What I wish I had known before I became a disabled student
*** This blog post was written throughout my time at university but published after graduating due to poor health.
I am about to start my third year at Brighton University but have been studying for four years. As a disabled student, I know just how isolating it can be. That’s why I’ve decided to create a little series of posts and guides to help disabled students access university happier!
There are thousands of other disabled students like you- it can just be a little difficult to find them, 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.
Don’t feel bad about emailing your main port of contact at the university regularly. I have a learning support coordinator at my university whom I contact on a regular basis to keep them updated with my health flares - this way if I become behind with university at all it’s all on my records if I fall behind with work. We also have a student support guidance tutor for each subject area, most universities will have someone in a similar role.
Having an ‘in case of emergency' plan is particularly useful for any disabled or chronically ill person, but particularly when you are a student studying away from home.
Do you have a hospital emergency plan? Would it make you feel more comfortable if you did?
It may be a good idea for your housemates to have a carer or parents' phone number in case of emergency. It might feel a little over-kill at first, but trust me that first 999 call-out is hectic when students are running about like headless chickens- my housemates are becoming experts now, they may as well switch to a medicine degree.
Disabled Student Support at University
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 has meant I do not have to partake in anything that will exacerbate my illnesses and also that my grades will not be affected as a result of my illness. Don’t be shy to ask for regular updates of your LSP as your health changes.
Being honest about your needs helps you in the long run, including outside of studying for example with doctors on care needs or mentioning anything important to housemates or friends. 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!
The Law and Reasonable Adjustments
The Equality Act 2010 calls the arrangements that your education provider makes to meet these needs ‘reasonable adjustments’.
An education provider has a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure disabled students are not discriminated against. These changes could include providing extra support and aids (like specialist teachers or equipment). I'm sure one day in the future I'll have the energy to talk about this more- but for now I need to get my degree.
Accessing the Community as a Disabled Student
Accessing the community is part of student life, as I know all too well, getting out of the house can be incredibly challenging with health struggles. Having help to access the community is not an embarrassing thing at all. The university student services and disability department have a duty of care to help you with knowledge on this.
Hobbies are important: If there is something that you enjoy doing at home with friends, looking to see if there's something similar in your new university town can be a great mental health support. If you find something that helps with your disability, keep the consistency and try to continue doing it at uni. For me, I love to swim, as my health has deteriorated it has become more difficult. I have hydrotherapy exercises which I do in the pool- I contacted local charities to find out about local swimming pools, emailing to find out the temperature of pools and their disability facilities, be that parking, changing room and toilet access and fees. Having a constant routine that can be altered to adapt to my health needs and deadlines whilst at university has been really beneficial.*** Just to add here that now I've finished uni, both myself and a friend have said how we felt we were lacking 'hobbies' at uni.
Join Facebook Groups: Channel your middle-aged mum. Joining Facebook groups to find good local support has helped me access my community a lot more. I am in a lot of local groups in Brighton where I have met amazing neighbours who help me when I need it. Asking for help becomes a lot easier when you get to know your neighbours, particularly in a pandemic. I’ve had people on local pages get me shopping, prescriptions, carry my things, clean my house so diy jobs and even give me a free mobility scooter! Knowing you have a range of people to call upon if you’re injured or need help helps put your mind at ease. I’ve had neighbours help me with simple things such as carrying my wheelchair into my car and helping me pack it before driving home for Christmas. Strangers can be lovely.
Moving to a new town for university can call for big changes in all aspects of life. Moving doctors and consultants to your new town may not be the best idea for a couple of months. Don’t pick the Uni GP just because that’s what all the students do! Definitely take time to pick a good ‘chronically ill aware’ or well-reviewed GP’. It’s likely you’ll visit your GP with more complex needs and much more frequently than some of your housemates hey!
Perhaps wait a few months until you’re settled as a transition period to your new town before moving your doctors.
Chat to your doctors about your move to university and how you may be with the workload. Perhaps speaking to the university on advice on finding a good local GP, some universities have a list of recommended GP surgery’s.
Medical and Care Support at Uni
Having good medical support as a disabled student is vital to ensure you thrive at university.
If you need care support outside of your studies, it would be a great idea to talk to your university and the council to see what support can be put in place. You absolutely want to make sure this is all in place before you arrive, the process can take a very long time to find yourself in a comfortable position knowing you have the correct support. Adult social care can provide direct payments from the council to support you with any care needs.
You may want to transfer specialist doctors and consultants to your new town or you may like to wait a few months until you are settled to do this. Finding a good GP in the area at the very least is incredibly important for ALL students, particularly those with more complex health needs.
Questions to ask your university before you start or in your first week:
What are your policies on extensions if a student is in hospital for example?
What support could I be eligible for inside of the university?
Is there anything I need to know in terms of access issues in this city/ town? (For example Brighton is very hilly)
Where should I go in a medical emergency on site? Have you completed a PEEP (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan and is it neccessary?
Do you have any current disabled students who may be up to speaking to me?
Most importantly ask yourself what you would like to get out of your experience.
Remember nothing is set in stone. I even moved house half-way through my first year!
There are always options out there to help you.
Ask for help before you find yourself desperate.
Admitting you need support makes you stronger!
Try not to go home too much- it makes it harder)
Always a message away x
(Lauren and Trish x)