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Meet the Woman Who Is Fighting the State of Louisiana to Go to School

Meet the Woman Who Is Fighting the State of Louisiana to Go to School

This is a guest post from a citizen activist, Ashley. Here is her incredible story.

My name is Ashley Volion. I have Cerebral Palsy and require personal care attendant services in order to live and work independently. I have received both a Bachelors and a Masters of Arts in Sociology from the University of New Orleans. After the competition of my Masters thesis in May 2010 entitled, Everyday Lived Experiences and the Domain of the Sexual: as explored by four physically disabled women, I knew my next goal was the University of Illinois at Chicago (the University of Illinois at Chicago is the only university in the United States to offer a Ph.D. in Disability Studies).

Throughout the pursuit of my career I have always worked closely with the state of Louisiana to ensure that my career goals met the state’s criteria for providing ongoing personal attendant services. Attending the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) was a part of my Comprehensive Plan of Care (CPOC). My staff helped me through the application process that I worked tirelessly to complete. When I was accepted into UIC I was ecstatic. I quickly informed all parties that I would be starting the program August 27, 2012. I was granted a research assistantship that included a tuition wavier and a monthly stipend that would help pay for housing. I located and obtained housing, and my two primary personal care attendants agreed to help me get settled by coming out to Chicago and care for me for a month each. They both wrote signed letters to my provider agency, and made living arrangements with friends in Chicago.

It never occurred to me that the state would deny my request to study out of state because:

1. UIC was my #1 goal in my CPOC for over a year.
2. I did not plan on becoming an Illinois resident.
3. I would remain a Louisiana resident and be in state for more than a 1/3 of the year.
4. I plan on returning to Louisiana to practice my profession.

I was wrong. Not only did the state deny my request, but I was forced to give up my research assistantship and my tuition waiver. I also had to defer my acceptance until August 2013. What makes this additionally disturbing is that as long as I forgo school, remain home and give up on my goals and dreams I will fully be allowed to keep and maintain the services I receive. This is a decision made by the state, knowing they have the flexibility to support my goals but choose not to. What does this say to individuals with disabilities, that we support your educational goals as long as you aim low? This is the wrong message and wrong policy to support.

The state of Louisiana is effectively denying me the ability to pursue a vocational goal which they have supported by granting me the personal care attendant services needed to attend school in order to obtain a higher education, essentially negating the investment they have made in my education and career for the last decade. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act states:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States… shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended 29 U.S.C. ยง 794)

After a lifetime of hard work, the one thing that I wanted more than anything was taken away from me. I quickly appealed this through an administrative law judge with the help of Laurie Peller. However, that request was denied as well. Therefore, I was forced to defer my acceptance. I would like this decision to be reconsidered.

Ashley & Siblings

 

Even if I were to get services through the state of Illinois, they do not provide the level of care that I require, and it would take a year to become an Illinois resident which is a requirement for eligibility for their personal care attendant program. Also, if I were to become an Illinois resident, I would lose Louisiana residency, access to services that require long waiting lists to receive with no guarantees of becoming eligible upon return. I do not want to do this as I want to help out my Louisiana community upon completion, to grow, work and retire with all my friends and family reside in Louisiana.

It is my hope that that there will be a reversal of decision by lawmakers and my 504 rights will be restored so I can pursue my career goals. No one should be forced to choose between education and continuity of healthcare.

Take action: Sign Ashley’s petition to convince the state of Louisiana to support her educational goals!

 

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All photos used with permission from the author

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119 comments

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11:11AM PST on Dec 26, 2012

I admire anyone for wanting to further their education, and I am sure it is really hard with a disability. The question I have is would a person without a disability have been able to get even half of the education she already possess for free? With the degrees she already has she should be able to earn a good living and save up to pay for her own PhD.

6:34PM PST on Nov 20, 2012

really awesome

6:34PM PST on Nov 20, 2012

awesome

12:56PM PST on Nov 19, 2012

She´s great

10:16AM PST on Nov 19, 2012

Awesome lady.

10:31PM PST on Nov 17, 2012

I studied social science in grad school. Are they going to deny her even if she pays for it herself? Take a vow of poverty and jump right in.

Also it is normal to be rejected by multiple schools in Master's or Ph.D. I was rejected by two out of three grad schools.

5:18PM PST on Nov 17, 2012

thanks for bringing attention to Ms. Volion's story, i signed the petition. all my best to this young lady.

4:24AM PST on Nov 17, 2012

Professors don't work for free. Neither do university administrators. Utilities don't supply electricity for free, either, and they don't lower their rates to institutions who give "free" tuition to handicapped people. When one of them gets "free" tuition, what really happens is that paying students of the university are required to pay more, to cover the costs of educating the non-paying students.

Thus, any student who must pay his own tuition, attending a school where some students are excused from paying (why isn't important), should realize that as long as they keep attending that school they must pay for the free-riders' educations as well as their own.

And, therefore, if a paying student has any sense at all, he/she will refuse to attend any school that offers free tuition to anyone at all. Let the universities try teaching only a big herd of non-paying handicapped and non-paying minority students until they can no longer pay their professors and must lay them off and go promptly out of business.

3:16PM PST on Nov 16, 2012

This is messed up! This woman is incredibly brave and ambitious, and it's shameful that the state is not only denying her the right to be educated, but also threatening to take away the services that could help her achieve her goals just because she is actively pursuing an education! Instead of supporting someone with a disability who is willing to go beyond society's expectations and learn and be productive, they are placing obstacles in her path. I am simply shocked to read this, since it's so unfair!

12:20PM PST on Nov 16, 2012

Interesting.

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