Returning to School After a Spinal Cord Injury

school after spinal cord injury

If you are like me, you sustained a spinal cord injury while you were still in school, whether it was college, high school, or elementary. Maybe you were injured after school, but you want to go back to continue your education in another field. When I suffered my spinal cord injury, I was halfway through my senior year of high school. After becoming paralyzed, many people wonder if returning to school is possible for them. If you are wondering this same question, you are at the right place to find the answer! I’m going to share my advice and personal experience of returning to school and continuing your education from a wheelchair.

I have recorded a video on this same topic for my YouTube channel where I make videos to help people live life just like they would’ve able-bodied.

Is Going Back to School After a Spinal Cord Injury Possible?

The good news is that continuing your education while paralyzed is still possible! Understandably, that can make some people nervous once they find this out, including me. Most people don’t know where to start or what their best option is.

Back when I was still doing in-patient therapy at the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana, my therapists helped me stay on track with my schoolwork. However, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in my accident, which resulted in short-term memory issues. Before my accident, I was on track to graduate with Academic Honors. This requires advanced classes and maintenance of a certain grade point average. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to graduate with that achievement. Academic Honors requires you to take certain advanced classes and maintain a certain grade or higher. One of the requirements was to take 3 years of a foreign language class, which I had already completed. I really didn’t want all that hard work to go to waste.

Once I returned home from the hospital, I wanted to go back to school as soon as possible. Unfortunately, my doctor said I couldn’t due to my traumatic brain injury. I really missed my friends, and I believe that returning to school would have helped me. However, I continued taking my high school classes online, and I ended up graduating with Academic Honors along with my classmates in 2015.

After that, I was ready to start thinking about going to college.

mason ellis high school graduation after sci

Financial Assistance for Going to School After a Spinal Cord Injury

First, if you’re planning on going back to school, you probably want to know what options are available for financial assistance. After all, college isn’t always cheap these days.

Vocational Rehabilitation

I contacted my state’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) program to see if they would help pay for college classes. Thankfully, VR helped me pay for my college tuition and books. As part of getting qualified for this assistance, I sent them each semester’s course schedule before classes started. Plus, I sent them my grades at the end of each semester.

If you don’t already know about Vocational Rehabilitation, these state programs help provide services to people with disabilities. These services can help you go back to school to prepare for employment as well as get a job. In addition, they may also help you pay for an adaptive vehicle to help you get to work or school. Each state has its own VR program, so be sure to look into it.

Grants and Scholarships

You also have options in the form of grants and scholarships specifically for people going back to school after a spinal cord injury. For example, 180 Medical offers an annual scholarship opportunity that can help with tuition, fees, and books for school.

180 medical scholarship program

Additionally, they have a Spinal Cord Injury Grants and Resources Guide, which may include some helpful options for you. Opportunities including sports and physical activity grants, adaptive mobility and vehicle accessibility grants, and more.

Some colleges may offer financial assistance in the form of scholarships and tuition waivers for students with disabilities, including paralysis due to spinal cord injury. If you have a university in mind that you’d like to attend, consider reaching out to their Disability Services or Student Services department to see what they might have available to help you.

Online Education Options

I signed up to take online college classes starting in the fall semester of 2015. I started out slow, so it took about twice the amount of time for me to get my Associate’s degree. However, that worked out well for my needs.

If you’re new to online education, you might consider starting out slow too. I recommend taking around 1 or 2 online classes per semester. That way, you can get a feel for it and adjust your schedule accordingly.

Personally, my experience with taking online classes was great. I liked it way better than on-campus options.

mason with textbooks

Pros of Online Classes:

  • No need to worry about the accessibility of your school’s buildings or restrooms for your wheelchair
  • Because every course assignment is given to you on the first day, you have the option to work ahead and finish early
  • You can tailor your coursework to fit your schedule, including doing your homework at any time of the day

In addition to the above pros, for mid-term and final exams, your exams are monitored by virtual proctors. They watch you through your webcam and record your screen to make sure you’re not cheating. Ultimately, I felt this was a pro because the screen recordings had proof of all my answers in case the system messed up.

Cons of Online Classes:

  • You might miss the social aspect of being in a classroom with other students
  • You can’t ask your professors question in-person and instead rely on email or phone calls
  • Some professors may not respond to you for a few days

Achieving Your Dreams Is Still Possible

At first, after my spinal cord injury, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go back to school or achieve any of my career goals. However, with a lot of hard work in my courses over the past few years, I finally graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.8 GPA in the Spring of 2019.

Today, I’m taking college classes to advance my career and get my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology.

I know firsthand how many questions and concerns can come to mind with regards to returning to school after a spinal cord injury. However, I hope my story and tips help you see that it’s absolutely possible to continue your education from a wheelchair with the right support and resources.

Associates Degree graduation

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About the Author
Mason Ellis was injured in a car accident on January 19, 2015. He is now a C5/6/7 quadriplegic paralyzed from the neck down. Since his accident, he has connected with others with spinal cord injuries, as well as family members, friends, and caregivers of someone with a spinal cord injury, therapists and doctors, and able-bodied individuals too. His motto is to "live life just like I would've able-bodied."