Disability, technology and going to University
For many young people all over the UK, starting University is a huge milestone towards gaining their independence and starting life on their own. I thought that now might be a good time to write a blog about how University life has been for me as a student with a disability and how technology is helping me.
Lectures and Studying
When I first started University four years ago, I was understandably very nervous about the challenge of accessing lectures due to my visual impairment. However, I soon realised that there were many adaptations that could be put in place to make life easier for me. I went to speak to my University’s Disability department (if you are doing this, be sure to start ASAP so that the right support can be put in place.) The Disability support services cater for a wide range of students with disabilities including, but not limited to, physical disabilities and mobility impairments, sensory disabilities and learning disabilities, and dyslexia and dyspraxia. There are different types of support available and the team can help you work out what would be a good programme of support for your needs, so your first point of contact should be the Disability team at your University. In my case, the Disability support service arranged for a note taker to come into my lectures with me, not only to take my notes for me, but also to provide me with audio description if I needed it. This was helpful in many different situations, but particularly if there was something on the board that I couldn’t see. Also, whilst I would sometimes take my own notes, there would be gaps missing which the note taker’s notes would fill in. I also have a Dictaphone digital device, which allows me to record lectures, although some lecturers were difficult about this, so in the end I preferred to use my note taker.
I use my Mac computer for my studies as well, as it has voice narration software and features for accessibility such as options to make the cursor larger. My Mac has become a Godsend throughout my undergraduate degree and I’m sure it will be during my postgraduate education too! Make sure you mention any existing equipment you have to your disability department or to Student Finance England, as this can be taken into account in your application for Disabled Students’ Allowance.
In terms of extra study support, again this was arranged through the Disability support service at my University. They can help you apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance through Student Finance England which allows you to access support from the relevant disability department at your University (links are below.) I was allocated a library assistant, who would help me find and access various books that I needed to study my course. The access arrangements would be made by the study support assistant, either reading out relevant passages, or scanning the books onto the computer screens. This was really helpful during my course. In addition to this, the same person also provided skills as a studies facilitator. This is where, for example, I had conversations with them about the books or films that I was studying so that it was easier for me to remember, as opposed to writing it down. Given that I needed someone with me to do this, my request for study skills support was accepted. It was extremely beneficial during exam periods – check with your University, but I was able to save up my weekly study skills allowance until the time came to take exams, so I could have it in 5 hour blocks every day (including an hour’s lunch break with the study facilitator.) This was a brilliant arrangement, and thankfully has been agreed to again for my Maters.
The library is brilliant- the computers in the library have access facilities on, including voice narration software which I sometimes use, and colour and contrast adaptations which I make use of as well. There is also an Audi Visual room, with a computer with these features on, which I am entitled to use due to my circumstances, Again, this was brilliant for the time when I was working with a study facilitator and I’m sure will be very useful this year.
Remember, support is arranged on an individual case-by-case basis, so if you feel like you need it, don’t hesitate to ask! University should be accessible to everyone regardless of their disability or medical condition, and as such, Disability departments will work hard to accommodate this.
Living in Halls
One thing I learned about living in halls is – you don’t necessarily have to be best friends with everyone! It’s lovely if that does happen, but I think you’ll be very lucky! As long as you get on and are friendly and polite, then living together is fine. Everyone is always very willing to help, so if you’re not sure how the stove or shower works, just ask. Also, a little trial and error doesn’t go amiss here either! Due to my disability, I found it difficult to use the stove and the microwave for the first few weeks; my flat mates and accommodation staff were aware and did everything they could to help which was great. The golden rule of communal living is if you’re not sure about something – ask! If you find cooking very challenging, Universities often have meal plans which can be adapted to different people’s needs, so ask and see what availability there is.
Also, if you come home from a night out, try to come back in pairs or groups of you, as you’re much safer in numbers. I used to make these arrangements a lot and still do now. Our University also has a bus service which goes around all the on-campus residences as well as some sites off-campus, so see if your University has one of these as they can be a real help if you do end up on your own on a night out.
The main thing I learned about going out and socialising is you have to be prepared to push yourself – and possibly more than most as a disabled student. I did and it really paid off. I now have an amazing group of friends and we go clubbing quite a lot, whether that is at the Union or at local bars and clubs in the surrounding area. You can ring up bars and clubs beforehand and check for accessibility – I’ve done this a few times and it’s really helpful.
There are various apps that you can use on smart phones which can be really helpful, for example, apps that show you the menus at different restaurants, or pick up points where you can get a taxi home. I don’t make use of these apps, as smart phones are not accessible to me because of their touch screens – I find them difficult to use due to my vision – but for others, this might be a great solution to feeling more secure when going out.
Also, before going out, let your friends know if there is any additional support that you think you might need – if they’re really your friends they should want to help you have the same experience as them! My friends are great when we go out, and we always get a taxi back together afterwards, just to be on the safe side. If I decide to go back before my friends, I get them to check that the taxi is licensed – this is very important. Also, never leave drinks unattended – again as a safety measure. But above all have fun!
So there you have it – my University Survival Guide! Have an amazing time, work hard, play harder and enjoy it. If you let it, University can be the best time of your life – I know it is for me!
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