Asking for Help and Applying for Disability

Last updated: March 2023

Editor's Note: This article was written by Halimat Olaniyan and originally appeared on our partner site

I’m not very good at asking for help when I’m sick.

Why is it so hard to ask for help?

It’s ironic because I’m always seeking ways to help others and not afraid to ask for help when it comes to academic struggles. But when it comes to sickle cell disease, I hesitate to ask for help.

I guess I worry I’ll find myself in a situation where I have to explain my disease to someone or defend the reasons why I need help, which can be frustrating and exhausting at times. Yet I love educating others about sickle cell when it’s not related to me needing help. I have to work on that.

Identifying as disabled

I remember the first time I started identifying as disabled, even if just transiently. Growing up, I never saw or thought of myself as having a disability. Maybe it’s because society focuses so much on visible disability and sickle cell pain is often invisible.

But sometimes the pain is so much I can’t move; there have been times I couldn’t walk or do anything but lie there. So, in college when I learned of different types of disabilities and how people can define that label for themselves, it felt fitting.

Applying for disability accommodations in college

That was the first time I filed for disability. I remember living on the far side of campus in the student-style apartments and having to walk to the bus stop in the cold. Some days the walk was brutal, and I felt it affecting my health, but I didn’t know what to do.

I met with the disability services at my school. They had a person dedicated to people with chronic – even if invisible – disabilities. We talked about different options for me, like a bus that could pick me up from my apartment and special library access. It was kind of a process to get the accommodations set up, so by the time they were available to me, I didn’t need them anymore. The library access was nice, though.

Applying for disability accommodations in medical school

Fast-forward to medical school. Every year there’s an option to apply for extra accommodations through accessibility services. I chose not to apply, as I didn’t feel it had made much of a difference in college. Also, COVID-19 meant staying home for half of my medical school experience, so I was mainly learning from home.

But third-year has proven to be a different beast. Back in person, still studying, and basically on my feet 8 to 12 hours a day or more some days. It has been more physically demanding than I expected, and I’ve felt it affecting my health. So, I decided to apply for services.

Again it’s proving to be quite the process. Basically, I have to describe the nature of my disease, how it affects school, and what reasonable things would help me. It’s a lot, but I’m hoping maybe it will make it easier for someone else with sickle cell to get these services in the future. I’m hopeful I’ll get some extra accommodations when I need them.

My ask: More time

The things I find helpful are pretty different from what I’m guessing other people with disabilities may need. To put it simply, I need more time. Time to recover when I’m sick, time to rest so I don’t get sick, time to take the elevator if I don’t feel well enough to take the stairs, or time to simply sit instead of stand.

I hope these accommodations will come in time.

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