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A black woman stands against the sky, surrounded by planes flying in looping directions as she looks confused.

It's Okay to Ask for Accommodations

Growing up, I was the only person in my family who was visually impaired. At a very young age, I tried hard to assimilate. I did not want to inconvenience my family and friends.

As I grew up, I learned how to navigate this world with macular degeneration using assistive devices and asking for the support of humans when needed. However, because of my early mindset, I realize that even now I am hesitant to ask for "special treatment," also known as accommodations.

Wondering if I appear 'blind enough'

For example, I often struggle with accessing priority boarding at the airport. Whenever they announce over the speaker that "people who need additional time with boarding can board now," I am always hesitant. I have only accessed this twice in the many times I have traveled, and both times I wondered if I appeared "blind enough."

Even though my friends always encourage me to access this accommodation, I don’t. However, the reality is I do need additional time to board, and often I feel like I am slowing down the flow when searching for my seat. I imagine that is the reason why they have priority boarding for people who need more time.

Refusing accommodations in the past

Another example of being reluctant to access accommodation showed up for me while preparing to sit for my Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) exam.

Truthfully, when registering for the exam, I had been prompted by a question to acknowledge whether I needed testing accommodations. I went back and forth and ultimately decided not to request additional support. One reason is that I typically can adjust the font on my own using a magnifying application found on most computers. Another reason is that the request process for accommodations can be quite lengthy, and I didn’t want to do the extra steps.

At a dinner with some friends prior to my exam, they inquired about my accommodations, and I assured them that they were not necessary.

Working to train my brain

Unfortunately, because I didn’t request accommodations, I struggled the entire exam. The ladies who proctored the exam asked me why I didn’t request accommodations; I shared the reasons why, emphasizing I had not needed testing accommodations in the past. I feel like, as a black woman, coupled with the way I grew up, my experience has impacted my view on accessing accommodations.

I am currently working to unlearn and train my brain that it is okay to ask for accommodations, and it is not an inconvenience.  

Asking for the support I need

Recently, I went to the Atlantic City, New Jersey with my friend and my son. While purchasing my New Jersey Transit ticket, I asked an employee what time the train to come home came. He proceeded to point at the schedule, which had size 12 font.

I informed him that I am visually impaired and would need him to tell me what time the train came. He said, "In that case, your ticket is $9.60," and he told me the time of the train. I asked why the ticket price was reduced, and he shared that because I informed him that I have a disability, I qualify for a reduced rate.

I was really happy, and I felt like this reinforced what I have been told for some time: to ask for the support that I need. Just like one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss says, "Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter." At least that’s the way eye see it.

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