Student Accessibility Services advocate for students with hidden disabilities

Kaylie Norris and Sunny Weisenberger

Hidden disabilities accounted for 94% of Student Accessibility Services accommodations among students at Kent State in the academic year of 2021-2022.

“The vast majority of people on Kent State’s campus have invisible disabilities. That is a whole population that people don’t often recognize unless they’re part of the community or work to learn about it,” said Katie Mattise, the director of diversity, equity and inclusion, for Kent State.

Hidden disabilities, also known as invisible disabilities, are defined by the Indivisible Disabilities Association as physical, mental or neurological conditions that are not easily identifiable from the outside. However, these disabilities can challenge a person’s day-to-day life and functions. As a result, students often have to advocate for themselves due to misunderstandings and false perceptions.

A few examples of hidden disabilities include ADHD, mental health conditions, sensory processing and diabetes.

Maddie Lamb, a junior hospitality management student, has struggled with severe anxiety and depression for the majority of her life.

“I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember,” Lamb said. “It can be impossible to carry out daily functions when I’m experiencing intense symptoms.”

In order to receive proper treatment Lamb missed several days of school. She said professors were not accommodating. After failing and retaking several courses, she officially reached out to SAS.

Kent State’s SAS works to create an accessible and inclusive environment for students with all types of disabilities. SAS works to educate the Kent State population on hidden disabilities.

“You don’t have to tell people what the disability is, why you have it, the whole background story if you don’t want to, because it’s your business, and you get to decide that,” said Amanda Feaster, the director of SAS.

Feaster explained the process of receiving accommodations and the different resources available to students. Once students complete SAS testing or submit official documentation, accommodations can be provided and professors are notified.

Identifying as a disabled person can be harmful to some students due to the negative connotation connected to the term disability.

“Is it helpful to encourage our students to see themselves as a person with a disability or to have that disability identity?” Feaster said.

AJ Conway, director of diversity for the College of Communication and Information, agreed with Feaster.

“They’re like, ‘well, I have that, but that’s not a disability.’ I say you absolutely can get services for that. You can totally count that as a disability,” Conway said. “Now, if you don’t want to identify as a person with a disability, that’s totally fine. But in terms of being able to access resources and services that might help you, it totally counts as a disability.”

Feaster reported that self-advocacy plays a huge role in navigating hidden disabilities for students. Unfortunately, due to misconceptions surrounding disabilities, students are left to advocate for their own health, well-being and academics.

“What can you do to take care of yourself? And know that you don’t always have to move forward with something because sometimes the process of moving forward can be emotionally exhausting,” said Mattise. “It’s really about doing what’s best for you.”

Conway and Matisse reported that hidden disabilities are often forgotten when the conversation of disability is brought up.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to figure out how to do and create more inclusive environments,” said Mattise.

Along with SAS, the university provides several other resources to ensure student success and an inclusive environment. These resources include academic assistance, confidential counseling and more.

Lamb continued to share that after her difficult semester she was able to reach out and form connections to receive the resources from SAS. This included reaching out to professors in advance and receiving counseling from Kent State.

SAS bridges communication between students and professors to help students get the assistance and tools they need to succeed.

“Advocating for yourself can be difficult but it’s worth it,” Lamb says, “I am now doing well in my classes and am able to enjoy school again.”

Kaylie Norris and Sunny Weisenberger are reporters. Contact them at [email protected] and [email protected].