop because I can’t write. I was put into group assignments immediately despite accommodations saying that should never happen. This was all in the first semester.

We’d spent so much money to move here and couldn’t just move again, so I decided to stick it out and fight. I saw turn arounds in a few areas: they added handicapped parking for students and added shuttle service to the lots along with security. They finally approved a parking permit for me to park on campus. I got approved for the testing center, but it wasn’t on campus. They contracted it out to Syracuse University, so it was around a mile off of our campus. I still had no notes in any class, though.

I contacted the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights at this point (semester two). They began an investigation into these issues. It took a year to come back, but they found 37 unique instances of discrimination against me in two semesters. Sadly, the only judgment they could get against ESF was that they fix the issues and allow me to take those classes again for free.

Despite the OCR judgment, the abuses continued. Around this time, I had two major surgeries. Both were on pelvic and abdominal areas and required months of bedrest to recover. How did the school handle these? By forcing me on hikes, of course. After the first surgery, I was expected to hike on day one of a class. When my legs gave out and I collapsed to the ground, the TA took the class and left me there, sitting on the ground. They never came back for me. After the second one, I was on a three week excursion to a biology field station. I was expected to hike around ten miles a day with no days off. I still had sutures in me during these hikes. A girl on that trip dislocated her knee and they turned the curriculum upside down to accommodate her, but expected me to “tough it out.” The worst thing after the OCR judgment was that they started to retaliate against me. They removed accommodations from my letter, professors got firmer about denying them, and the school kept finding new bills they say I never paid (in one case 2.5 years old) and started pocketing my entire student loan each semester so I couldn’t get a penny of it. Despite many emails between myself and the OCR people, they never did further investigations on my behalf and my case was closed.

Another big issue I had on the field station trip was that we had a meeting before I went about accommodations I would need. I was expected to predict any problems ahead of time, but several details about the trip were not covered. I had professors denying my iPad, constant hiking, group work, exams my prosopagnosia made impossible, and not a single day to myself. I’d catch hell if I left a class during its study time to find a quieter area to study, or if I refused to paddle a canoe or pull in fish nets (both impossible with my bad hand). Even one that I did predict, that I couldn’t draw for one of the assignments, was turned against me when I was accused of lying about my ability to draw since I was seen texting once (what?). Towards the final week, I was having multiple panic attacks a day (though mostly able to hide them). I would miss breakfast, which is where you pack your lunch for the day, so I wouldn’t eat until dinner– which none of the professors saw as strange. I was going to bed at 7PM and wasn’t able to wake up until 9AM. After multiple BAD breakdowns, I asked to leave three days early (we were on an island, so I couldn’t just leave on my own). I was made to wait until the last boat left, then talked down to like a child about it. When I insisted I leave multiple times, it turned to guilting me that they had to pay overtime to someone to boat me back to the dock where my truck was. After I left, I continued working with my group on our project’s written paper and presentation. They told staff I’d be happy to skype in for the presentation, but I wasn’t allowed. My only option allowed was to do the trip over next summer from scratch. I was failed, despite my group saying I did more work than the three of them combined and deserved an A.

In my final semester, which I only continued with since the paperwork was in and it was too late to try and switch to somewhere else, I was again denied several accommodations, different ones in each class. My partner came down with a serious health crisis, so I decided it would be best for several reasons to drop out of ESF and stay home to care for her. I applied for FMLA and was told it was denied unless I submitted her medical records (something they can’t legally ask for).

ESF left me dangling at that point. I came here with the goal of finishing a PhD. Instead, I only got 20 credit hours toward a BS, most of those credits are ones I already had on my AS that they wanted me to retake. 20 credit hours in six semesters. This felt like high school all over again. The only difference is that ESF left me $77,000 in debt from student loans.

To keep me occupied, I enrolled in the local community college, here. Once there, I had accommodations again without any issues or fights. I started a short path to a second Associate degree, this time in communication (thinking science communication would be a viable path). I was trying to make the best of a bad situation. My grades recovered immediately, of course.

I spent about a year searching for a lawyer and found one, finally. She did a lot of work, and was impressed by the amount of communications I had in email about all of this. We attempted to sue ESF only in an attempt to get a refund of my tuition.

When I applied for my second, and final, semester at the community college, I learned that I had no more student loans left. I had no way to pay for classes that semester. I ended up dropping out. Thankfully, I had strong advocates at the school and they pressed for me to get a full scholarship for my final semester, which I’m doing right now.

