Reports from Disabled Students
Read their Stories
- Alex, MA English, 4th Year, Dysgraphia & Dyslexia
- Caroline, MA Psychology, 2nd year, Asperger’s Syndrome
- Joanne, graduate, MA (Hons.) Hispanic Studies, Mental Health Difficulties
- Jonathan, 4th year, MA European Studies, Hearing impairment
- Mark, graduate, MA(Hons) Politics and International Relations, Cerebral Palsy
- Rajan, Medicine, 1st year, Dyslexia and Dysgraphia
Watch her Story
- Adele, MA Psychology, 3rd year, Dyslexia. See how Adele uses computers to assist with her studies and leisure time, from BBC – Ouch!
Looking back on my last four years at University and trying to remember what it felt like to just be starting out, the one thing that is so eminently clear is that I have always felt like a student, just an ordinary common or garden student. Despite having had all manner of special provisions and a Support Service which is exemplary, at no point have I not felt included. Every student is different and to be quite frank usually so worried about how different they are as to not even have time notice anyone else.
The best piece of advice I can give is no matter where you are in your studies and what's going on, you're not alone, but it's you who needs to take those first steps, contact the disability staff, student support, whoever, but get in touch. Not only is it their job to help, but it's always appeared to me as a passion, and they will do their utmost to assist.
Aside from that the best of luck to you and although you are at University to learn, it's not just academic, so make sure to enjoy your time too, and remember there are people who will do their best to help you to.
University makes for an interesting cocktail of socialising and studying (getting the balance is a tough one!). Before coming to university it can be easy to see having a disability as an added pressure. Before I arrived, the initial fears were basically whether I would be thrown in the corner with everyone else who is disabled, so we just became freak’s corner. When I moved into halls I actually realised that I couldn’t be more wrong; all of a sudden you realise that you are an adult and actually if you want help, well it’s always there, but it’s up to you to go and get it. Life in halls is great and the diversity is fantastic - the reality is no-one cares that you are different. (Secretly I was almost disappointed about this!) In halls everyone has the communal aim of trying to make as many friends as possible. My method of choice was heading down to the local pub and having a few drinks with the guys, while others preferred to join a society or sports club.
My point is that, at university, there is somewhere for everyone, and I’m delighted I took what I saw at the time as the risk of coming to university and moving into halls. I wrote this so you don’t have to do all the worrying I did, because when you get here I’m sure you’ll realise, as I did, how futile and silly the process was. University is one of the most accepting places I have ever been; I feel very fortunate to be here.
I had a wonderful time in my residence in Spain. The first point of contact is quite crucial and I was very fortunate in having the voluntary sector of the ‘intercambio/exchange’ university as my first contact.
Preparation is everything and, having a disability, it was a question of prioritising my time initially by setting up a support system, even if you do not always call upon it, for example a day-centre for mental health issues. Once support is in place, it is important to relax and enjoy the experience of a new culture.
What I would emphasise is that, just as useful as formal support, is the informal support of other students in the Halls of Residence and in shared classes. It is also a good idea to keep in touch, when necessary, with other Erasmus students from the home university. It is nice to plan meals out with them as, initially, they are an invaluable source of information.
Certainly, patience is required in medical appointments and the ‘red tape’ surrounding the medical system, but this is a small downside in an experience which helped me immensely in personal growth and independence.
If you want to come to university, then there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t! It is seen as a huge step, and can be rather scary – after all, it’s a great leap into the unknown, away from all the support and resources that you’ve managed to accumulate over your schooldays. However, there is so much help and support available at university that it really isn’t a problem at all - so long as you ensure that your needs are made clear and are willing to adapt a bit.
I cannot believe that I am fast approaching the end of my degree - the last four years have flown past! I’ve done everything that any other student does, and have achieved things which, as someone with a hearing impairment, I felt I had no right to expect. It took time to settle in, but even before I arrived here there was support being put into place to make sure that the transition from classes of four to lecture theatres of five hundred plus was incredibly easy.
Thanks to my Disabled Students Allowance I’ve had note takers for all classes where this is practical. Initially I hated the idea of putting my trust in someone else’s handwriting and attention span, but now I would not be without them. I can sit back, and devote my attention to what is being said (or what I’m having for tea that night…) rather than having to keep looking up and down to make sure that I’m not scrawling illegibly across everything around me. In my note takers I have also found a ready-made companion, someone to moan with when lecturers put my radio-microphone on back to front or leave the room forgetting they were ‘plugged in’. Occasions like that are few and far between, though - I’ve found all the staff to be well informed and approachable. Under the guidance of the disability advisers, all departments are willing to be a bit innovative in finding the best solutions to individual circumstances. I’ve never been stopped from doing any part of my degree just because I have a hearing impairment.
