Diversity in academia

I have ADHD and dyslexia. It has taken me years to be comfortable openly talking about this. I think the most surprising thing to me was that the greatest obstacle was myself. Not only the ‘diversity community’ but the academic community as a whole have been very welcoming. Below are my thoughts and experiences but I realize that many have not been so fortunate as myself.

I think its important to talk openly about this. First, it helps us accept ourselves - both our strengths and weakness. Secondly, there are a lot of opportunities for those brave enough to identify themselves, especially those with non-apparent disabilities.

It is hard; the fear of rejection is real. Some people will think less of you. However, I eventually realized that if they did, then I didn’t really care about their opinion in the first place. Most people though are more curious - what its like, how it effects you, and if they need to be sensitive to your needs. To briefly answer those questions:

  • To me, its normal. I was born this way and have never known another way of life. I have to constantly remember that other people can’t read upside down or in a mirror easily. At the same time, I am acutely aware that trying to remember 742 is basically impossible and I need to write it down and double check. Most people make grocery lists so it never really seems that different to me.

My desk at work with office supplies such as tape and sticky notes. Next to these is a large pink fidget ball that has soft extensions off of it.

  • It effects everyone differently. For me, I can’t remember exact words - only meanings get written to my mind. I need to double or triple check my math and always use a calculator (thank goodness for smart phones). Everything I write needs to be proof-read because spell check doesn’t recognize when I have written a correctly spelled word that means something else, private vs. privet being a classic example for me.

  • My ADHD causes me to appear to ‘jump’ topics, but in some ways this is helpful as I can make leaps in my thinking that are different and suggest new avenues to research. Like most people with ADHD, I fidget. This used to mean biting my nails, but this lead to an unprofessional appearance in my opinion, so I trained myself on to other habits, namely cleaning under my nails. I also have a fidget ball on my desk.

  • If I need help, I will ask for it. I would prefer if people just openly ask any questions they might have about my situation, rather than act like they need to treat me with kiddie gloves, because you don’t. Having gotten this far in life, I have proved, at least to myself, that I can make it.

While it can feel awkward to be categorize yourself along side those with more obvious challenges. However, at least for me, while I don’t need direct accommodations, I need to have health care with good prescription coverage as my ‘accommodation’. I annually have to go through an approval process to get my specific dosage approved even with good health care. This is pricey and can limit where I can work making it a very real inconvenience. I think the best gift I ever got was a keychain pill container which I use multiple times a week. It lets me take my medication regardless of where I am - in the fish room, a meeting, or headed to a class.

I remember hearing about the ‘diversity community’ as a nebulous concept. I have since found that it is very real. Recently I presented at Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference which is open for minorities and those with disabilities. Everyone was friendly and not one person asked what a normal looking white girl with blond hair was doing there. At the University of Illinois, I regularly go to DRES (Disability Resources & Educational Services) where I meet up with others to participate in Eye to Eye, where those with LD’s mentor middle school students with LD’s. Eye to Eye a great opportunity to interact with others like myself and discuss accommodations or issues. These are opportunities I didn’t have until I was ready to seek out others and openly discuss my differences.

My final thoughts are that life is what you make of it. If you only fear being rejected or seen with stigma, then in a way you are bringing about that environment. By hiding who you are, you are rejecting a piece of yourself. I wear glasses and not once have I thought “what will someone else think of the fact that I have poor vision”. Turns out that my LDs aren’t any different.