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Jeff Hawn

April 27th, 2022

How LSE helped me embrace my disability

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Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Jeff Hawn

April 27th, 2022

How LSE helped me embrace my disability

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Disability is a tricky thing, especially for me. I am severely dyslexic and dysgraphic. I was fortunate enough to learn to read and I actually love reading and writing, which is why I chose to pursue a PhD programme. Yet, I would be lying if I did not say it created challenges.

These challenges come in two sets – the mechanical and the emotional. The first is annoying but with effort and patience can be overcome. The second is far more challenging. My mechanical challenges are grammar and spelling, which do not come easily to me. My actual vocabulary is expansive and I grasp complex problems easily but I frequently misspell simple words and mix up homonyms like “there” and “their”. I insert commas more or less at random and my writing, if not controlled, will sprawl into multiple paragraphs that consume whole pages with the train of thought well and truly muddled. All of this can be dealt with, though, and I do deal with it. Technology helps. Devices like Grammarly and spellcheck can cut down on my initial errors and, fortunately, I often have friends who are willing to read my work over.

The more challenging issue with my disability is the emotional part. Dyslexia was until recently poorly diagnosed and poorly understood. As a child, I was labelled “special needs” or stupid and shunted to the back of the classroom with crayons. I was lucky my parents were unwilling to accept the school’s prognosis and got me checked for dyslexia. Still, the experience of being written off as stupid is something that sticks with me, and something I have had to deal with. A supervisor at a job, which I admittedly did not care for, blew up at me and yelled I was stupid over and over again after misplacing a comma in an email. Another time, I was denied a job interview due to a misspelling. My explanation about my dyslexia led to the would-be-interviewer saying “Oh well, good I caught it early. We cant have burdens like that here.” In retrospect, probably not a nice place to work, but at the time, recently graduated and desperate for employment, it really stung.

The thing is, it is not just the people who dismiss you who are the worst. Sometimes, the worst are the people who are supposed to help you but don’t treat you with any respect like the disability counsellors I encountered in the US during my undergraduate years.

Coming to the UK was, of course, an intimidating prospect. Having begun to embrace my disability in the US and learning how to navigate the various offices and government forms I was not looking forward to learning it all over again. What I found when I arrived at LSE, though, left me pleasantly surprised. Having concealed my disability for years, I had begun to be open about it and first my department then the School as a whole proved to be a very welcoming environment. Our head of pastoral care set up a meeting to provide me with the resources I needed. My supervisor was very understanding and also willing to accommodate me. Finally, the disability resources proved to be extremely helpful. The best by far was the mentorship programme which paired me with an LSE alum who also suffered from dyslexia I am now living openly with my disability and feel happy to share my bad experiences because I realized they are what helped embolden me to embrace who I am. If you are coming to LSE with a learning disability you will find a very welcoming environment and community where help and accommodation is available but it isn’t forced on you. I am happy that I chose to do my PhD at LSE because in addition to being a fantastic place for academics is a place I feel comfortable being me.

About the author

Jeff Hawn

Jeff Hawn holds bachelor's and master's degrees in international relations from American University and a certificate in Russian studies from St. Petersburg State University in Russia. He previously lived and worked in Washington DC first as a Policy Correspondent for RCR Wireless and later as a global intelligence analyst for the private intelligence company Stratfor. Jeff also serves as a guest lecturer for undergraduate and graduate-level classes at American University on the topics of U.S.-Russian relations, terrorism, and open-source intelligence. Jeff has written and published numerous articles on a wide range of topics.

Posted In: Applying: PhD

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