Applying to university can be a stressful time for any student, from deciding on which course to study to working out the logistics of living away from home, this time is rife with questions and choices. But what happens when, on top of all this, you need to factor in your disability? Yes, you can read the prospectuses and check out their disability policies online, but how do you know when these policies are genuinely helpful and when they are just there to tick a checkbox? Suddenly what is already an overwhelming task can seem insurmountable.

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Before you start to panic- there are several things you can do to make the transfer from Sixth Form to university and from home to halls as smooth as possible. If you approach this in the right way, it can be an eye-opening time which can teach you coping strategies for life. The most important thing to remember is that you’re not being judged based on your disability so never worry about stating your needs on the UCAS form.

Ultimately your university experience should be one of exploring independence and interests, both social and academic. Your chronic illness will, undoubtedly, have a certain impact on this but there are support mechanisms in place to help you get the very most out of your time in higher education.


Before you go any further with the process, you need to sit down with a parent, friend, teacher or guardian- someone who spends plenty of time with you and understands your condition- and compile a list of the main elements you are going to have to take into consideration. For example:

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Are you in a wheelchair? What are the dimensions of your chair? Do you use it daily?

Do you have seizures? When do these occur? What is your safety strategy? 

Do you use a mobility aid which makes getting upstairs difficult?

Are there any issues you have with writing/following information?

As soon as you have identified your principle concerns, you have begun to break down the huge wall of questions and can begin to address them.

Below are some suggestions for the right things to look out for and the questions you should ask to help demystify the process.

As always, the information on this page is geared towards a UK audience, making reference to UK policies and guidelines. There are likely to be similar protocols in other countries.


ACCESSIBILITY

One of the main concerns for students with disabilities when going to university is how accessible the campus and university buildings may be. DisabledGO.com are a website providing online access guides for a number of venues including universities.

Universities often have complicated buildings and landscapes due to their size and age. Routes into a building are often well signposted, but circulation around and between adjoining buildings can be lengthy and complicated. A good access guide can help you assess the state of access you can expect to find.
— Richard Beaty- Head of Surveying, DisabledGO.com

This is your first port of call in identifying any accessibility concerns you may have, and you need to ensure that you address them all in order to feel comfortable with your decisions. Questions you may want to check that the guide covers include:

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  • If you’re a wheelchair driver- Does it say how wide the doors are, or which side transfer the toilet is?
  • What is the availability of accessible transport on and around the campus? Are their wheelchair accessible buses running on certain routes? Where will you (and won't you) find Blue Badge holder car parking spaces?
  • If the university offers accessible accommodation, where is this located? Will you be amongst your peers or at a different site?
  • Is the Students' Union addressed in the guide as well as academic venues such as the library, labs and lecture halls? You’re not going to be spending all your time studying so it’s important to know that you can party with your friends without any barriers.

Look to see whether the guide covers all of the relevant information you are looking for and if it doesn’t, don’t be afraid to make contact with the university to ask for further advice. The vast majority of universities will have an Equalities or Disabilities Manager/Officer to whom you can address your questions. Some universities may even have an elected member of the student body who is focused on disability and who can give you the down low from the student’s perspective.

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When you have made contact with the university, you could ask about arranging a site visit. This could help you identify potential problems which are not always apparent on paper, e.g.- a door which is particularly heavy/hard to open or an abundance of hills which could make moving around slower for those with mobility issues. Under the Equality Act 2010, all places of study have to make reasonable adjustments so that those with disabilities can access their services without prejudice. ‘Reasonable adjustments’ means that whilst things like hills can’t suddenly be demolished, fitting an electric motor to a door is a relatively simple undertaking. Never be afraid to ask- the worst they can say is no and even then, you’re no worse off than you were originally and have a clearer idea of the suitability of this particular organisation. Fairly often, possible concerns can be rectified quickly and without fuss- it may just be that no one has flagged this up before.


memory concerns

Many universities will allow students record lectures in order to refer back to the information at a later date. There may even be a system in place where professors and lecturers upload recordings of their lectures to the universities eplatform. If you feel that recording lectures and seminars would benefit you, you should talk with the lecturer in advance and explain your situation as there may be a release form that needs to be signed. As with all our advice, we recommend complete honesty and openness when discussing your reasons for wanting to record. If someone knows what you’re dealing with, they can support you; if you don’t tell them, you may miss vital support and risk being penalised for something out of your control.

Your university may loan DVR’s (Digital Voice Recorders) but if you would like to purchase one for your own permanent use, we would recommend this recorder from Amazon. As always, this is an affiliate link and from any sales made, we may receive a small commission which goes towards the running of the site.


DISABLED STUDENTS ALLOWANCES

Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) are grants to help you meet the extra costs of studying that appear due t your disability. You could get help towards the cost of specialist equipment, (e.g. a computer to help you take notes in lectures), non-medical helpers (e.g. a scribe to help write in exams), extra travel because of your disability (eg. taxis if accessible transport is not available) and any other disability-related costs of studying which will be fully explained to you if you are awarded the grant.

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DSAs differ from student loans in that they are awarded by the government and you don’t pay them. The support you receive is decided based on your individual needs rather than your income.

See www.gov.uk website for more information on eligibility and applying for a DSA. It is HUGELY important that you read all of the information on the gov.uk website as the structure of DSA can be a little complicated. Once you have been confirmed as eligible for DSA, you may be asked to book a needs assessment which is paid from any DSA entitlement you have. After the assessment, you’ll be sent a copy of the report outlining any equipment and extra support you could get for your course. Most importantly- don’t buy any equipment until you’ve been assessed as you won’t be reimbursed for it.


NUS STUDENT SUPPORT

The National Union of Students are a large organisation interested in representing the views of all the students in the country and ensuring that everyone is well represented.

The NUS Disabled Students’ campaign aims to remove the stigma from all disabilities, challenge perceptions and encourage all members of our society to take a positive attitude towards understanding the nature of disability and overcoming prejudices
— NUSDSC

 

The NUS are there to listen to any concerns you may have and give you advice if you feel that you are suffering any prejudice at university. The 2017-18 Disabled Student’s Officer is Rachel O’Brien. You can get in touch with the campaign at disabled@nus.org.uk and follow them on Twitter @NUSDSC.