Starting university was daunting enough. How would I cope living away from home? Would I make friends? Would the workload be okay? These are all fears most people have when packing up boxes of crockery and clothes ready to become students. But on top of these anxieties were worries about how I would manage as someone with a visual impairment and mental health condition.
I had, fortunately, done a lot to prepare for this new chapter in my life. Months before I got my A-level results, I applied for Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA), a government-funded grant that contributes to the cost of disability-related expenses at university, such as specialist computer equipment and weekly support from a mental health mentor.
I also attended a three-day residential at the university a couple of months before I started, which gave me a chance to get familiar with the campus. One of the people I met at this summer school quickly became a close friend, and is soon going to be the best man at my wedding!
Furthermore, a few weeks before I started university, I took a trip with my mum to explore the campus and city centre, which further helped orientate me to my new surroundings. Despite all these preparations, I almost dropped out during my first few weeks. I was horribly homesick. My anxiety was intense, making me feel I wasn’t good enough to be at university.
During this transition, I made the most of the support available to me. From university staff such as my mentor, disability advisors, and my lecturers, through to my NHS mental health care coordinator, I had a strong support network that did their best to encourage and reassure me. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have made it to experience the student bar lit up with Christmas lights.
My friends and partner, who I met at university, were a huge help, and I made a point of being sociable. I had chosen a university that was an hour and a half away on the train, making weekend trips home easy enough to arrange, which helped tackle the homesickness that continued to creep in.
Now, I have just completed a master’s degree at the same university where I was a nervous fresher nearly a decade ago. As challenging as it was, university changed my life: it made me much more independent, helped me meet wonderful and interesting people, and gave me a chance to study a subject I love. With the right support in place, disabled students can thrive at university.
About Caroline Butterwick
Caroline Butterwick is a writer based in North Staffordshire who specialises in disability. Her website is: www.carolinebutterwick.com and you can follow her on twitter @CButterwick