As the student body returned to campus Aug. 30, some students with disabilities have been forced to adapt to the physical and mental demands that have come with their new schedules and have turned to the Student Accessibility Center (SAC) and the Wellness Center for help.
Senior molecular biology major Esabella Yon has had hemiplegic migraines since she was 11. For Yon, the migraines mimic symptoms of a stroke that include blindness, inability to speak, numbness in half of her body as well as concussion symptoms. Yon said she typically gets three to five migraines a semester that can result in her taking a week off of school at a time.
“Online schooling really allowed me to manage my medical condition when it became a problem,” Yon, 21, said.
Similar to Yon, junior Maxine Tewsley, found a greater sense of ease while taking online classes.
Tewsley, who is studying advocacy and social change, was diagnosed with epilepsy in March 2019. While her seizures are mainly caused due to an increase in stress and lack of sleep, Tewsley said online school made it easier to recover from her episodes — the worst being back in February when she had four seizures in one day.
“Just the thought of not having to be present in the physical space was comforting,” Tewsley, 19, said. “It took me about two weeks to recover from that day, teachers were already understanding because it was a pandemic and I could relax in my space, in my home.”
For students like Yon and Maxine, online schooling provided flexibility to those facing the effects of chronic illnesses. For some, being able to take a class anywhere meant more freedom to schedule doctor’s appointments, stay in bed for class and have more energy to reserve for their health.
In preparation for the transition back to in-person classes, Yon began working with the SAC — a department that provides accommodations to students with mental and physical illnesses and conditions — and her professors earlier this year to try to get an accommodation for remote learning.
When first applying for accommodations, students must meet with a counselor from the SAC, then for the semesters that follow, the students have to virtually resubmit an application to have their accommodations granted. Accommodations can include extended time on tests, flexible deadlines, flexible attendance as well as priority registration.
While almost all of her classes are now online, she still has had to adjust to two in-person lab classes and in-person testing. Yon said she found her first exam that was back in-person “challenging” but had little option to take it online after she struggled to get her remote classes accommodation over the summer.
“Upon beginning to discuss with all my teachers how [a remote accommodation] would look, I was actually told by one of my professors that SAC was telling professors not to accommodate me,” Yon said. “I was in contact with some higher-ups from SAC and when I started asking those types of questions they stopped responding.”
Betsi Burns, the director of the SAC, said the SAC works with students and faculty in providing accommodations to students.
“SAC collaboratively works with students and faculty to ensure accessibility in and out of the classroom,” Burns said, in response to criticism from students like Yon. “While Loyola has resumed in-person learning, the University makes remote learning accommodations for students with documented disabilities under the guidance of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.”
While some struggled to find all the help they needed with departments like SAC, others with accommodations were grateful for their support.
Lena Hirsch, a junior majoring in sociology and anthropology, has dealt with anxiety during her time at Loyola.
“For me the biggest thing is testing,” Hirsch,19, said. “For those suffering with anxiety or other mental health conditions, taking tests within certain time limits can be very stressful.”
After reaching out to the SAC, Hirsch was able to get additional time on her tests throughout the 2020-21 school year.
Along with the SAC, the Wellness Center aims to help students with free, short-term mental and medical care such as psychotherapy and appointments for common sicknesses. For students requiring long-term care, the Wellness Center helps connect students to physicians in the Chicago area, according to The Phoenix.
Lanay Samuelson, a nurse practitioner at the Wellness Center, helps assess students that come in for medical concerns. If necessary, the Wellness Center will refer a student to the SAC if they believe they are dealing with a more chronic medical illness.
“We would follow whatever recommendations the SAC has,” Samuelson said. “The Wellness Center does not diagnose someone for an accessibility issue.”
During the period of remote learning last year, Samuelson said the Wellness Center still conducted telehealth appointments, even though many students were seeking outside providers at home. In regards to transitioning back to in-person learning, Samuelson said the Wellness Center has “risen to meet the needs of the students” and begun to offer more resources for students.
David deBoer, the director of counseling at the Wellness Center, said the new position of academic support focus counselor will improve access to mental health services and help better understand the needs of students coming into the center.
The Wellness Center is also currently conducting a needs assessment which entails figuring out what opportunities they can make available to students to best promote academic success, according to deBoer.
For those students struggling with returning back to campus or experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, deBoer suggests reaching out and scheduling an appointment with the Wellness Center. After a preliminary phone call with one of the available counselors, various resources and recommendations can be offered.
“There are a whole series of groups on our website, including adjusting to campus transition groups, mindfulness meditation groups, as well as interpersonal process groups,” deBoer said.
Despite these resources, students like Maxine wish there were more spaces on campus for students with chronic illnesses.
“There’s not really a lot of talk surrounding [epilepsy and chronic illnesses],” Tewsley said. “I would love if there was some type of support system like a club for people to talk.”
The Wellness Center is not currently offering any support groups for those with physical disabilities, according to deBoer.
“If we were meeting with or assessing a student who had such a need, we would use our care manager to access community resources that might be helpful for a particular issue,” deBoer said.
Invisible Illness Awareness Loyola (IIAL) is a new organization on campus that had its second meeting Sept. 29. According to IIAL President Stephanie Miller, the group aims to provide a space for people with or without chronic invisible illnesses to talk about their experiences and learn about other illnesses.
“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” Miller, who has postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), said. “I know our school focuses a lot on mental health awareness. I’m not aware of any that cover physical invisible illnesses as well.”
In addition to providing a judgment-free zone for those with diagnoses, Miller said she hopes the club will help the medical community on campus as well.
“The whole goal is to educate future healthcare providers and other people to reduce the amount of time it takes between someone getting a diagnosis or not,” Miller, 20, said. “People shouldn’t be suffering in silence and suffering because people don’t know what’s wrong with them.”
Students in need of support for chronic illnesses or medical conditions can apply for accommodations on SAC’s website. Students in need of mental health resources or medical attention can contact the Wellness Center at Dial-a-Nurse at 773-508-8883 (medical) or 773-508-2530 (mental) or book a phone consultation online. In the case of a severe or life-threatening emergency, the SAC and Wellness Center urge students to call 911.