By Mary Niederberger
As a college student, McGowan has spent countless hours before and after class visiting with professors to explain his disabilities, collecting textbooks and course materials in advance, using special software to prepare them for his use, connecting with note taking services, and caring for his guide dog, a black lab named Atlas.
Over the years, he’s watched his peers slide into class at the last minute and close notebooks at the end of lectures, likely not to think about the notes again until they are needed for homework or studying.
But McGowan lives in a different world, one where preparation for class begins before the semester starts and continues before and after most classes.
McGowan has significant vision and hearing loss as the result of Usher Syndrome Type 2. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from Edinboro University of Pennsylvania in 2019 and is currently working on a master’s degree in counseling there. And, he’s been happy with the support and accommodations he’s received along the way as he deals with the rigors and learning experiences of college all while managing his disabilities.
But there’s something he’d like those around him to know about his higher education experience and those of other students with disabilities:
“There’s a lot to do on top of what everyone needs to learn when you go to college that the average student may not have to worry about,” McGowan said.
He makes it clear in his soft-spoken and measured manner that he’s sharing his story not in an effort to get pity — he says he and other students with disabilities don’t need that — but to provide insight.
This story is the second in a series titled “Leveling the Playing Field” published by the Pittsburgh Institute of Nonprofit Journalism.
This story was made possible through a fellowship from the Education Writers Association.