The Unspoken Struggle: Students Share Personal Experiences Living and Learning with Disabilities

For many students at Andover, the Spotify and Soundcloud music that blares out of their earbuds in the Garver Room helps to make the study experience a little more bearable. For Scott MacDonald ’15, however, the noise is only a burden.

“I’m really into music, and, if you personally know me, you’ll frequently hear me say that I don’t have time for it. Most people listen to music when they are doing other things, but when I put on music, I zone out everything that I’m doing and just sit there blank listening to music,” he said.

MacDonald was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in eighth grade. ADHD affects his executive and cognitive functions, the ability to switch between tasks and focus, and the ability to recall memory in a short period of time.

As part of this week’s Disability Weekend, MacDonald, Dylan Gully ’12, Andrew Faulkner ’07 and Carrie Ingerman ’15 recounted their personal experiences with learning and physical disabilities at the “No Shame in The Name: Celebration of Disabilities” student panel.

Hosted by Disability Rights, Education, Activism and Mentoring (DREAM), a new club formed by Ingerman, the aim of the event — and the club — was to increase awareness on students with disabilities, as well as promote understanding and tolerance among members of the Andover community.

Students with disabilities often have to find alternative ways to thrive in the competitive and demanding Andover environment. Gully, for example, cannot take notes and pay attention to the teacher at the same time during class.

“If I do, I’ll do poorly in both. I haven’t taken notes in any classes. Ever. I just listen, so I have to listen very attentively,” said Gully, who was diagnosed with Dyslexia.

“The most obvious [memory I had with my disabilities] in my life was in college when I pledged for a fraternity under a name from the novel ‘Of Mice and Men,’” said Faulkner, who is diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADHD.

Unlike the other panelists, Ingerman has a physical disability and has been dealing with mobility impairments after three back surgeries in the course of ten months. Everyday actions such as sitting, standing or walking often prove difficult for Ingerman.

“It’s really difficult for me because I remember being physically able. I miss playing sports and hanging out with friends after finishing homework. I don’t have the energy to spend as much time with friends now,” said Ingerman.

Panelists strongly expressed the need to promote understanding and tolerance of those with learning and physical disabilities. MacDonald talked about how he receives 50 percent additional time for all of his exams, forcing him to split the tests in half or take them during free periods, conference or lunch.

“At a competitive place like Andover, students take everything competitively. I’ve had someone ask me, ‘How do I get extra time?’ and I’ve had to awkwardly explain to them why I’m still taking the test when the teacher has called time,” said MacDonald.

“I want people to realize how real [disabilities] are because they are not something tangible or clearly visible. I don’t want others’ misunderstanding of my disabilities to affect the way they view me,” said Gully.

For Faulkner, having learning disabilities is not a hindrance. He shared that his disabilities have shaped who he is today and allowed him to succeed in ways that he wouldn’t have had otherwise.

“At Andover, I was horrible at Spanish, so I focused more on math and other things that my strengths played to. Now I’m an engineer, and my focus on those other things have really helped me. I’ve become a better engineer because of my learning disabilities,” he said.

Gully saw his disability as something to motivate him to do better. Before he came to Andover, Gully’s doctor sat him and his mother down and said that Andover would probably be too great of a challenge.

“That moment really drove me to work harder and prove him wrong. He was the first person I thought of when I got my diploma,” he added.