Motlow State Community College is honoring the many and varied contributions of people with disabilities to America’s workplaces and economy by commemorating National Disability Employment Awareness Month, held each October. Three such students and faculty have been recognized for their achievements.
Motlow State graduate Kenzie Luttrell works at the College as an administrative assistant for the honors program. She was diagnosed with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a rare and neuromuscular disorder when she was only nine years old. The disease damages the spinal cord, peripheral nerves, and the cerebellum portion of the brain.
Having a disability has not stopped Luttrell from obtaining an education. She graduated from Motlow in 2018 and started working part-time at the College. She is also pursuing her Master’s degree in Applied Sociology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. After graduation, she plans to become an instructor at Motlow.
“I was homeschooled my entire life,” explained Luttrell, who admits she was nervous about attending college when she started going to Motlow in 2016. Her disorder is a progressive disease that she said primarily limits her mobility.
“I used to be able to walk. I got the scooter I use now around the same time that I started my studies at Motlow,” she said. “The College is homey and helped me come into my own. I was insecure and didn’t want anyone to think I had something wrong with me, but I made friends and became more confident regardless of my disabilities.”
Luttrell has become more confident in sharing her story with others during her time at Motlow. As part of her job with the honors department, she often has direct contact with students.
“There was a student who needed to miss one of the honors program meetings for a doctor appointment due to their disability, and I was able to share my experiences and relate to that individual,” she said.
Students with all kinds of disabilities come to Motlow State to get a high-quality education. Chasity Carlbom graduated from Motlow in 2020 with an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in Business with an Entrepreneurship Concentration. The A.A.S. in Entrepreneurship equips students with the skills needed to start and successfully run their own business.
She was employed full-time with the Tennessee Army National Guard in Nashville until 2017 when she was medically retired after suffering from multiple sclerosis and intracranial hypertension, a build-up of pressure around the brain.
“I started losing my vision and had a shunt placed in my brain to drain the excess fluid,” said Carlbom, who volunteers with the First United Methodist Church children’s ministry in Murfreesboro.
In a few years, her husband will retire, and they plan to move to Nebraska to open a retail store. She came to Motlow to learn the financial side of running her own business to be better prepared when that day comes.
“I was worried about starting a business, so I went back to school to learn basic finance in regards to entrepreneurship. I was hesitant because my disabilities make me unreliable,” she explained. “There were days I could not drive myself to school, so I had to either call an Uber or miss class. The instructors were very understanding and would send me the information for the day. I feel more comfortable now that I have a better grasp on everything.”
Another Motlow alumnus is Alex Boyd, who graduated from the College in 2019 and continued pursuing additional education at MTSU, majoring in graphic design. He was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) in elementary school.
“I think about whether or not my ADD will be an issue for me when I finish school,” said Boyd.
He is authorized accommodations for his disability but said he tries not to rely on them. “I don’t want to be treated differently. I want to be independent. While I can request extra time for tests and projects and things like that, I try not to use them. I have always been able to get my assignments done on time, but I am glad that the option is there,” he said.
Like Carlbom, Boyd made sure to communicate with his teachers about his disability upfront.
“They have always been very understanding,” he said. “Sometimes, I do have to have them reiterate something a few times, but I take notes and record lectures with my phone to help out.”
People with ADD may have difficulty staying on task and sustaining focus. Learning online was an obstacle that Boyd had to overcome. He said he asked for extra help and reminders from his instructors when needed.
“I am an in-person learner,” he explained. “I told myself to push through the pandemic shift to online learning because this is a temporary situation, and I am so close to finishing my bachelor’s degree. I know in the end it will be worth it.”
No matter what path a person takes in life, having a disability should not hinder obtaining an education and pursuing your passion. The pandemic created unique challenges for some students transitioning to online learning. Motlow’s online learning platform helped reduce stress during this time.
“Many students had never taken an online course before the pandemic, which brought about heightened stress and fear of the unknown,” explained Yeulanda Pierce-Beverly, assistant director of Disability, Testing, and Counseling Services at Motlow. “The Universal Design online learning platform has been huge for all students. The platform accommodates disabled students by providing access to transcripts of notes, recorded lectures, and closed captioning, to name a few.”
Motlow’s disability services, including college accommodations, are designed to focus on access to education and educational programs.
“Students with disabilities can find that developing an individual college accommodation plan will support their academic needs and plan for completing a degree,” said Belinda Champion, director of Disability, Testing and Counseling Services at Motlow. “Our experienced staff works with each student individually to design a plan for semester courses and support communicating the plan to instructors. We also encourage students to take an active role in discussing information with instructors about their learning and communication styles.”
“During my time as a student at Motlow, I developed a close relationship with disability services. I would let them know when a door opener was broken or when I needed extra time on a test,” said Luttrell. “Motlow has always been very accommodating to my individual needs. When I started working here, maintenance installed a grab bar in my office.
It can be challenging for a student to navigate all that college brings, especially if there is a disability impacting the path to educational goals. Knowing that disability services can help students rise to the same playing field and have equal opportunity to be successful hopefully offers some peace of mind for students who experience the impacts of a disability in their college path.
“I thought it would be hard to establish services, but Yeulanda made me feel so comfortable during the process. It was actually really easy,” said Carlbom.
“Motlow offers accommodations for all students registered with our office of Disability Services,” said Pierce-Beverly. “I want students to know that they do not have to be embarrassed to ask for help. Disability Services are confidential. No matter which barrier that they are faced with, they too can graduate and be successful!”
Students with disabilities who would like to apply for college accommodations and services, to establish an accommodation plan, or for more information, contact the Smyrna campus at 615-220-7857 or all other campuses at 931-393-1765, or any campus by email to email@example.com.