As I’ve written previously, money is tight for the disabled. I make just under $900 a month in Supplemental Security Income (SSI). So the option to go past my Bachelor’s degree was never really there for me. I could have gone with some student loans, but as precarious as my monthly situation is, I didn’t want to look forward to thirty plus years of student debt. Thankfully, the White House announced this week that student loan debt for “permanently disabled” people would be forgiven. “Great,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll go back and finish up.” Then I remembered the reason I stopped.
Money wasn’t really a factor — I had the state Department of Vocational Rehabilitation helping me with tuition, so I managed from 2002 to 2007, when I got my Bachelor’s degree.
The bigger issue is one that’s followed me my entire life. I have a learning disability called dyscalculia. Think of it as dyslexia, but instead of affecting words and letters, it affects numbers. According to the National Institute of Health, estimates vary but dyscalculia is said to affect between three and six percent of the world population. It isn’t simply “math anxiety”. It doesn’t (just) make us nervous: you might as well just hand me something written in ancient runes.
Those of us with dyscalculia are just not “wired” for math, although I have it better than some. I can tell you which number is the larger one. Many people with this learning disability can’t, and you’d never know unless you put numbers in front of their face. I’m pretty articulate when it comes to language, but I’ve never been able to deal with numbers.
Because my learning disability is neurologically based and medically documented, my high school requirements were waived. In place of “normal level” classes, I took remedial classes. All. Four. Years. I was still learning my multiplication tables when I was a senior in high school. I’m going to be 40 this year, but haven’t gotten much further than long division. When I took my placement exams, I was in the 98th percentile for English but in the 2nd percentile for math, a situation typical of learning disabled people.
To my understanding: due to the prerequisites at the university level, I don’t meet the requirements for a degree higher than my BA. I won’t be able to get any further academically, not without a significant amount of extra blood, sweat and tears, at least. I wouldn’t have even managed to get my Bachelors degree if I hadn’t found JFK University, which (at the time) required a sole, remedial math class.
I’ll never escape numbers. But they have always been the bane of my existence. I’ve had to come up with some workarounds. Calculators and smartphones are awesome. But they’re just tools. They don’t help me learn. The funny thing? I love reading about quantum theory … which involves a lot of… You guessed it. Math. As long as I skip the equations, I understand it pretty well. (As well as quantum theory can be understood, that is.)
Tutoring is available, of course, and can help. But it doesn’t solve the issue. To put it in computer terms: the processor in my brain needs an upgrade. The problem is, we haven’t been able to make that kind of brain implant yet. I’d love to take advantage of this student debt forgiveness. I’d love to further my education. But in the twenty years since I graduated high school, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve got a black hole where my math skill should be. I’m just going to have to avoid it as much as I can.