Blog: Uni With A Disability 101

By Alice Mander

A how-to guide for your first year at university.

… it’s easier said than done.

Before you know it, your first year of university can be characterised by watching your friends dissolve into being made entirely of two minute noodles and $7 wine and self destructively watching the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale the night before a 2000 word research essay is due. Obviously, you will be exempt from such behaviour - continuing to eat healthy, study hard, and maintain a happy yet drama-free social life.

One trimester into my first year of University, I think that I may finally be educated and experienced enough to create How To Do University With A Disability: The Hand Guide. However, considering most University students can be three years into a degree and still not know what they are doing, this list should NOT be used as a bible, but simply a guide.

  1. Be prepared…

Lecture theatres are old, and can be a nightmare for a person with a disability. There are almost never any handrails and you have to talk to a disability advisor if you need adaptable seating - yet even then your seat could mysteriously disappear halfway through the trimester. Sometimes lecture theatres or tutorial rooms aren’t even accessible via lift, and if they are the lifts are constantly breaking anyway. But if you plan ahead and get onto the problems as they arise, they can all be avoided or fixed in enough time to still attend that 8am Statistics lecture. While it can be irritating to have to plan ahead more than others, it ultimately will give you more peace of mind and help you enjoy moments as they come.

  1. … but be flexible

Your first few weeks are likely to be difficult due to circumstances beyond your control, no matter how impeccably you had planned everything out. You may have to switch lecture streams because you didn’t anticipate that the walk between theatres would take you as long as it does. And, as frustrating as it is, sometimes lifts do break. Find that other accessible route, or (if there isn't one) there are procedures in place for this situation in terms of obtaining missed lecture notes. Life is full of swings and roundabouts, and they are much easier to handle when you take them as they come. Not only will you still get that Arts degree but you can eagerly answer, “Yes!” to the inevitable question: “Are you flexible?” in future job interviews.

  1. Be bold.

It’s a dog eat dog world. While it is difficult at first, you must practise being vocal and bold about what you require, in order to have as smooth an experience as possible. The services at the University are there to help you. However, they deal with a lot of students with varying abilities. Unfortunately if you don’t speak up for yourself, you and your needs can be lost in the crowd. It is your right to have an education. Use your developing skills as a lawyer and ensure your rights be met! If you find this too daunting, there are people (support workers with different associations and organisations) that can be your advocate.

  1. Have a little faith.

Your biggest concern, like all school leavers going to University for the first time, is likely to be about making friends. This fear can be exacerbated when there are other circumstances at play - such as having a disability. While I don’t necessarily have any advice on how to find “your people”, I do advise you to take a deep breath and have a little faith. One thing I have learnt about University is that difference is celebrated. While High School can be terribly good at claiming to embrace difference, University truly values the different opinions and experiences that you can bring to the table. Give your future friends more credit, you may be surprised at how quick they are to get to know, understand and love all parts of who you are.

  1. Be kind to yourself.

Life is full of extremes and University life is no different. It’s inevitable that you will have difficult days, even if you have no particular reason for feeling the way you do. But you should never downplay or discredit how you feel. Be kind to yourself, and in doing this, you will find your way back up. Take everything as it comes.

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