University isn’t just about your degree, though - and the social life is just as inclusive as the study! First year in the halls of residence was great; I got the excitement of living with a huge variety of people, with the benefits of being able to ensure a good nights sleep no matter what noise was happening around me - hearing aids out, perfect silence, 8 hours sleep....wonderful!!! For times when it was absolutely essential to wake up, the university fitted a vibrating pillow and flashing light that went off with the fire alarms. I was able to get Internet access from my room, and the disability advisers provided an amplifying ‘phone – so it was just like home!!
In all my time at university, I’ve never once felt more ‘different’ than anyone else. I think that’s perhaps the greatest thing about it - you meet such a huge variety of people that no-one is really bothered that you wear hearing aids, or have a bit of difficulty following conversations. At times having additional needs can require a little bit of patience and flexibility on your own part, but I’ve never found it any different to being at school. The disability advisers bend over backwards to make sure that any problems are ironed out, and that you can enjoy university to the max - just like any other student.
On the third of July I was awarded my degree and my time at Aberdeen University was over. As I sat listening to all the speeches I thought to myself I have done it! I have achieved everything I wanted to in Aberdeen got my degree and most importantly had a blast. The time had come - my name was called, I wheeled myself forward, the Principal came down to me and conferred my degree on me, and a cheer went up. After the ceremony everybody went outside to take pictures and I was asked to talk to the press and the website about my time in Aberdeen. The reason I am telling you this is that the following day the paper said “Mark Cooper overcame cerebral palsy to graduate yesterday” so if Aberdeen can have that effect on my disability, it can on yours too!
My first encounter with Aberdeen University was in early 2003 when I was applying to various universities and I went to Aberdeen to meet the Disability Adviser. We talked about my needs and when I was accepted the Disability Adviser was able to get to work ensuring all my needs were met. This left me to concentrate on getting to know people in my halls when I arrived, and having a good time instead of worrying about how to get to places and get notes etc. The wardens in the hall of residence were fantastic -because the Disability Advisers had told them about me people knew me before I knew them and I had some new friends straight away. When it snowed they were only too willing to push me across the snow to dinner. The advantage for them was they got to the front of the queue with me!
I suppose I should tell you about the academic side of life at Aberdeen University. I could not recommend highly enough the Disabled Student Allowance. It provided me with all the help I needed, from a laptop to someone who could help me with everyday tasks. The downside of the DSA is paperwork but the Disability Advisers were able to fill out the form and all I had to do was sign. My department were fantastic - they provided my note taker with copies of the slides in lectures and let me go 5 minutes early if I had to go to another class. The Library staff were great and only too happy to go and find books or journals.
I spent a term on an exchange program in America. The disability team liaised with my American hosts and I was able to have a fabulous time because of all of the groundwork that they had done.
A word of warning if you’re in a wheelchair: get shock absorbers or good suspension! The cobbles will be your greatest test.
So did I overcome my disability at Aberdeen University in some sense, yes, but I could not have done it without the help of the fantastic support of the Disability support team. So come to Aberdeen and they will help you to overcome yours too!
Finding out I was dyslexic was a huge shock. I knew I'd had always been a slow reader and encountered problems with reading and spelling but I didn't realise to what extent the dyslexia, and dysgraphia as I found out later, was holding me back. I had been to university before and it hadn't been picked up. I think lecturers thought I was lazy when I was actually studying hard but wasn't getting anywhere. Through trial and error I managed to develop coping mechanisms but they were not adequate for a discipline like medicine.
My first port of call was the Student Learning Service, where I attended lectures to help with study skills. It made a slight difference but I still had problems. By chance I spoke to a friend on the course about the problems I had with learning & studying and he said I should contact the Student Advice and Support Office regarding a dyslexia/dysgraphia test. He had recently had similar problems and had received help from the service. As soon as I contacted Student Support they were able to get an appointment for me within a week. My initial test indicated I was dyslexic. They then promptly arranged an appointment with an Educational Psychologist who tested and verified dyslexia and dysgraphia. It was and is hard work coping with a specific learning difficulty and the help and support from student services made a difference. I was able to see an Academic Skills Adviser (Dyslexia) who helped go through various strategies to cope and deal with my course and look at different ways of learning, organising myself, keeping track of assignments and being able to keep on top of the work. He's only an e-mail away.
I still have a long way to go, but now I have valuable access to the right help and have been enabled to address the dyslexia & dysgraphia. It's important to realise you'll need to work hard, remain positive and be proactive and, importantly, I can always go back to Student Support for further advice and help.