Op-Ed: Experiencing campus in a different way

Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 4:35pm

I am a relatively recent transfer admit to the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering. I am also a severely disabled student. At age 19, I was a sophomore here when I suffered an Arteriovenous Malformation, a brain hemorrhage that left me with signs of a stroke. After being in a coma for three months, I awoke, not being able to do anything. After countless physical therapists, occupational therapists and doctors, I am now 30 and excited to continue studying at this famed University.

Charm and friendliness are predominant features in my journey back to the University of Michigan. One of my first experiences started with a visit to Services for Students with Disabilities. The people there were very accommodating and helpful in getting me whatever I needed, be it providing me with scribes or note takers or securing transportation to and from my classes. Without this help, I would not have been able to overcome the new hurdles that arose after the accident. All the people from the University of Michigan have been exceptionally helpful. Without their expert help, I would not be able to attend the University’s College of Engineering.

My caregivers at the University have been wonderful. I need caregivers for all my daily tasks of living. While there are not many of them, they became some of my closest friends on campus. They help me by being diligent and kind in their services to me. Without these select few, my experience here would be more challenging.

The student body has also been a pleasant surprise to me, providing me with comfort and making me feel at home. It has touched me how they really cared about me. One instance was when the girl who usually sits behind me in my aerospace engineering class said “Hi!” to me when we were in an Aerospace Engineering Department meeting. Even though it was such a small gesture, it meant the world to me. I have been waiting for a fellow student to extend that common courtesy to me for the longest time. My faith in humanity was restored by how much of a heart the student body at the University of Michigan has. They made me feel a part of their community, which I have wanted all along.

What also helps immensely is the presence of student organizations. I was a member of a student group with disabled students and their friends called Students with Disabilities and Our Allies Group. One example of how their behavior changed my life was in one of the first meetings of the group, they asked me if I had any thoughts. I told them that I wished the group could convene in a place more accessible to those who do not live on Central Campus. They helped me by enabling me to participate as a member of a group. Without the student body, I would not have had the courage to speak up in my other student groups up on North Campus.

It was not only general student groups that welcomed and included me back into the University. I can’t image this experience without the students and faculty in the Aerospace Engineering Department. Both students and faculty gave me a great opportunity in my first aerospace engineering lab. This class was special because we learned how to design, build and test a hovercraft from scratch.

Another great experience I had was one with the aerospace technicians’ office in the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building. I could go in the tech’s office and set down all my stuff for the day and it would be there at the end of the day. I sometimes have 10 or more pounds of various assistive technologies and my personal stuff to carry around with me in a single day, so you can tell I am obviously appreciative because I could find a little place, with the aerospace techs, where I could set my stuff down. They even have a desk in their office just for me. This is not an option for everybody; I only got it after going to their office for many months. I met some of the most influential people in my journey at the University in the tech’s center. I think I found one of the “hidden treasures” of University of Michigan’s North Campus in FXB.

Initially, navigating the “system” and life after the accident made me feel like I could never return to accomplish the dreams I had prior to it. Now, I realize that I deserve to be a student and nothing can stop me in my dream of becoming the first disabled person in space. I feel it is of the utmost importance to always have a dream. The dream is what keeps me alive. Without the dream, I would not be where I am: at the University of Michigan.

I know I have a long way to go before accomplishing my dream, but if you had seen me in the appalling position I was stuck in after my AVM, you would be floored at how far I have come. Going back to college was just my first step in accomplishing my dream. One day, I will be a success. I will strive to live up to the strict standards placed on me by being a student at this prestigious University.

Bradley Ebenhoeh is an Engineering senior.