Disabled and Chronically Ill Student Working Group

What is disability?

A disability is any condition of the body or mind (impairment) that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities (activity limitation) and interact with the world around them (participation restrictions). Disabilities can be visible or invisible, short-term or ongoing, and can affect someone’s vision, movement, thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, hearing, mental health, and social relationships. “Disability is not just a physical diagnosis, but a lived experience in which parameters and barriers are placed upon our lives because of that diagnosis” – Imani Barbarin.

What is chronic illness?

A chronic illness is a persistent health condition (medically diagnosed or not) that can last for a limited time or for a person’s entire lifetime. While chronic illness symptoms are diagnosis-specific, many people living with chronic illness navigate pain, fatigue, insomnia, stiffness, and mood disorders, which impact their ability to work. People with chronic illness may also have immune system issues that leave them especially susceptible to infections.

Being a disabled/chronically ill student

Disabled/chronically ill students have unique difficulties in addition to graduate school life. While dealing with the everyday challenges of graduate work that affect all students, we additionally have to navigate medical appointments, pain, debility, insurance issues, ableism and discrimination, and unpredictable flare-ups of chronic conditions. These impacts affect students who live with mobility impairments, sensory processing differences, depression, anxiety, ADHD, tumors, diabetes, myalgic encephalitis, autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia, migraines, endometriosis, and more. Students may need to miss classes for doctors appointments, adjust due dates on assignments, and use assistive devices in classrooms, labs, and other workspaces.

Concerns affecting chronically ill and disabled students:

  • Accessible classes, events, transit, and accommodations
  • Medical leave
  • Discrimination
  • Health insurance

How can TRU improve working conditions for disabled/chronically ill students?

A graduate workers’ union is a way to address these issues and make changes using the power of collective action. Together, we can identify, discuss, and find solutions to improve common concerns of chronically ill and disabled students. Instead of each graduate student having to individually ask for something from their adviser or department chair, it can be more effective to make demands as a group, especially when many students face similar difficulties.

By collectively demanding these changes, we not only make our university safer for chronically ill and disabled students, but also improve the lived experience of all students. Students can benefit from TRU’s work on these issues without having to disclose medical information themselves. Supporting and joining TRU empowers us to stand up together against the unjust treatment of chronically ill and disabled students and to improve working conditions for everyone.

Together we can push for:

  • Better health insurance to ensure that specialized care and providers are adequately financially supported
  • Equitable medical leave allowing students to obtain the medical care they need
  • Protection from discrimination and transparent grievance procedures should discrimination occur
  • Accessible workspaces, university infrastructure, university transit, and transit stops enabling all students to thrive in their graduate school environment
  • Adequate protections from transmissible diseases such as COVID-19 including but not limited to clean air (e.g. via HEPA filters), free and accessible COVID testing resources and high quality masks.

How can I support TRU?

We welcome all PhD workers at Hopkins, and you can choose to participate in and support TRU to whatever extent you feel comfortable. You can talk with our organizers, or become one yourself, and make sure the unique experiences of being an international student and worker are in a labor contract with the University. TRU respects and seeks to represent the issues and concerns of international students regardless of their desire or ability to participate in the union. You can contact an organizer to learn more, join our mailing list and attend events, or sign up to be an organizer in your department. 

What are some helpful existing JHU and community resources?

Community COVID-19 resources:

  • COVID-19 tests: Enoch Pratt Free Library locations; check availability here
  • N95 masks: Covid Safe Campus; request a pack of free masks here

JHU resources: