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My MCW Story: Meredith Williams 

Meredith Williams knows what it is like to pursue a degree when you are frequently disabled from chronic pain. Or what it is like to experience blackouts and mobility limitations when you’re supposed to be taking an exam.

Meredith Williams knows what it is like to pursue a degree when you are frequently disabled from chronic pain. Or what it is like to experience blackouts and mobility limitations when you’re supposed to be taking an exam. These and other manifestations of her rare autoimmune disease have created numerous challenges for her over the past 15 years and opened her eyes to the lack of accommodations available to people with chronic illness who wish to pursue higher education. And she plans to use the MPH she is earning from MCW to change that.

Meredith Williams“I feel driven to use this time to pursue my graduate education and to start working towards giving a voice to some of the issues faced by people with chronic illness and disability,” Meredith said. After obtaining her MPH from MCW in August 2016, she plans to apply to doctoral programs in public health.

Some of the manifestations of Meredith’s disease she has had to endure include chronic joint inflammation, mobility limitations, regular blackouts from vascular inflammation, the inability to eat or digest solid foods, a movement disorder, and fatigue and exhaustion. Her current treatment regimen helps, but the manifestations remain unpredictable and she needs to balance her life carefully. It took Meredith nine years and four different colleges to receive her undergraduate degree – mostly due to a lack of accommodations and faculty understanding. For several years, she stopped attending college because she couldn’t find a school willing to work with her and her health condition.

“I know these experiences are common to many students with disabilities. While students like me are often unable to accomplish things the way “everyone else does,” we are able to accomplish things in ways that work for us. Most chronic illnesses and disabilities cannot be cured or completely overcome, but there are many ways to adapt to and work with them,” Meredith said. “Living with an autoimmune disease has taught me to be tenacious, flexible, adaptive to changing circumstances and levels of ability, and creative in problem solving. Early on, I had to let go of the idea that there was some set timeline or list of expectations that I needed to meet. Attending school part-time has been instrumental in being able to deliver my best possible work while also taking care of my health.”

Meredith has already begun using her lived experience to help others with chronic illness and disabilities. She received a National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) fellowship this year and has been assisting the health and disability project team to increase the inclusion and engagement of persons with disabilities in all local health department programs, policies and activities nationwide. One of her goals is to encourage more people with chronic diseases and disabilities to consider graduate school.

“Our experiences, insights, and perspectives are unique and valuable,” Meredith said. “This is especially true in public health, where lived experience is so highly valued. The perspectives of people with disabilities are not just important for improving the health of people with disabilities, but for improving the health of everyone.”

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