Talking to Your Professor About Having Psoriatic Arthritis
Last updated: September 2018
At the start of my freshman year of college, I was terrified of my professors. I was afraid that their classes would be too hard for me and I'd fail. But what I was most nervous about was classes causing me to be in a lot of pain from hours of sitting and notetaking. But to my surprise, most of my professors were reasonable people. And they didn't want me to be in pain during their class either!
Over the years, I've talked to many professors about how my psoriatic arthritis may impact my class participation. Almost all my professors have been understanding. Over my years, professors have allowed me to take short breaks to stretch during lectures or to take pictures of slides instead of taking notes. As long as I did well in class, my teachers were happy to help.
Teachers want to see their students succeed
You shouldn't be afraid to approach your professor to talk about your arthritis and any medical accommodations you may need. Though it can seem a little awkward, it's normal for students to approach their teacher regarding medical needs. While you don't have to be personal, just make it clear that your needs are necessary. For example, "Sometimes I may need to take a few minutes to stretch otherwise my joints may become painful and stiff."
In my experience, the only things my professors were unable to help with were things that went against school policies. For example, my school has little tolerance for lateness and absences. While a rare tardy or absence when I was flaring was okay, I don't think my professors would've been as forgiving if it was constant.
Fight for accommodations
Though most professors are understanding, there may be some who aren't too keen to help. Or your request may be too big for them to handle, such as needing voice to text technology. Though I haven't come across this, a friend of mine has faced many professors unwilling to meet her needs. In those cases, the smartest thing to do is talk with your college's disability services coordinator.
Colleges cannot discriminate you for having arthritis and must provide reasonable accommodations for your well being. Reasonable accommodations could be on-campus housing closer to classes or having access to voice to text software. The only time a college does not have to help you is if you do not identify your condition, you do not have documentation from your doctor that verifies the accommodation is necessary, or if the accommodation would require a change to the academic requirements for a degree.
Even with your rights, you may have to jump through some hoops. I've found that the best way to ensure you get what you need is to have notes supporting your request from both your primary care doctor and rheumatologist. Be sure your doctors' letters state why you need an accommodation; your request can be denied the first time if your doctor isn't specific enough.
Some professors have been there
You may have professors who empathize more than you'd imagine. A few of my past professors either dealt with a chronic illness or has a loved one who does. One of my professors had a friend with psoriatic arthritis and knew how painful it is. It was a studio class, and while we normally would stand at easels to draw, she always brought in a tall stool with a back on it for me. My professor always made a point to check in with me, too. There's no doubt in my mind that her support helped me create some of my best work.
College is hard
It can be hard to go to college while dealing with chronic pain. But it shouldn't make it impossible to get an education. Getting my degree hasn't been easy - there were many days I thought I would have to drop out due to my health. Even now, I sometimes find myself in class struggling to follow because I'm in too much pain to focus. But I've been extremely fortunate to have many caring professors on my side. It was great to know that as long as I tried my best, my professors would help me succeed in any way they could.
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