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Illegible Disabilities– Anxiety on College Campuses

When thinking about disabilities, people often focus on legible disabilities, such as needing mobility assistance through a wheelchair, or challenges faced for people with partial/missing limbs. However, the legal definition of disability extends much further beyond just visible physical disabilities. The distinction between legible and illegible disabilities looks at how understandable and identifiable is something is, with particular regards to the body. “Regimes of legibility and eligibility in particular, shaped how architects came to create buildings and public spaces with particular inhabitants in mind” (Hamraie).  While it does not include an exhaustive list, when applying for jobs many companies ask applicants to self identify if they have a disability. This list is long, and has many disabilities listed that do not fit the traditional legible definition of disability. It is important to recognize all disabilities, “making disability legible would save disabled people from the stigmas of visible misfit” (Hamraie).

One of these listed disabilities is anxiety, something that is very prevalent on college campuses throughout America. In this blog, we will be using the definition of anxiety from the DSM V, which is a “chronic state of worry or panic in an individual, on more days than not, for over six months”. This definition does not cover anxiety that all students experience, such as stress over exams and work, or social lives, but rather a chronic crippling state of worry that is diagnosed by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

The transition to college is difficult in the first place, but for students with an anxiety disorder it is particularly stressful. Many people find ways to cope with their anxiety that become impossible in college. For example, many people find that when they are experiencing feelings of panic, being with other people in any capacity only adds to this feeling, as stimuli only worsen panic. Seeing as almost all freshmen have a roommate, it is difficult to find a space on campus to be alone. To create a more anxiety friendly campus, the school should work on creating more free spaces designed for students to be alone that are in centralized and easily accessible locations. This would also be beneficial for upperclassmen who live off campus and cannot easily go home during the day but may need a moment alone.

Another problem is the location of the counseling and psychological services offices. Both are located in dorms, and to get into dorms you have to swipe into the building. If you do not live in that building, you are then forced to tell the security guard that you are going to CAPS, which is not something that people necessarily would like to advertise while walking into a building around large groups of people. The main base for CAPS is also in Merion Gardens, which is especially confusing and hard to find as it is not part of the main campus, and the counseling services are located on the fifth floor. These are essential services for many students who struggle with any mental healthcare issues, especially since many students cannot afford to pay a therapist for private practice.

In order to better CAPS, they should be allotted a location on the main campus that everyone can easily access, without there being a neon sign over their head that says they are in need of counseling. The university could put these services in any building that isn’t residential and doesn’t need to be cleared by a security guard and it would be a lot more encouraging for students who need help to seek it out. These are two things that are easy enough to change in order for our campus to be more accessible, and would go a long way in assisting students who need help.

-Julianne Hester, 2021

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