For students with disabilities or long-term health conditions, university can be a daunting prospect. I know from personal experience how big a factor disability can play in deciding which university to attend; as somebody with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I knew it was always going to be a challenge to move suddenly from living at home to living out. I achieved good grades, so I had the choice of pretty much any university, but I knew I wanted to either go to Oxbridge – who look after their students on campus a lot more than other universities – or somewhere in London, allowing me to live at home. In the event, I was accepted by King’s College, London, allowing me to commute into university every day. It’s helped massively – this safety net has allowed me to become outgoing in ways I hadn’t thought possible two years ago.
But I know not every disabled student will be so lucky – many have to live out, and rely solely on the universities’ disability services. But if you’re in this position, don’t worry – at King’s, at least, the disability service is really helpful. Despite only having mild autism, a lot of effort was made to ensure I fit in well and could work to the best of my ability – I was allocated a mentor for my first year under a partnership with the National Autistic Society, and when I recently needed a short extension to complete a piece of work, both the disability service and English office were totally understanding. Disabled Students Allowance helps a great deal, too; as well as a monthly allowance, I’ve received a free laptop and printer and £200 per year to spend on books, which has been an absolutely enormous help. And any disabled student can claim it. Lots of unis also have Disabled Students Societies – they’re worth joining, whether you want to advocate for disabled students or just meet new people.
And last but not least – don’t be afraid to speak to the university careers service about your disability or disabilities, and your concerns about the workplace. Most careers offices have somebody trained to be ‘disability-confident’ – they can give you tips on whether or not to disclose your disability, and should you choose to, how and when to do so. They’ll discuss the sort of adjustments available in the workplace, how best to request these, and how to effectively market any unique skills you may have as a result of a disability (e.g. for Autism Spectrum Disorder, being punctual and thorough). You can take it from me that such advice is invaluable, and given by real professionals – many careers advisers were once graduate recruiters, and know exactly what they’re looking for.
So, while it’s perfectly understandable to be apprehensive of university, especially if you have a disability – don’t be! As long as you plan ahead and do your research, it should be perfectly manageable, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it just as much as anybody else.
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