A Growing Number of Students with (Dis)abilities Find Support Through Michigan Ross

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When Benjamin Cole, BBA ‘20, first visited Michigan Ross, he knew almost instantly it was the business school for him. Diagnosed with autism at age 10, Cole always felt out of place and singled out because of his disability.

“When I was diagnosed, the teachers, while I think they had good intentions, did more harm than good. They isolated me from seventh grade through 11th grade from the rest of the class,” said Cole. “They didn’t know much about it. People perceived me as dumb and assumed I couldn’t learn right. I felt alone.”

Yet, his first visit to Michigan Ross convinced him that his college experience would be much different.

“Ross’ mission, the focus on making a difference through business, represents my values. This is a place full of smart leaders who want to make an impact — that’s what drew me here,” he said. “When I talked to Megan (an admissions officer), she was very helpful and I’ll forever be grateful for that. The first day I came here, I said this is the place I want to go.”

He is part of a growing number of students at Ross who identify as having a disability. What could be considered a disability falls under a large umbrella, from physical impairments such as blindness or inability to walk to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety. According to Katy Reeves, Ross Accommodations Coordinator, the increasing number is attributed to the fact that more students have “invisible disabilities” and are more open about needing support for their disabilities.

“Students with depression, ADHD, autism, anxiety, and things related to mental health, who previously didn’t really feel comfortable seeking out services or who just didn’t understand that they could seek disability accommodations, are doing so now,” said Reeves.

She added that she receives new requests for accommodations every day, which could include extended testing time, taking a test in a study room with a proctor to decrease distractions or having a note taker during classroom instruction. Students must register with the university’s Services for Students with Disabilities office to receive proper documentation prior to connecting with Reeves.

And while normalizing the conversations about disabilities has contributed to more students seeking services, there is still a stigma around students sharing their disabilities with peers, specifically regarding mental health. In a rigorous, competitive environment such as business school, the anxiety around disclosure can be even greater. For example, students may question why another student is taking an exam elsewhere, but Reeves encourages that they have an open mind and understand that their peers are more than capable of doing the work, but may need some extra support to truly thrive.

“Accommodations for students with disabilities is not an advantage,” said Reeves. “It’s really just leveling the playing field and making sure there is equity among all of our students in terms of being able to demonstrate their abilities.”

For Cole, who wants to pursue a career in investment banking, his disability helped him become the individual he is today. “For an autistic individual, it’s better to embrace who you are rather than run away from it,” he said. “You can be whoever you are. I want to be a good role model and make an impact on others.”

For any questions about the accommodations process, you can email rossaccommodationscoordinator@umich.edu.

Learn more about Diversity at Michigan Ross