Starting university is such an exciting time – it’s the beginning of a whole new chapter of your life. However, if you’re a disabled student, you may be feeling a little nervous about what lies ahead. In this post, we’re here to share 5 essential resources to help you prepare for the start of a new term. After all, the more prepared you are, the more you’re free to enjoy the experience!
Disabled Students’ Allowance
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is a support package that helps disabled students to cover any study-related costs they have due to disability. You may have applied for DSA and started this process back when you were applying to university, but any student can register for DSA at any time during their studies.
You can apply for DSA through your Student Finance account. From there, your case will be assessed and you’ll be asked to provide medical evidence. Then you’ll have the opportunity to discuss any adjustments that may help you to thrive at university. Don’t forget, you can apply for DSA for any kind of disability – this includes mental illness, rare diseases, and long-term conditions too. You are entitled to support, so don’t be afraid to communicate your needs and advocate for the adjustments you require.
Books, blogs, and vlogs
Sometimes, hearing about somebody’s lived experience of navigating university as a disabled person can be the most helpful and comforting thing of all. Disability and the University: A Disabled Students’ Manifesto is a book written by disabled graduates and gives a practical insight into university, and what disabled students should expect from the support they are offered. University and Chronic Illness: A Survival Guide focusses specifically on long-term illness and Energy Limiting Conditions at university, and the book covers all aspects of student life – not only studying and exams but living independently, socialising, managing money, and plenty more.
If books aren’t for you, blogs and vlogs can also give you a good idea of what student life will be like. AccessAble Ambassador Chloe Tear blogged throughout her entire time at university as an undergraduate student with a visual impairment and cerebral palsy, and Georgina’s Journey shared authentic vlogs of her university experience while managing multiple chronic illnesses. You may be able to find short-form videos on Instagram and TikTok too!
Every university has a Disability Services and/or Wellbeing department. The staff members here will be a great point of contact for any difficulties you experience during your studies. If you haven’t already, get in touch with them to arrange an initial meeting during the first few weeks of term. This will give you the opportunity to introduce yourself and discuss any adjustments that the faculty at the university (such as lecturers and module leaders) should be aware of.
If you experience any difficulties that cannot or will not be resolved by Disability Services, or you feel you aren’t being heard, Disabled Students UK is a useful point of contact. They’re a grassroots student-led organisation who are working to make universities truly accountable to their disabled students and to disability law. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved with their mission too!
Find your flatmates online
If you’re moving away from home and/or living in student accommodation, it’s usually possible to find and connect with your new flatmates online before the start of term. Once you have been assigned your accommodation, look out for emails or social media updates from the university about online groups for finding your flatmates. Usually there’ll be a Facebook or WhatsApp group created for each specific accommodation block, and if you choose to join you’ll be able to see who you’ll be living with and say hello.
It's up to you whether you want to chat with your flatmates or disclose your disability at this point in time – you are never obliged to share more than you’re comfortable with, and sometimes it can feel nerve-wracking to introduce yourself to a stranger. However, chatting online in a way and pace that suits you can be a great way of breaking the ice and getting to know each other before the start of term.
Search on AccessAble
In the past, searching for access information for the various different buildings and facilities at your university would be very time-consuming. However, AccessAble has partnered with hundreds of universities across the UK to provide all the accessibility information you need in just one place. You can search for your university on AccessAble’s website!
For universities who have partnered with AccessAble, trained surveyors have assessed every element of campus – from lecture halls and libraries to accommodation, bars, parking facilities and accessible toilets. Each of these areas has a Detailed Access Guide. These guides contain accessibility symbols to give you a quick overview of what is available, and also in-depth information such as the width of door openings or whether large print or Braille resources can be provided. Having this information to hand, before you start university and throughout your studies, will take away some of the exertion of navigating a new environment and give you much more time and energy to enjoy your new adventure!