If you have a disability and you’re interested in going on to study further education then have a look at the tips we’ve come up with. This isn’t just for wheelchair users – my good friend who’s a deafblind medical student was kind enough to give me her tips too.
1. Visit prospective universities well in advance of applying to check for access and suitability. Don’t just go to open days but make sure you sit down with the school and also the disability service to know support would be like, but also to get a feel for what attitudes towards disability are like. I know, for me, when I was applying for my PGCE I had to choose the university based on access. You only apply for two places and one had much better access than the other so I was really hopeful I’d get into the one that had better access and not a library only accessed via a field!
2. Make sure you apply for disabled students allowance with plenty of time before you start studying. The equipment and support can make the biggest difference in making your student life easier. I was able to get a new laptop, and enough other equipment to kit me out with a full office which meant, if I wasn’t going into uni, that I was able to do everything from home.
3. Travelling to university can be tricky. When I was doing my PGCE I was living at home with my parents initially I took advantage of the free taxis I got to and from uni and placement. After a while, I needed to be a little more flexible in the time I left uni or school each day. As many Londoners will tell you, public transport isn’t always very easy, or convenient for wheelchair users so it wasn’t long before I started driving everywhere. So I started driving to uni every day. If you are going to take taxis make sure you find a good company, as I found it quite tricky to find one which would accommodate
4. Make sure you know your rights and who to go to if you’re not getting the right support or if you’re being discriminated against. I know have friends who have been unfairly discriminated against whilst studying so be aware that you could be subject to similar treatment.
5. While you’re studying, enjoying student lifestyle, and all the opportunities university life can bring, make sure you take some time to rest. Getting a work-life balance is really important, especially if you have a disability, because studying with a disability means we have to work much harder than the rest of the able-bodied students. That could be getting to and from class, formatting work beforehand to make sure it’s accessible and managing our health and medical needs.
6. There are some organisations who are great at supporting or advocating for disabled students. My Plus Students Club are brilliant, especially for getting people into work. Also, for the spinal cord injured among you, Back Up have an education service where an advocate can come into your school, college or university and advise staff about supporting someone with a SCI and give a talk to your peers if you wish.
I really enjoyed studying after I sustained my spinal cord injury. It can be challenging but can also provide you with a lot of opportunities, both career-wise, but also in terms of fun activities to get involved with while you’re at university. If you’re intending on going to study – good luck and enjoy it!
If you’ve studied with a disability let us know any tips you have from your experience in the comments below to help others further!