Guest Blog: Disability Accommodations for Balancing School and Migraines

By Pritha M.

Walking through an airport, I saw a woman with a service dog. I expected the dog’s vest to read, “Do not pet. Service animal.” However this dog bore the statement, “Not all disabilities are visible.”

I knew migraines were disabling, but I never realized they counted as a disability. After facing a year of medical school with chronic migraines, I finally reached out to my Dean for support. She introduced me to the idea that I could get accommodations for my migraines.

Accommodations refer to various services your school (or employer) can provide to support your success when you experience a temporary or permanent disability. On my migraine journey, I have learned so much about disability accommodations I can receive as a student. I want to share these tips with other students battling episodic and chronic migraines. We all deserve our best chance for success.

Before I get into actual accommodations, I highly recommend that you establish a relationship with your school’s office for students with disabilities. Talk to them about how you can set up your desired accommodations. They will ensure that you can perform at your best. Ask them for other ideas that might help you.

Notify all of your professors about your accommodations at the beginning of the semester/quarter, but no later than 1 week before your classes. The earlier, the better! If you can, talk to professors in person so they can get to know you better.

I have organized the following accommodations by category: General, Light, Sound, Scent, Exams/Quizzes, and Acute Attack.

 General:

  • Allowed to take fewer classes or take classes part-time

  • Extra breaks to walk, meditate, or rest in a dark, quiet room

  • Access to a note taker

  • Access to a tutor

  • Access to plenty of snacks and water

  • Access to textbooks at school and at home to avoid carrying a heavy load

  • Can leave loud or bright environments as needed

  • Avoid or modify physical activity that may increase pain

Light:

  • Allowed to install blue-light reducing program (eg F.lux) on computer

  • Allowed to lower computer brightness

  • Permission to wear sunglasses and a hat indoors

 Sound:

  • Headphones and ear plugs to reduce noise

  • Allowed to listen to calming music (eg: binaural beats) while working

  • Extra time to travel between classes to avoid noisy hallways

 Scent:

  • Reduced exposure to chemical odors

  • Access to a mask or aromatherapy in an environment with a triggering scent

Exams/Quizzes:

  • Administer exams in a quiet, dark room with limited distractions

  • 50% extra time on exams

  • Access to a white noise machine during exams

  • Headphones and ear plugs to reduce noise

  • Allowed to listen to calming music (eg: binaural beats) during exam

  • Extra breaks during AND between exams in a dark room

Acute Attack:

  • Excused absences or tardiness during an acute attack

  • Flexible deadlines for assignments

  • Access to a quiet, dark room with a place to lie down during a migraine attack

  • May leave class to use restroom whenever necessary for nausea and vomiting

  • Allowed to carry required medications OR access to medication through school nurse

  • Allowed to work from home when possible

 I wish you the best on your health and academic journey. Your health comes first, so keep taking good care of yourself. Comment below to share what accommodations have been helpful for you!

Thank you Pritha!

Thank you Pritha!

Guest Blogger Bio: Pritha M. is a medical student at Vanderbilt University living with chronic migraines. She believes fellow migraine warriors deserve access to pain management tips that improve their quality of life. Pritha hopes to increase empathy in the medical field for patients with chronic pain.

Sources

1.     8 Tips for Coping with Migraines in College by Nikki Albert

2.     23 Ideas for Reasonable Job Accommodations for Migraines by Greg Bullock

3.     How to Provide Accommodations for Children with Migraine at School by American Migraine Foundation

4.     Sample 504 Plan for Migraines from ChronicAction.org

5.     Sample doctor’s letter for accommodations from Seattle Children’s Hospital

6.     Special Education Services for Children with Migraine by Tammy Rome

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