Starting university is a daunting prospect for everyone, but as a disabled student I can’t help feeling as though some of my main concerns and worries are quite different to those of my able bodied peers. Today I wanted to share 5 of the things I have done/am doing to ease my transition into university life as a disabled student.
- Introducing new tasks into my daily routine
Moving away from home is a huge deal for anyone, but as a disabled student the move comes with additional challenges. On top of getting myself to lectures, moving into halls means I will have the responsibility of cooking for myself and cleaning my own space. Something I’ve haven’t really had to think about when living at home as my family would prefer I save my energy for other things. So in the months before starting university I have slowly been adding some of the new activities into my day and looking at ways I can reduce the exertion throughout. Some examples include using lightweight saucepans, pre chopped vegetables and sitting on a chair when cooking.
- Getting into contact with other disabled students current or graduate from the university
Hearing from other disabled students who currently study or have studied at the university is invaluable. Whether it’s finding out the most wheelchair accessible routes across campus or knowing the quieter places to study, first hand experience is the best way to find out. It may be that student support services or the disability representative of the Student’s Union are able to put you in contact with other disabled students. But if not you might have to dig a little deeper. Within the chronic illness community online many disabled students are sharing their stories and would be willing to chat to you about their university experience if you pop them a message.
Pippa Stacey, a chronically ill writer and blogger, has collated a list of connections and contacts for disabled students, which you can find here. All the individuals listed are either current or graduate students who have offered to be a point of contact for prospective chronically ill/ disabled students.
Whilst you might have different conditions, they have experienced life at the university so may be able to give you extra pointers or advice as to what to expect.
- Researching support available
My sixth form was not the most knowledgeable when it came to information about support available at university for disabled students, telling me to apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) but not telling me what it actually was. That was when I started to do some research.
It was then I purchased University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide written by Pippa Stacey. The book explores every aspect of university life from the perspective of a chronically ill student, giving tips and advice of what to expect, highlighting things to consider you may not have thought of before and the support you are entitled to, including the DSA process. I know that I will come back to the book many times throughout my degree, it really is an incredible resource and I would highly recommend it to any chronically ill person who is trying to navigate the world of higher education. You can find more information about the book here.
As I had disclosed my disability within my UCAS application and consented to having this information shared with the universities I had applied to, student support services contacted me via email. They outlined the support that they could offer and also made sure I was aware that I was entitled to DSA. I was assigned a member of staff to be my key point of contact for any questions or queries, I really appreciated this as it meant I didn’t have to keep explaining the same things in multiple emails to different people. Once I accepted my offer the process of getting my Academic Access Plan (AAP) began.
- Preparing information to share with lecturers and flatmates
At the university I am going to be attending you work with student support services before you arrive to create an Academic Access Plan (AAP). I had to fill in a questionnaire and provide some documentation from a medical professional about my conditions, how they impact me and any access arrangements I would need. All this information was then collated to form my AAP. With your consent this information is then shared with your lecturers to make them aware of how they can best support you.
I have been lucky enough to find over half my flatmates through the applicant facebook group set up by the university. So over the past few weeks we’ve been getting to know each other. I had been quite anxious about disclosing my disability to them, not sure when the right time to bring it up would be. In the end one of my flatmates brought up the fact they had some health conditions, so me bringing up my M.E and ambulatory wheelchair use was not a big deal. As a flat we decided to write a brief summary of our conditions, what to do in an emergency situation and how other people can help if we are struggling so we know how to support each other.
- Creating a written flare plan
This was something suggested to me by my M.E specialist. Whether it be a routine that has helped you navigate your way out of a flare before or certain things you do to help manage increased symptoms. Having a written plan to refer to that outlines the ways in which you’ve mitigated flares before should help it to be less overwhelming if it happens during the academic year. If you feel comfortable sharing this plan with a flatmate it will allow them to know how to help you through the flare. Whilst creating this plan won’t stop the flare from happening it will remind you of the practical steps you can take to help yourself survive the storm.
I am hoping that taking these steps to prepare will help make the transition to university that little bit easier to manage.