University is scary enough without added challenges but for many of us, there will be obstacles we have to face because of our disabilities. This can be daunting and stressful, especially if this is the first time you have had to make a big, life-changing decision.
So here’s what I suggest. If you are still in your first year at College or Sixth Form, start looking at universities now. Log onto the UCAS website (or your country equivalent), browse the universities that do your course and narrow it down to around 5-7 choices. By choices, I mean different universities.
Choosing a University
Here are a few suggestions on how to narrow your selection down before you go on an open day.
- This one sounds odd, but one that I think should be taken into consideration. The Website. Universities often use the same or similar theme for their student resources as they do on their website, so if you struggle with it and it annoys you, see what universities have a better one.
- Is it easy to navigate?
- easy to use?
- visually appealing
- Class size: Are you going to be in a class of 30-60 people, or are you going to be in a lecture hall of 100-250 students? Which one will you feel more comfortable with?
- Exams or no exams?
- study in London (and pay a fortune for food and rent) or study outside London
When you have narrowed the hundreds down to a possible 10-15, start looking at what the course offers.
- The modules you have to take and the optional modules are probably one of the most important considerations when choosing a university course.
- Distance – how far would you need to travel to get to university and home?
- Accommodation – how far is it from everything?
Once you have your 5-7 Universities, start visiting them. Look at the atmosphere, how the open day is thought out. The city itself.
On my list, University of Derby and Bangor University were the best when it came to the Open Day event. They were friendly, welcoming and informative. Stands were placed on the main campus that had clear headings, including student well-being. An inventory of talks for your course was clearly laid out in the little booklet they gave you. I didn’t like the narrowed pavement of Bangor’s city, but Derby’s City is small, with a shopping centre placed in the middle of it.
On the other hand, Portsmouth University was the complete opposite, prior to the day, they gave me a map of available car parks around the city but none of them seemed to exist. When we finally did find a car park, there was no one around to direct us to the university and the locals weren’t interested in helping either.
We finally got to the campus, and one of the staff seemed annoyed because we were registering after the registration time, then we had to rush to the first talk. Creative Writing. Now here was Portsmouth’s only plus side. The teacher was friendly and cheerful. I could see myself enjoying the course, but I wasn’t too keen on the atmosphere of the university as a whole.
We then went to see the accommodation, and they stunk. Literally stunk. The student showing us around felt obliged to apologise.
Finally, we went to the Media studies talk, and the lecture kept ranting about how much of a privilege it would be if we, the prospective students, were considered by the university. It works both ways. The university you choose needs you just as much as you need them, but the Media teacher saw it as a one-way street. I also found it hard to find any information on disabled students and accessibility.
Choose a university that gives the right atmosphere, that makes you feel comfortable and gives you all the information you need.
Disability at University
I think I’m lucky. The University of Derby takes disability into an enormous amount consideration, that doesn’t mean they’re perfect; they still have to stop their delivery vans from blocking disabled bays, but they’re very supportive.
When you look at universities, there should be a Disability Team that walks you through all the support that they can offer you. Each Uni is different and so is every experience. However, I can say Derby is always happy to help. In Mid 2016, I was recently diagnosed with anxiety, something I suffered with as a young child but had no way of describing it to people until my diagnosis. I would freeze up and wrench if I saw a sign of an insect. I wouldn’t physically be sick, but the movement pulled on my stomach. It hurt. I couldn’t stop it and I couldn’t move for a period of time. It would happen at restaurants too, especially if it was crowded and somewhere I had not been before.
I called the University up in the summer to see if they offered a Cognitive behaviour service, and they offered a similar one. I took it and started having sessions, within a few weeks, the symptoms lessened and I hardly have my anxiety attacks now. I get them occasionally, but they’re much better now and don’t prevent me from doing something for longer than a minute.
When I looked at universities, I looked at one of the University of Creative Arts campuses, and they told me one of the rooms they used for the course had no access by lift. That meant I would have had to use a winding, narrow set of stairs. The rooms were cramped, including the bigger rooms so did not strike me as disabled friendly. However, their Disability Support staff were nice.
So make sure you shop around. Ring the university up, tell them your needs, the things you struggle with. See what they can do to help you and what support is available. Maybe search some blogs for student experience when dealing with that universities support team.
One of my closest friends, Sophie, owns a blog primarily on this topic.
Coping at University with a Disability.
This one is hard to talk about. Everyone has different needs and obstacles that they need to overcome, but I have found that my disability doesn’t affect me at university any more than it does in my daily life.
If the correct support has been in place, then you should be fine. If you do come across any major errors along the way, let student well-being know, I am sure they will be more than happy to help you solve the issue. Other than that, have fun.
More on University
- Get Ahead
- Creative Writing
- Time-travelling Sleep!
- ASK JULES
- Applying to University by Sophie