Here’s what I’ve learnt from my own experiences…
By Dr Danielle Farrel
- Remember, transition doesn’t end when you leave school
A frequent misconception is that transition starts and ends for a disabled person when they leave school. What about all the other milestones that are part of life? Getting a job, moving in to your first home, starting a family and going on your first holiday, to name a few. I made one of my biggest transitions yet just five years ago, at the age of 30 when I moved into my own home. When you are a disabled person, it can be easy to become focussed on the transitions that are commonly focussed on by others, particularly professionals, because that is deemed ‘the norm’. However, transitions can happen at any stage of life and should be on your terms.
- Explore your options
For me, this applies more to my education, rather than my employment journey to date but of course you should always explore all options available to you. When choosing which university I was going to attend, the simpler option would have been for me just to go to the one that guaranteed a direct entry into the third year of the media degree I wanted to study towards. However, I did visit others. As it turned out, I chose to attend the one that offered a direct entry into the third year, but I felt I’d made an informed choice.
- What do I know? I only live it!!!
The above might now be my businesses tagline but it was also my motto for life as a disabled person long before that. Whether it’s in education, employment, or any other aspect of life, nobody knows your support needs better than you!
- Assistive technology can help
Assistive technology such as the Dragon Voice software, for example, is not something I always use. It takes time to learn your voice etc, but I can really see the benefits of using it. A particular software package might not work for everyone, so it’s about finding what works for you. It might be that it doesn’t need to be specific software since computers have their own accessibility options such as sticky keys, so it might be worth exploring these too.
- Be part of changing the narrative for disabled people
I realise that this might sound tiresome, and you might be thinking ‘why do I need to be part of changing the narrative on top of everything else I have to overcome on a daily basis?’ – and you might be right to hold this view – but at the same time, if you can educate and change attitudes regarding disability for just one person, then you have contributed to making a change for all disabled people.
- Access all aspects of student life
I’m not suggesting you become a party animal or that you go for a pint instead of your lectures. All I mean is that it would be all too easy just to concentrate on the bits you have to do as a disabled student for fear of how long things take to plan etc, when you are dealing with a disability. However, there should be no obstacles preventing you from accessing all aspects of student life, whether that is in the Students’ Union or meeting with your peers at the weekend.
- Connect with people who have ‘been there and done it’
Connections are so important, and the right connections could potentially make student life a lot easier for you. I am not just suggesting you connect with other disabled people; I am suggesting you connect with anyone who could share their views and experiences with you. This might be another disabled person, for example, who understands the additional support required by disabled students. Connections should also include others who have maybe graduated from your course or just other students in general, who can offer advice.
- Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone
During your academic and employment career it is inevitable that you will face situations that are outside of your usual comfort zone. This could be delivering a presentation or standing to be a representative of the student council. Don’t be afraid to embrace these opportunities, they will help you learn and grow as a person and later, perhaps in employment, you won’t feel uncomfortable with the prospect of facing something unknown to you.
- Set yourself your own deadlines
If you are anything like me, your disability will mean it takes you a little longer to complete a task. Therefore, I’ve always approached this by setting myself deadlines within the deadlines given to me by a tutor or employer. Doing so, will hopefully help you avoid becoming too stressed, as you will have a clear vision of what you can achieve and by when.
- Endings and beginnings
Someone recently advised me that “In life sometimes, you have to get off one bus to get on another, to enable you to start the next stage of your journey”. Therefore, however unsettled your future might look, don’t be afraid to embrace new challenges and end one chapter of your life to start another.
About Dr Danielle Farrel
Danielle is the managing director of Your Options Understood (Y.O.U) a community interest company based in Ayrshire.
Dr Farrel has cerebral palsy and set up Y.O.U after completing her PhD in order to use her knowledge and experience of living with a disability to support others.
Y.O.U provide a range of services including advocacy, education and training, person centred planning support, self-directed support advice and consultancy.