While attending Texas A&M International University, a small college campus located in Laredo, Erica Matos-Lindsey found a way to navigate college life without securing formal accommodations for her visual impairment.
“Because it was a small university, I could have a conversation with my professors and most were understanding,” Matos-Lindsey says. “And the classes were small so I was usually able to grab a front-row seat.”
That all changed when she came to UT Austin to pursue a master’s in Higher Education Administration. She learned the hard way that she needed to be proactive about requesting accommodations.
“I learned that a lot of professors wanted documentation and that accommodations are a safeguard for both faculty and students at such a large university,” Matos-Lindsey recalls. “Now I feel the need to talk to students about my experience to make sure they get their accommodations in advance.”
Now as an associate academic adviser and liaison for bilingual education in the College of Education, she’s guiding students through the academic process, connecting them with the many resources the university has to offer.
“I’m here to help them with anything they need,” Matos-Lindsey says. “As an advisor, I want to establish a rapport with them so I can help connect them with the resources they need to be successful—emotionally, physically and academically.”
When she encounters students, who may be eligible for accommodations, she directs them to Services for Students with Disabilities. Oftentimes, she says, they aren’t even aware they could get accommodations (i.e. class notes, preferred seating, extended test time) for mental health conditions or other invisible disabilities.
“I want to dissuade students from the ‘pick yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality,” Matos-Lindsey adds. “If you’re diagnosed with a mental health condition, that is a legitimate reason to register with SSD to get the support you need to be successful.
Diagnosed at birth with optic neuropathy, Matos-Lindsey is legally blind. With help from her father, who was also blind, she learned how to overcome her daily challenges.
“He used to tell me, ‘It’s better to have them and not need them than to need them and not have them,’” Matos-Lindsey says. “Looking back, I should’ve registered back when I was an undergrad.”
Thanks to her father, who passed away in 2008, Matos-Lindsey has years of experience advocating for herself and others. Now she is carrying on his work by helping students gain a new perspective about their abilities.
“I have a positive view of my disability,” Matos-Lindsey says. “I like to joke that I have a unique perspective on things because of how my brain receives messages. I would love for any student who is differently abled to get to the point where they don’t see the difference in their ability as a weakness or a hindrance, but as something that adds to their strengths.”