To celebrate the International Day of Persons with Disabilities I’ve teamed up with Brunel University to bring you this blog sharing my experiences as a student with a disability.
My name is Ryan Raghoo, I’m a final year Anthropology Student, International Athlete, and the Founder of Enabled Not DisabledTM. Let me be very clear – I have Cerebral Palsy, I do not suffer from it. This is an important distinction (to hear more watch my TEDx talk – How to Empower a Billion People). Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a neurological condition which affects my whole body but mainly my mobility, it also impacts my processing, so things like reading and writing take longer. One of the things people often don’t see or think about is the fatigue element; from day to day my energy levels vary massively, and the amount of time ordinary tasks take can be extremely tiring.
University wasn’t something I’d initially considered for a few reasons. 1) No one from my family had been to university. 2) I grew up relatively poor and was concerned about the financial side of living independently and funding my studies. 3) Most importantly I wasn’t sure about going to university with a disability. As far as I can remember I’ve always had the support bubble of my family to help with things. Moving out and being fully independent would be a huge step; don’t get me wrong I could cook and clean etc, but not having anyone to help with things on bad days was a bit daunting. I think this is the case for most people with disabilities; things are manageable but it’s the transition from having the support to being fully independent that can be challenging. My Advice to anyone considering university with a disability is to use the year before to get used to doing things and balancing your timetable. Get used to cooking for yourself/ doing the laundry etc – you’ll have to do it when you get to uni!
When it comes to picking your university there are a few things to consider. The OBVIOUS one is ACCESSIBILITY – whatever support you’ve had in 6th form or college don’t assume it will be the same at university. I only had 25% extra time in exams at school, at Uni they reassessed me and I was able to have 33% extra time, as well as an ergonomic chair to make things more comfortable. Things have changed a lot since I came to university in 2014 but DSA (Disabled students allowance) is 100% worth applying for as it can fund adaptive equipment/ scribes and other support services There’s also the practical side of things; how easy is it to get around the campus? If you are planning to live on site how accessible is the accommodation? From day one I lived on campus and have had an accessible flat with grab-rails and other adaptions, lived on the ground floor, and was able to park my car outside the accommodation. When I got with my partner who’s a wheelchair user, we had an accessible studio flat with adjustable surfaces and electric doors. There are loads of adaptions that can be made to your accommodation so make so you make the team aware of your needs so they can meet them.
DEFINITELY visit all the universities you are interested in, get a feel for the campus, and visit the support services. Every university will have a Disability service of sorts (at Brunel it the DDS – disability and dyslexia service) if you’ve got a mental health condition also check out the mental health support services. Travel’s a big one too, for me, Brunel was only 1hr ½ away from home so if I needed some family support it wasn’t too far away. Brunel’s also got great public transport links and you can be in central London in 25 minutes by tube. It may sound silly, but the location does make a difference. Also, consider if you want to attend a campus-based university which means everything’s on one site. Personally, I think campus universities are better for students with disabilities as its easier to get around, I couldn’t imagine trying to get across London for different lectures. I barely make it from one end of the campus to the other in time.
University is challenging, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. At time’s I’ve struggled with isolation and battled with depression. Sometimes not all the lecturers are as understanding about my needs as a disabled student; like when the lecture’s upstairs and the lifts broken… not great on days I can't walk upstairs, for chair users you just can't go to class. I think the more you communicate the better things are generally. If you are good at advocating for yourself you’ll be alright. University's are huge with lots of students, sometimes things get missed. My advice is to be uncompromising on your support needs, at the end of the day your paying to be there! It's not all doom and gloom, in many ways Brunel has been amazing for me. The sports facilities are world-class and as a para-athlete, I couldn’t ask for more. I’ve been on a sports scholarship for 5 years which has provided some financial assistance and other support services like physio. If you’re a para-athlete or aspiring athlete check out Brunel! On that point, there are tonnes of activities at all universities, whatever you're interested in there will be something for you. Get involved! Without clubs like wheelchair basketball and my athletics, I would have found it hard to balance studies and life.
Finally, be proud of yourself and your achievements. University is a journey and you’ll make some amazing friendships and memories. I met my partner of 4 years at uni. When I came to uni, I was an average kid; now I’m a 2 x World Games Champion, British Long Jump record holder, and have represented the country. Try everything – there are so many opportunities you never know where things could go. Whilst at Uni I had the opportunity to do a TEDx talk, helped start the Wheelchair Basketball club, and was the first Disability Officer. Brunel helped me develop a concept into an international brand, my work with Enabled Not DisabledTM has seen me travel the country and the world. There are placement opportunities, jobs, and volunteering. I worked throughout my degree as a student ambassador, completed an 8-week placement in the DDS, and spent 3 months on a research project in Bali!
There’s so much more to Uni than your degree.
If you are sitting at home thinking about Uni I’d strongly encourage you to go.