Individuals with disabilities are attending institutions of higher education at greater rates than ever before. This is not because there are more individuals with disabilities but because the testing, laws, and accommodations in primary and secondary school have been expanded significantly. In short, disability has always been defined in contrast to what is normal, and what is normal has always been controlled by cultural norms. To this end, American culture understands disabilities through three facets: the abnormal, the visible, and the environmental. Because the general consensus on disability is so set within American culture, it is important to understand the experience of students with disabilities through their own lens.
In particular, visibility is an exceptionally important part of the experience of being disabled because many of the cultural cues for disability are visual: ramps, parking spots, insulin pumps, medication, etc.. Due to association between cultural visibility and disability, those with invisible disabilities navigate an interesting place in the cultural understanding of disability. This is because individuals with invisible disabilities can pass as non-disabled, yet depending on the environment they are in, their disability can become visible. For example, a student with dyslexia may struggle to read a paragraph out loud, and yet, they are perfectly capable of retaining information from an audio book.
There is a gap in understanding disability from the perspective of these students, especially in relation to improving policy in education. Throughout my interviews, the participants in my study repeatedly brought up the importance of being given the information to understand their disabilities, especially in relation to understanding why their brain works the way it does. This came up as a critical element of their education experience because it resulted in the self-assuredness and ability to take initiative, which is vital for success in a collegiate context. Another central theme within my interviews was how these students have also compartmentalized their disabilities as something that is an aspect of themselves, but not one that is folded into aspects of their identity.