What I wish I knew before starting as a disabled student
Having just graduated after four long years at the Uni of Brighton, I thought I’d take the time to write a series of posts, I’ve teamed up with Access Your life and have shared some posts for you over there with lots of information so be sure to go and check those out.
During my time at uni I was told that 1 in 5 people in the lecture hall have a disability or additional need, yet I knew no other students like me studying for four years- as a disabled student, I know just how isolating it can be.
I experienced uni as someone with an invisible illness, someone who got dramatically more unwell overnight - had carers and became a wheelchair user, I intermitted and I graduated as a wheelchair user- I feel like I pretty much did it all in terms of accessing disability support services so if you have any worries or questions I’m only a message away!
Here’s a few things I wish I knew before I became a disabled student.
Fun sponge one first- Remember alcohol / drug consumption plus medication isn’t a great idea, whatever you choose to do, please stay safe and know your limits, remember being on medication and drinking is like mixing drink & drugs- if you take any recreational drugs - which ALOT of people do at uni- please please please do it safely - know your sources and what you’re taking and remember you’re already on prescription medication (essentially already on drugs). Similarly keep your prescription medication in a safe secure place.
Remember there are thousands of other students like you- it can just be a little difficult to find them, things might not be accessible and that might be why you can’t find people- invisible disabilities exist- until you start talking to people you really don’t realise what people are going through, it wasn’t until my last year that I realised lots of people were young carers or had invisible illnesses too. Ask your university if they run any disabled student societies, set disabled student meetups, or have any ideas of how they can help you interact with other students. Similarly young people are a lot more engaged and willing to educate themselves on disability what with social media they are very accomodating too. At the same time you’re still you and as much as I love having chronically ill and disabled friends and think no one will understand me quite like them- definitely don’t be afraid to be you outside of your disability too.
Don’t feel bad about emailing your main port of contact at the university regularly. I had a learning support coordinator at my university who I contacted regularly to keep them updated with my health flares - this way if I became behind with university at all it’s all on my records. Similarly it wasn’t until after I intermitted on health grounds that I really felt like I found my voice- don’t feel bad for asking for things, remember you pay for your degree, whether you’re a mature student or 18 you know why you are at uni and what your needs are, if something isn’t up to scratch or you can’t access something say. We also had a student support guidance tutor for each subject area, most universities will have someone in a similar role- they are always lovely!
Having a ‘learning support plan’ arranged by the university is vital in helping you succeed, it is recognised by all members of staff and can benefit you, particularly in exams, presentations, and assessments. My LSP meant I did not have to partake in anything that will exacerbate my illnesses and that my grades will not be affected because of my illness. Things like alternatives to solo and group presentations, having a scribe in exams, a note taker, extra time- anything that brings you up to an even playing field to your peers, Don’t be shy to ask for regular updates of your LSP as your health changes.
Being honest about your needs really helps you in the long run, I spent way too long ‘pushing through’ partying, boom and busting, exercising way too much, for some students it may be their first time away from home, it’s a lot to handle (I hope this doesn’t sound patronising) but I genuinely struggled more with handling being a receptionist for myself with doctors and care needs etc than the uni content, make sure you are aware of how you are doing and don’t over do it, of course have fun, party with housemates or friends but make sure you (and they) are aware of your limits due to your disability- you don’t want to become really unwell.
Have a list of accessible places that you may know of from chatting to people online or from sociability app or accessable so you’ll feel comfy when you go out during the day & night!!
There is so much support out there both within your studies and outside of university life. Having the right support in place before things get bad is always the way to go. You are entitled to support within your education as a reasonable adjustment so if you feel you could be supported more, say!
Make memories!!! Have fun. Make the most of your time you want to look back on your experiences and smile.