Firstly, hearty congratulations to all who managed to get the required grades to get on to a university course. It’s now time to stop and think about how you’ll make the transition to university work.
Whilst the summer vacation is a great time to recharge your batteries it’s important that you spend a bit of time making the necessary arrangements to make sure that everything runs smoothly in September. It’s a big move anyway, and a nasty surprise or two won’t help you. Even though the Equality Act means that institutions take their responsibilities towards disabled students very seriously, there’s no harm in giving them as much time as possible to make sure that they can deliver the solutions you might need from the fullest range of options and on time, for when you start.
Of course it isn’t just about the studying or learning techniques, it’s also about accommodation and in some cases, transport and mobility provision. Fortunately, every university with disabled students will have its own ‘Disability Officer’ who will run a team of people dedicated to making sure things are as you need them. They will already have a good idea of the challenges that other disabled students have tackled in the past and help you to do likewise. This could mean anything from finding you a suitable route from disabled parking space to lecture theatre or even installing adaptations where necessary. Keeping in mind that you are unlikely to be the only disabled student starting next term you need to give them a sporting chance to get things right for you – and that means contacting them early to discuss your needs.
Disability Officers also work with your course tutors (who may not be as experienced with disability issues) to make sure that you get the full benefit of the learning syllabus. This again might mean tackling access and use of facilities but also how you get to field trip destinations and even under what conditions you sit examinations (ie: provision of extra time and resources such as assistive devices).
Essentially, they’ll help to create a learning profile that they can refer to in order to make sure that provisions are made with your specific needs in mind. This, of course, can be altered as your circumstances change, for example if you need to deal with sudden exacerbations and the like. In fact, because it’s a document of importance it can be used as the basis of any appeal you need to make regarding exam results and the like.
You need to think through and define, as exactly as possible, how you live with your disability. This is as much for you as it is for those whose role it is to help you in that you don’t want to find yourself in your digs without some small but vital component come September. A good starting point, meanwhile, from the learning perspective, is to think about how you’ve achieved things in the past, taking note of how your former school or college helped you. Whilst you won’t be able to apply ideas directly to your university course until you’ve started there, the principles should be broadly similar.
What you make of your time at university is, of course, down to you. There are so many options not just in terms of learning opportunities but also to become more socially engaged and active. One of the first things to do is get along to the societies fair. Universities run a range of societies from the popular sporting ones like football through to sometimes very small or unique ones like those dedicated to a particular author or brand of soup – yes, really. The word ‘misfit’ rarely applies at university since the wide range of intake means that you’ll find people with broadly similar interests and outlooks to yours (whatever they are) – joining a society based on these criteria is an easy way to find new friends.
The best attitude to adopt at university is to be a student first and disabled second. Figure out what it is that you want to do or achieve and then do it.