Earlier this week, in recognition of the 32nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), MCAN hosted a panel discussion on supporting students with accommodations in postsecondary education. You can view the webinar recording here.

Kyle Kelly, a College Completion Corps coach serving at Bay College, offered to share how his experience navigating the college experience as a disabled person is helping him assist others.

The late Christopher Reeve, famous for portraying Superman in a series of movies before becoming paralyzed in an accident, once said that “a hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”

This quote resonates with me personally and professionally every day of my life. Professionally, there are so many students I know that have persevered through numerous barriers, including homelessness, abusive relationships, and mental and physical disabilities. Their perseverance gives me hope and inspires me to push through my own obstacles.

On a personal level, I was born with physical barriers. I was developmentally delayed, struggled to walk, had a speech impairment, and had a degenerative eye disorder. I didn’t start getting assistance until I was old enough to attend school. Where I was living at the time, there were a very limited number of places where I could get the assistance that I needed to overcome these physical barriers. Educators and health care providers assisted me with overcoming each barrier. I received help from the school district and from a speech pathology clinic at a local university to help me overcome my speech barriers. The physical education teacher and several coaches in my area assisted me in walking and encouraged me to participate in sports. This improved my mobility, but more importantly, it helped me build self-confidence. With years of dedication and help from a strong support system, my barriers lessened.

However, the barrier that I continued to struggle with was my eyesight. The older I got, the more my eyesight became an issue. I could no longer sit in the back or the middle of the classroom, but had to sit in the front. The books and texts I needed for my classes had to be enlarged. I lost my peripheral eyesight, and driving was no longer an option. I enjoyed sports and mountain biking, but I was having difficulty with visual acuity and determining how close or far away objects were. Instead of biking by myself, I needed to bike with others who could tell me where to turn. Then in January of 2019, just days before I started classes at Bay College, I completely lost my vision. I had known this was inevitable. For years, I was told this would happen, but I thought that I had more time. More time to see the sun rise and set, more time to see my partner, more time to see L.A. Lakers games on television, more time to see life. Bay College and others in my support system assisted me through this life-altering transition. While I had lost my sight, I retained my vision of earning, one degree at a time, my doctorate in social work and teaching at the collegiate level. With the assistance of Bay College and other services for the blind, I was able to succeed academically and in life.

Serving through MCAN as a College Completion Corps coach at Bay College has given me the ability to assist students, just as others assisted me when I needed it. Day to day, this can include listening to a student about classes and/or life, referring students to services, assisting students with choosing their classes, giving students a pen to write notes for their classes, or just being a cheerleader for their success.

Sometimes serving students means responding to an emerging need. Recently, my colleagues and I noticed that many students were still feeling stuck in survival mode from the COVID-19 pandemic. This fall, the Bay College Health and Wellness Committee (which I co-chair) is putting together a health and wellness fair. The theme of the fair is transitioning from surviving to thriving. By connecting students and community members with services and resources on campus and in the region, we can help more people reach that feeling of thriving.