TU Student Sydney Alison: Living with a Disability in College

Sydney Alison: Making Her Own Way

There is a special spark in Sydney Alison reflecting a type of bravery and promise that is only forged by having to live life a little differently. As a sophomore film studies student, Alison is already a University Ambassador, an anchor on TUTV, a member of the Student Association cabinet and former resident hall president. Her impressive résumé of activities and outgoing spirit is especially remarkable because she was born with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita.

“It’s a muscle and joint condition that makes my muscles weaker and my joints stiffer,” Alison explained. She has trouble raising her arms and legs to a certain height, which restricts her to a motorized wheel chair.

“It’s not going to get any worse. What you see is what you get.”

While others see insurmountable limitations, Alison simply sees a situation to assess and conquer. Then, she moves forward without looking back. “There is no point in complaining or wallowing about something that you can’t change about yourself,” she said. “I’ve never let it get in the way of things that I love doing.”

Alison is her own advocate. At an early age, teachers offered her special tools and accommodations to complete her schoolwork, but Alison wasn’t having it. “I’ve always had the option to use adaptive equipment, but I never have,” she said. “I figured out how to do things in my own way.”

While vacationing at Universal Studios, her family took a backlot tour of famous film sets. Afterward, Alison had a new goal and a fresh path to trail blaze. “That was the moment when I  thought ‘I want to be a film director.’”

Her directing aspirations led her to TU’s summer filmmaking camp for high school students. “We did workshops where the camp instructors taught us about the cameras, editing software and composition of different shots,” she said. The first film Alison directed at TU was a short horror film The Vending Machine. At the time, she didn’t know that was just the beginning of her TU film career.

A year later while visiting TU as a prospective student, Alison already felt at home. “People I didn’t know were just coming up and saying ‘hi’ to me,” she said. “It made me feel like I was already a student here.”

Attending college is intimidating for any freshman, but for Alison, this was her first chance to navigate her disabilities on her own. “I have to admit I was a little freaked out about coming to college,” she said. “In college I had to learn to really talk to people. If I need someone to open the door for me, I can’t be afraid to say ‘Hey you, open the door for me please.’” With the help of TU’s Center for Academic Support, Alison can be a regular student attending classes. Alison, however, is anything but regular.

As a University Ambassador, Alison leads campus tours to potential students, and she assists with Preview TU, Start TU and Tulsa Time, which gives high schoolers the chance to spend the night on campus. “They get to see what campus is like from the point of view of a student,” Alison said.

Her passion for TU led her to join the Student Association as a member of the student awareness committee. Knowing what it’s like to be in the minority, Alison is a proud campus activist for celebrating different cultures and traditions with Hispanic heritage month, women’s history month and Tulsa pride month.

She also uses her filming skills to create videos for her YouTube channel on people with disabilities. “I want to make videos about disabilities and the misconceptions about disabilities,” she said. She shares her story with other students with disabilities, and her advice is to speak up. “If you don’t tell people what you need to learn to have a good experience at any university, then it’s not going to happen.”

Alison is not quite fearless, but if she has an opportunity to face her fears, she takes it. At last year’s TU Fall Fest, different types of animals were brought in to interact with the students. Animals with more than four legs leave Alison squeamish, but the tarantula caught her eye. “I am scared of spiders, but I thought – I am here; it is here – why not?” Alison’s Facebook page proudly showcases a picture of her with a tarantula crawling on her face.

“Once you do something that you are scared of, then it’s not scary anymore,” she said.

Alison encourages college students to put themselves out there. The most meaningful relationships and experiences often come from unexpected places. True to her character, Alison has dedicated herself to discovering every opportunity where she can flourish. “I‘ve always been able to figure out how to do things in my own way,” which is beautifully and uniquely Sydney Alison.