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Get Ahead at Uni — Disabled Students Programme

Get Ahead (with disabled symbols) sign held up by university person with cap on - covers person's face

Get Ahead is a university programme to help disabled students settle in and learn about their campus.

When I originally wrote this Get Ahead post, I was in my third year at the University of Derby.

Many people had just settled into their first week here. For me, it has been the most wonderful experience – although I did hit issues along this three-year journey. But, I had the support of my family, my lecturers and my friends.

Since then, I have started my Masters and went to the event, Get Ahead for a second and final time.

What is Get Ahead?

Get Ahead is an event run by the University of Derby every year. The whole aim of Get Ahead is to give students with various kinds of disabilities a welcomed head start at university life.

Disabled students arrive on campus a few days before the rest of the students. In that time they are able to enrol, choose models (if applicable), ask questions and make friends. Essentially, it gives disabled students the chance to get things in order before their course starts, and a chance to settle in before they are overwhelmed by the thousands of students running around campus.

Benefits – First time around

Meeting People

The first time around, I only knew one person at University of Derby. That person had just completed college with me and we coincidently chose the same university. However, we were on different courses.

Get Ahead allowed me to meet fellow students on my course who also had a disability. I found this immensely helpful because we knew, just by being at the event, that we had something in common. We had some kind of disability or struggle. I think one of the aims of Get Ahead is for you to realise that other students are in the same boat as you, and it works

Getting to know the Campus.

Getting to know the campus is a scary thing all by itself. The University of Derby doesn’t look as big to me as it once did, and I think it is because I am so familiar with it. I know many of the short-cuts to get around but when I was new, I was thankful for the chance to explore.

Honestly, you are encouraged to try and get lost—and then get yourself unlost. I never got lost during Get Ahead, but I did later on when I was looking for South Tower.

Tip to Derby Students… the university is a compass. North Tower, East Tower, South Tower. No one knows what happened to the West…

Support advisor

Sometime during the week, you are given an appointment to meet your support advisor. This is essential to see that everything is put into place before the course starts. However, there can be a queue for this and I remember while I was waiting, homesickness kicked in.

However, when it was my turn, I was comforted by the fact that I knew my support had been put in place. Extended deadlines, check. Extended library loans, check.

Terrors of University

At first, it’s scary. You feel like you’re a little school kid, clutching onto your backpack among adults who know what they are doing.

The truth is, most of them are in the same position as you. Most of them don’t have an incline on what they are doing for those first few weeks or months.

It’s not just the campus that is scary. It’s the independence you must master. There will be no one to make sure you have clean clothes, that the milk isn’t off or that you are eating healthy. This is up to you and it starts the second you move into halls.

But Get Ahead helps with all of that. Those few days, where most the students are still at their home, you have time to get used to it. Time to explore. Experiment. Settle.

You learn the ropes before the other students arrive, and while they’re all exploring and getting into each other’s way, you’re nice and settled without the chaos. So no accidents… almost.

Defeat homesickness

I’m very close to my family. So for me, moving away from home, even though it was an hour away, was a massive task. I got homesick a lot and I still do but Get Ahead made the whole thing easier.

For the whole two days of the event, you’ll be kept on your toes with hardly any time to think. A perfect distraction from homesickness, there was only once when they fell behind and the homesickness began to seep in, which is when we were meeting our advicors.

Once everything was back on track and we began making friends or joined in the late night activities, the homesickness was kept at bay. I still missed my family but the activities kept my interest so I could focus.

Halls

There was another great thing about Get Ahead, you got the halls to yourself for three nights. No need to share the kitchen or shower with anybody else unless they were a disabled student on Get Ahead too (which was the case for me, and now we’re friends).

It already felt like we had been there for weeks, not days, but Saturday also came with the blink of an eye and new people were moving in. My flatmate on Get Ahead and I gained two more flatmates and the place was hardly ever as peaceful again.

Early enrolment

Another benefit of Get Ahead is early enrolment. When I first went, we were split into groups, so that the queues were not too long. There were under 200 students. So, compared to the thousands that would come in on Monday (new and old students), the process was quick.

For those few days of University, I was joint honours. When the rest of the students arrived and I was able to learn more about my course, I became single honours. You can read more about that here.

Second Time around

I still got benefits from the second time I went to the event. That was in September 2018, the start of my Masters.

Many of the above benefits still applied, but I did struggle more in the queue this time. I was unable to find any MA students on my course, and one of the Get Ahead advisors (a second year student) abandoned me when deciding the best way to get to my new campus.

It was a different campus to the one I was on for my undergrad. All was sorted the next day though.The event leader had a word with my advisors and arranged for me to go on another campus tour.

I did enjoy a revisit of the presentations—It helped bring back things I was taught the first time around. However, I don’t feel Get Ahead is designed for Master courses, particularly one with only seven students.

But I do recommend that if you are a disabled student, and your university offers a “Get Ahead” programme or similar, to join it!


Thanks for Reading

I hope you found this useful! Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

~Shannon~

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3 replies »

  1. Your picture made me laugh, I thought they were Gummibears when I saw your post in the feed! XD I am glad they do these kinds of orientation events – as someone from outside the EU I was also invited to orientation from the Uni. They did events and had guides showing people how to get registered with a bank and GP and where the shops were etc. and the police and fire service also came and had a talk. I think it’s a great idea.

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