This third-year student has written about the benefits of acknowledging, disclosing and receiving support for a disability through the University's Disability Service.
Hi, my name is Alex, and am an international student from Europe, with a state school background, now in my third year of study, and, in my opinion, I am doing great. But it hasn’t always been the case. Today I want to share with you some insights that I have gained throughout my journey of identifying a disability – in my case learning difficulty, of disclosing my disability to Student Services, of working with a disability adviser to draft a disability access plan (DAP) including reasonable adjustments for my department, and of receiving further professional support – in my case being 1 to 1 online sessions with a mentor provided by Randstad Support.
I hope that this journey may help you in yours or perhaps you could refer someone you know if you think it might help them throughout theirs.
What is a disability?
Firstly, I would like to clarify what a disability is. Under the 2010 Equality Act, it is defined as follows: if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal daily activities. Thus, what is classified as a disability could come in many shapes or forms, and can range from physical impairment, to neurodiversity, or to a long-term illness or mental health issue.
If you don’t’ know already if you would classify under the Equality Act, but you suspect you might, the Student Services and medical centre are able to help, so I strongly advise booking an appointment, even if it is just to chat through what you are thinking. However, the first thing to do is not to be afraid to think that you may have a disability and you may require support, and I hope that this post might prove that to you.
My journey with the Student Services started earlier this year, in an especially stressful period. Be mindful that, in such periods, due to the increased amount of stress and respectively an increased amount of resources needed to cope with the situation, any condition can worsen. Mine was no exception.
Last spring I was involved in various projects, the mid-semester assessments were close, and the COVID-19 pandemic was just emerging. This was a highly stressful environment and the pressure I felt was constantly building up. I suddenly felt that I was unable to perform at the standards I know I could and this was reflected in my grades. My focus was slightly fading, I was more tired than usual, and I did not enjoy the projects I was in like before. The workload was increasing and my internal resources were decreasing. I didn’t quite see a way out other than pushing through. But there was.
I previously suspected that I might have a learning difficulty by then, but because I was able to cope with the university workload I did not consider asking for additional support as an alternative.
Asking for help
When I felt on the edge of losing control, and that this was taking a toll on my performance and especially mental health, I contacted the medical centre and Student Services to talk about my situation. It was one of the best decisions I have made during my time at university.
After an appointment with the medical centre, they referred me for an assessment. After chatting with a disability adviser from Student Services, they walked me through the faster assessment options there are, and what support could be provided for me. This mainly includes drafting a DAP with reasonable adjustments which can include additional time for assessments or breaks, potential deadlines flexibility, increased accessibility to learning materials, receiving 1 to 1 support, peer groups, or, if needed, mental health counselling.
Asking for help can be a hard thing to do, and admitting you need support could be even harder, but a simple chat can turn your life around for the better in ways you didn’t even know it could.
After a couple of sessions with a disability adviser, my DAP was ready. This was an amazing experience and I am thankful for the way the adviser approached things with me. As I was new to this, he listened carefully to my struggles, tried to understand them as much as possible, and proactively tried to come up with solutions I did not even know that was available and he checked with me to see which one of them I believed would suit my needs. In the end, my DAP included 25% additional time, some extension flexibility for deadlines so I can manage my workload better, and I was allocated a number of 1 to 1 support sessions with Randstad Support – our Student Services partner which I was able to complete online from home.
Both my DAP and support have helped me tremendously. Firstly, to get out of the place that I was stuck in, and secondly, to be able better understand how I work, what is and what isn’t good for me, and how can I improve the way I do things to suit my unique set of factors. The ways in which I have adapted since starting this journey are both unforeseen and surprising and include better mental health, new mental frameworks for approaching issues, and improved mental health and wellbeing.
Do not wait
Struggling with a disability or long-term condition can be hard, and it is especially hard to do it on your own. It can result in stress, self-blame, and other issues that you may not even acknowledge. So, my advice would be not to wait – ask for help now and understand how to better manage yourself and your condition.
There are many resources available within the university community (societies and support groups, Student Services, or the Skills Centre) and people are more understanding than you might think. But first, you need to reach out.
And you don’t have to wait to be in a position where your situation is drastically impacting your life. Prevention and support are key to success, and nothing should hold you back from your journey of achieving it.
I hope you have enjoyed my post and I would gladly answer any questions you might have.