The word came back to me yesterday on the lawsuit. We have exhausted everything possible. ESF wouldn’t settle, and the courts have said that they did the absolute bare minimum of what they were required to do, so there is no recourse.

For the second time in my life now, I have had my life completely ruined by another person and had absolutely no way to get back to where I was before they did it. I couldn’t sue that doctor for ending a career I loved and now I can’t sue this college for preventing me from reaching the second career I would be wonderful at. Even worse, that college has left me with $77,000 in debt that I can’t discharge with bankruptcy. It left my student loans maxed out, so I can’t attend another college, even if I could afford to move again. I have no idea how I’ll pay those loans on my disability income, but they’ll be happy to garnish it when I can’t. My only option is to find a job that pays so much I lose my Medicare coverage, which might kill me. Even with this second degree I’m working on, it’s highly unlikely I’ll be able to find sustainable work (that takes my disabilities into account) that can keep my head above water with these loans.

I honestly don’t know what I do next. I’m completely lost. What actually bothers me more than that is that ESF has just been given the go-ahead to do this to all other disabled students from now on. My loss is a loss for so many others.

I just can’t shake the thought that my life feels over, now. I came back from impossible odds once, when this happened to me about ten years back. I honestly don’t think I can do it twice. I have no clue how I make it through this. The only thing I do know is that I don’t want ESF to make it through this unscathed. They can’t walk away to do this again. I want the word to be spread, so others know what they’re really like. Please tell people you know so this doesn’t end with me. Make sure other disabled students never give a penny to this scam school.


Green Anole (Anolis carolinensis)

The most familiar color-changing reptiles are Old World chameleons, so it’s not surprising that shade-switching Carolina or Green Anoles have earned the moniker “American Chameleons”. 

These small lizards, not closely related to real chameleons at all, change color between brown and green depending on their mood and habitat. Three different kinds of pigment cells—blue, yellow, and brown—control the Anole’s color. Quirks of genetics occasionally produce Anoles missing the blue or yellow pigment, resulting in rare yellow or blue individuals. 

Male Anoles use an extendible throat flap, called a dewlap, to communicate with each other, either to threaten rivals or impress mates. Excited males turn their green up to eleven, flash their red dewlaps, and raise cranial crests on the backs of their heads, escalating their displays to fierce battles if posturing isn’t enough to drive away the competition.

photograph by David Hill on Flickr; CC

via: Peterson Field Guides


hey friends,


this is ted. ted is my brother’s cutie patootie corgi mix puppy. he went to the vet to get neutered a little over a week ago, and ended up getting sick. he’s been back to the vet twice since he got neutered, and today they admitted him…he will be at the vet on IV antibiotics until wednesday. he has some swelling/pain in one of his back legs, which the vet thinks may be due to an internal abscess, but they’re not sure yet. if it is, it’s going to require surgery, which will probably cost $1000+. as it is, my brother is already paying $500 for the vet stay

my brother is a great guy, and he’s going to graduate from college in may. in the meantime, he is working as a part time leasing agent for an apartment complex, and doesn’t have a lot of money to spare. for those of you who are familiar with the personal & family drama i overshare on the internet, i am currently working part-time in a retail job & am having a hard time making ends meet. my parents got divorced about a year ago, my dad has been in and out of hospitals for his own physical & mental health problems, and my mom lost our house back in may, so as you can imagine, they don’t have much to spare either.

ted has been an amazing companion for my brother, who is dealing with his own depression & anxiety. if anyone is able to help pitch in to cover teddy’s vet bills, we would greatly appreciate it. for anyone who is able/willing to pitch in a couple of dollars, my paypal is i would also appreciate if you’re able/willing to share this. i will update with more info as i get it / if a gofundme gets set up

Hey London, Why Don’t You Ask Me About ‘Indian Rapes’ One More Time?

In all the interactions, whenever ‘rape’ is brought up, it does not feel like an honest question posed, or a problem that people yearn to discuss. It is not asked. Rather, it is stated to me. The people involved then feel like an interview panel, where one interviewer hurls a complex topic at you, saying, “discuss!” and the others just watch. As I begin to answer, I notice people’s eyes on me. Eyes thirsting to see how I tackle the question, so they can either get their answers about rapes in India or note how Indian women talk about rapes in India.

Hey London, Why Don’t You Ask Me About ‘Indian Rapes’ One More Time?