Everyone struggles with something.
And when you’re struggling, it can be hard to reach out for help. Doubting questions are common: Will they get what I’m talking about? Will they think I’m different or odd? Can I be helped? Can I overcome this? Will it ever get any better?
For students who enter Augusta University’s Office of Testing and Disability Services, those questions rarely last long. First, they meet a staff eager to help and committed to making AU feel like home for every student.
Then, they meet disability coordinator Bryan Waller.
Ten years ago, Waller was a history major in Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences when he accepted a position as a student assistant in the Testing and Disability Services work study program.
He was uniquely qualified for the position, in part, because he was already working with Testing and Disability Services as a student who needed accommodations.
Waller struggles with written expression.
“There’s a loose connection between my brain and my hand,” he said. “I know what I’m talking about, but I have trouble writing it down.”
Waller graduated from Augusta University in 2009, and in 2014 returned to his alma mater and to the Office of Testing and Disability Services. He currently serves as one of the office’s disability coordinators where he helps students access accommodations.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though.
After graduating from high school, Waller began his freshman year of college at Augusta University. By the end of his sophomore year, he had his sights set on a larger university in another state. He made the decision to transfer.
At his new school, Waller decided he didn’t need accommodations. This quickly proved to be a bad decision, and Waller decided to move back and finish his education at Augusta University.
Now, Waller shares his story with students as a cautionary tale.
“I try to convey to my students that it’s alright that they have a disability,” he said. “I tell them, ‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what makes you unique.’ I share with them where I succeeded and where I struggled.”
Waller believes his learning disability helps him better connect with students.
“When I was a student, I didn’t always want to listen to my disability coordinator because I thought she just didn’t know what I was going through,” he said. “Now, I’m doing the same thing. I hope it’s a little different, though, because I’ve been in their shoes. I’m not just an adult telling them what to do.”
While Waller mostly works with current students, he also makes it a priority to make sure potential students know that they’re welcome at Augusta University.
“I always try to attend student orientations, because it puts a face to a name,” he said. “It shows students that there is someone that understands what’s going on and someone that understands their needs.”
Most days, Waller works with students to ensure they have both proper documentation of their disability and accommodations that will allow students to be successful. However, his job as a disability coordinator also requires him to sometimes take on a second role: advocate. Waller speaks with faculty, staff and students in hopes of destigmatizing learning disabilities.
“I always say that accommodations do not give the student an advantage,” he said. “A student with a disability is already at a disadvantage. The accommodation levels the playing field. It’s really about giving students the help that they need to be on the same plane as everyone else.”
Giving students the help that they need is what Waller loves about his job. It’s a real opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life.
As for Waller, he’s back in school. This time, he’s pursuing a masters degree. Something he never imagined doing but decided to pursue after being encouraged by his boss, who is his former disability coordinator. This has only increased his ability to connect with his students.
“I’m helping students, but I’m also a student who needs accommodations,” Waller said, bringing his story full circle.
The Office of Testing and Disability Services was established to help ensure an accessible and positive college experience for students with disabilities and strives to be responsive to the needs of students, community members and the faculty and staff of Augusta University. To learn more about the office, visit their website.