Monday, 24 November 2014

Going to University With A Disability

It's rare that I get to say that real equality exists within an organisation but at university I really felt like everyone was really understanding and everything I needed was done but not in a way that made me feel excluded. Obviously I'm talking about my experience at Bath Spa University and with Disabled Students England. You're experience may vary depending on if you choose to study in Scotland, Wales or outside of the UK and universities will obviously vary too, though I found it was external organisations that really did all the work. 

Firstly, you go to a meeting to decide what help you need. Now when I first started university, I was doing a dance degree and I went to the meeting thinking, there is no way on earth I'm going to get any money out of these people. How wrong I was! I receieved hundreds of pounds worth of electrical equiptment on the basis that it is hard for me to get to a library when unwell and a home laptop, printer, scanner etc. would help me in this area. As I have a hearing impairment I was eligible for a notetaker as I struggle to keep up with what's happening in a lecture or classroom setting. She became my support assistant when I started using a wheelchair and she got me to all my classes and made things a lot easier. Probably the most helpful of all, they payed for a portion of my rent as I said I'd had to pay more for en-suite accommodation due to my disability. I by no means had to ask for any of this. They just went through what a normal day is like for me and started writing up all the recommendations. Then it was all delivered to my parents' address along with a tech guy to set it all up ready for me to take to university. It was that easy. It's not like claiming for Disability Living Allowance where you're made to look like fraud and it seems like they're trying their best to give you as little money as possible. They completely understand invisible illnesses and if you need any mental help I'm sure they'd be just as accommodating.

From the university's end, I found them to be less helpful to be honest. My lecturers and notetakers were all lovely and very understanding. My notetaker met with me before lectures started to chat about my needs and they always ask if you want to be seen with them and if you don't they're happy to sit at the back and if you did have a lecturer who was unhelpful they'd be happy to talk to them for you. The disabled students department was frankly pretty useless and never got anything done without the orders of the woman I had the meeting with before university started. (BIG TIP: get their email address before you leave in case you have any trouble with your uni). 

As far as money goes you will be able to claim benefits if you are not working even if you are doing a full time degree, so you will effectively be earning a wage on top of your loans. You will also be able to claim housing benefits if you are struggling. I did both of these and although I was not exactly rolling in money, I didn't have to worry about paying for my next shopping bill or being able to afford to make visits home.

The help is much better than the help you get at school or any help you'll get going into work later in life. They understood my invisible illness like no other organisation has and I think they're pretty brilliant to be honest. Not perfect, but compared to every other area of life, they definitely give disabled people a fair chance and an almost equal opportunity. Disability is definitely not a reason not to go to university. Even if you think you might struggle in the workplace later it's a great experience that, if you're chronically ill, you will never have to pay for. I'm never going to pay my loans back because to be honest I'll be quite lucky to be healthy enough to work for long enough, even with my transplant. I went to uni for the experience, not the degree. I love learning and I felt like I wasn't ready to leave education yet. Uni isn't for everyone but I think it was the best decision for me and I hope to continue my course after my transplant. 

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