Author: R.S.
Source: Reprinted with permission of the author

For many years I worked diligently at hiding my failures (disability). I felt threatened by my inability. My disability interferes with how I process information, especially when it comes time to put words on paper. I compensated for my poor writing by listening, reading and when it is my turn, I speak. My ability to speak and to understand contextually are my strengths.

According to my teachers, I could not write well. I have difficulty remembering the basic spelling of words. My cursive writing is so poor that others beg me to use the computer. There wasn’t an opportunity to use computers when I grew up. The difference with having the use of a computer is the span between a D plus and a B minus. I graduated from college by being selective about course options (multiple choice, short answers) and some luck.

At times I felt quite despondent. I compensated for my poor self-worth by running. I was running away from my inability. I worked hard at being a good runner. It didn’t make me a better person or student. However, I was good enough to receive a scholarship. Yet Tennessee was the wrong place for a man of colour. I was happy to leave, but it was as an academic failure.

I was told that success comes to those who make an attempt. I feel in control when I try. So I continued to try. However, professionally, I was at a low point. Weekly, my supervisor threatened to fire me. According to her, my clinical skills were great but my reports were “garbage.” I once read that the pen is mightier than the sword. I imagine the person must have used a red pen. I am thankful to the support I received from my family and friends. One friend revealed that he had a learning disability and suggested that I get tested.

So I’m diagnosed as Learning Disabled. It takes a while (years!), before I adjust to the label and realize that I have a right to receive accommodations. I’ve only begun to use the accommodations at Ryerson. I assumed that life would be easier upon acknowledging my disability to the University or supervisors at work.

Years ago, when I was in high school, I tried my best. My teachers told me that I did not try hard enough, that I had not applied myself. When I told my supervisor that I had a Learning Disability, she said I didn’t try hard enough. The difference was twenty years. No real difference.

I work full time as a child and youth worker facilitating parenting groups, social skills training, groups for sex offenders and anger management groups. I go to school, I am a full time dad and husband. My effort isn’t lacking. Yet a nagging thought echoed in my mind. Degree! My prospects for advancement were bleak, (non-existent) without a degree.

I was offered positions and I was turning them down. I felt inadequate, inferior and at times incompetent. I had no option but to re-attempt school. I applied and was accepted into Ryerson’s B.S.W. program.

Going to university this time around is more satisfying. The degree will help me become a better worker. My disability connects me to my clients. I don’t know everything, but I sense that they are trying. I know that inner struggles can not be seen by others.

However, it is important to listen to someone’s else struggles.

My disability is not a tool, nor a badge of honour. It gives me a perspective on life, a sense of reality, a way of understanding. I see the world through a different lens. I accept my disability, not as a crutch but as a token of reality. I continue to try harder. Not because some teacher thinks that I need to, nor because some supervisor says I haven’t tried. It is because trying is all I can control.