Welcome to Wright State!
I bet you are thinking I can’t believe I’m doing this. You’re getting ready to drop your student off at an unfamiliar place in a world where they are the leaders of their lives. You never imagined getting this far, did you? Don’t worry. This means you’ve done your job right. You’ve given them all of the tools needed to get to this point. I’m here to tell you that you can do it.
First, let me give you a background about my family. I am the mother of Melissa and Jessica. They are two years apart and both have a disability that requires them to use a wheelchair. While I have always pushed them to do everything else their peers have done including Girl Scouts, camping trips, dodgeball, gym class and more, you couldn’t have told me eight years ago that I would be writing this letter. I would be the first to tell you that I wasn’t prepared for my oldest daughter, Melissa, to leave home. You see, all of those special activities my husband and I pushed out girls to be a part of also included us. We did everything with them and for them. While going to college was the next logical step, I just didn’t see how it was possible. Then we visited THE Wright State University.
It was certainly a life-changing visit. And rightfully so, considering every recruiter pointed to Wright State’s table at college fairs. After seeing all that WSU offered by on the surface, my husband flat out refused to visit any other school because he said, “that’s where she’s going.” And he was right. Melissa and I began meeting with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) between her junior and senior year. With each visit, I became more nervous. They seemed to understand the basic needs of someone with a disability, but how could they know my daughter? I didn’t know who would be taking care of her or how it would all be done. I wasn’t sure how Melissa would handle all of this on her own. She was quiet, shy and non-confrontational. Could she really do this?
We kept moving full steam ahead. We purchased all of the items a normal college student needs and made the necessary arrangements with the Bureau of Vocational Rehab for the additional items Melissa needed including a lift, shower chair and hospital bed. After attending the ODS orientation in the summer, I saw all of these success stories. I didn’t believe them, but I saw them and they gave some great advice. I began teaching Melissa how to do things or how to tell me how to do things, such as laundry. If she was really going to do this on her own, she needed to know these basics skills and how to explain them to others.
I think everyone in our small town knew I was still a nervous wreck all summer. A local doctor offered up some preemptive Xanax if needed. :-) We were ready for move-in day. Thankfully, students with disabilities are offered the opportunity to move in a day early to get situated. This was a much-needed blessing for our whole family. After my husband and youngest daughter, Jessica, had left Melissa and I set out to meet the Personal Assistants (PAs) who would be helping her. (Melissa started using the PA services through ODS until she was eligible for the Ohio Waiver Program Where she had to start using an agency.)
It was within these next few days I felt the first sense of peace. The young girls listened and practiced carefully as I showed them how to best take care of Melissa. It was clear they were nervous, but willing and ready to learn. It helped that they were also just beginning their college careers. It gave Melissa a sense of community; someone to relate to as all of these things were changing around her. I began to see her grow and blossom even before school began. I still cried all the way home.
WSU also has this amazing class that students with disabilities are highly encouraged to take. It is called Managing Your Personal Assistants. It teaches students how to hire, fire and mediate conflicts with their caregivers. It empowers them to be their own best advocate. Not only is it an instructional class, teaching the ins and outs of the homecare industry, it’s an opportunity for those using the services to ask questions and share situations that could be helped with the topics covered in class If you ask both of my daughters, they will name this class as one of the most influential classes of their entire experience at Wright State. In fact, they both were co-teachers of the class at some point during their college career.
Don’t get me wrong. Everything will not go perfect. That is life, after all. Wheelchairs will break down. Door openers, computers, and other assistive technology will fail. The point is, WSU is the best place for these “emergencies” to happen. They have the knowledge, experience and tools to help your student succeed to their highest potential. My eldest, Melissa, finished her Bachelor degree in Mass Communication with a specialization in Public Relations and landed her dream job in our hometown. She is on her way to owning her own home, pays her own bills, and is very independent despite needing a significant amount of help with daily living activities. My youngest, Jessica, just completed her Master of Education in Student Affairs in Higher Education. There really is no stopping these girls, and my husband and I have WSU to thank for helping to develop their independence.
I told you before I did not expect eight years ago to be writing this letter. More than that, I never expected to become a spokesperson for incoming parents. After Melissa’s first year, we began showing up at orientations and letting parents and students know that they can do this. YOU can do this. If you need anything, all you have to do is reach out to me. I don’t mind answering even what you think are the silliest questions. I have already thought of them myself I’m sure.
If you wish to talk in more depth about our successes and challenges over the years, please feel free to contact me.
Blessings and good luck to your student and family!