Last year only 12% of students in higher education had a known disability. Your disability should never hold you back from going to university, and support is out there. We talk to one student about her experience.
Chloe, who has cerebral palsy, epilepsy, impaired vision and chronic pain, runs her own blog documenting her time at university. She has just finished her second year at Leeds Trinity University studying psychology and child development, and is about to enter her third. Chloe encourages disabled students to think about what additional support they need before their term starts.
“I arranged meetings with the disability coordinator before I started, otherwise you’re floating round in the first few weeks before your plan is in place,” she says. “There are things you could miss out on in your first week, and you don’t want to be worrying, you want to go out and enjoy freshers’ week.” Every university has a system in place to provide you with the advice and support you need to complete your degree: this can range from having an aid come to classes with you to providing assistive technology.
Making lecturers aware of how your disability could affect your learning so reasonable adjustments can be made help put your mind at ease. An aid can help you take notes during lectures or help you study: this service is normally provided by the university’s support department. If you require full-time help, a personal assistant can help you with these tasks along with everyday ones like getting to university and preparing meals. To find out if your local council can provide and fund a PA, or where to find one if they can’t, talk to your social worker.
Like Chloe, you may be eligible to receive Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), which helps cover the cost of travel and specialised equipment and unlike a student loan you won’t have to repay it. You are eligible if you’ve applied for student finance, will be studying for at least a year and have a disability that affects your study.
This includes learning difficulties, mental health conditions, physical disabilities and long-term health conditions. If you aren’t eligible for DSA, the Student Disability Assistance Fund covers the same costs. Grants are also available from organisations including the Snowdon Trust.
You could also be eligible for Personal Independence Payment as a student with a disability. This can help cover the costs of daily living and getting around, the amount you receive will not be affected by your normal student funding or DSA.
The majority of universities offer accessible or adapted rooms within student accommodation and private halls will provide the same options at no extra cost. It’s important to remember your limits when living with other students. “Living with a group of students is great fun, but if you have a disability, especially if it affects pain levels, it can be hard to step away from the flat,” says Chloe.
“That was the most difficult part for me. They can see you’re in pain but that’s ok, that’s going to happen if you live with people and there’s a massive amount of understanding.” Your course and accommodation shouldn’t be the only things you consider when choosing a university: it’s important to take accessibility into account. Choosing a new university based on a campus rather than spread across a city, like Glasgow Caledonian University or Leeds Trinity University, can make it easier to get around.
Get involved with freshers events and you’ll have a group of close friends before you know it, some universities have induction weeks for those with a disability, allowing you to meet people in a similar situation while finding your way around campus. “Go have fun like everyone else,” says Chloe.
“People get so focused on ‘I have a disability’ and I felt like that at first, too, but it’s up to you what experience you want at university whether it’s getting involved in societies, or making friends, or focusing on becoming independent. It’s completely up to you, just like it’s up to everyone else what they make their experience like.”
Social media is a great way to connect with people even before you move. Search for course or university groups on Facebook or hashtags on Twitter and Instagram. Even if making friends doesn’t happen instantly, remember the ones you already have are still there. Chloe says: “Social media is amazing for keeping in touch and having that support network. Sometimes university isn’t what you you expect and you don’t make friendly immediately. It’s important to remember that network behind you is still there.”
Are you following us on Twitter for all the latest?