I've had plenty of time to do some thinking on the ways that having a disability might actually be advantageous when beginning graduate school this fall. There are rare occasions in which individuals reflect on the positives of something that might challenge the way that they live their lives, but I think it could prove to be an interesting way to learn to appreciate the small things and the unexpected blessings.
Disability is almost always synonymous with "unconventional". Just because I button a pair of jeans with one hand doesn't mean that my jeans are never buttoned. Though I can't explain to someone how I accomplish it with one hand, I just do. In graduate school, I surmise that many of the research articles that I will read or the papers that I will write will involve complicated intricacies that will drive people to ask, "How do you understand any of what you're studying?" Truthfully, the only way I can and will explain it is that it's what happens when passion is evident. Just like when you realize that you're the only one who can button your pants, it just happens.
One quickly learns that some things just take time. For me, I've had to come to terms with the fact that it's okay if it takes me an hour to get ready to go run errands. The important part is that I accomplished the task independently, and I, most of the time, am confident with the work that I complete. Graduate work isn't conducive to completing the three page paper you forgot about in the two hours before it's due. You can't procrastinate. You can't expect quality if you aren't willing to put in the quantity in the form of time. It's okay that you had to cancel the coffee date with your friend if it means that you're less stressed about the 6 hours it took to put your best effort into the paper. Write the paper, and then reward yourself with the coffee date. You'll feel much better that way because the best things just take time.
The application is just as important as the acquisition. Most of us with disabilities similar in nature to my own spent most of our childhoods in physical and occupational therapies to acquire the skills to live, work, and grow independently. While using stretchy bands to improve quad strength and doing 200 "donkey kicks" while watching television is important, climbing the hills of campus can't become a reality until someone sees that he/she can actually climb the hill or walk the mile distance between a classroom building and the library. Similarly, the textbooks and the coursework are vital in graduate school, but applied experience, such as an internship, truly tests that knowledge. "Thinking on your feet" is challenging, and especially for disciplines like the one I'll be entering, it's just as important to apply effectively as it is to acquire successfully.
You know yourself best, no matter what all the advice in the world says. For years, people with and without disabilities have offered advice on how to do various tasks that have proven challenging. While I often appreciate their advice and concern for me, I have earned to keep in mind that I know my needs and abilities better than anyone. Much like the advice given to new parents, applying to and starting graduate school, as well as living with a disability, opens the proverbial floodgates for all the advice anyone has ever learned. Remember, take what you wish, but you know yourself better than anyone ever will.
Admittedly, there is much more that could be added to this list, but I am enormously grateful for the lessons that life has taught through challenges, and I am eagerly awaiting the chance to apply them to my graduate school experience in 2014!