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About Me and my Disability

Posted: December 02 2020

Bethany Wheeler, Occupational Therapy BSc

Hi, my name’s Bethany and I’m a final year Occupational Therapy student.

I became a wheelchair user back in 2016, one week before I started at Brunel University. I have a genetic condition which deteriorated and although I can still stand and walk short distances with crutches the chair gives me the freedom of being able to live independently. I also have a processing disorder which affects how my brain works, I have a delay which affects my reading, writing, and ability to hear and understand verbal information. I have also subsequently been diagnosed with acquired dyslexia.

Why Brunel and Occupational Therapy?

I always wanted to go to University since I was young, having chosen at 10 that I wanted to do my 11+ and go to a grammar school. I knew I enjoyed learning and liked being challenged in the classroom. Throughout my schooling, I regularly changed my mind on the profession I wanted to study, from Engineering to Teaching, all I knew was that I wanted to do something that would help others in some way and use my science and problem-solving skills which I excelled in.

Work experience in various areas would lead to me finally deciding on Physiotherapy as the profession that I wanted to pursue 20+ open days later I would decide on the 6 places I wanted to apply to study at. Little did I know that my genetic condition would mean that I would go from being able to run and play sport, to needing to use crutches to get around. Interviews came and some I would do well in to be told I would not manage the course with my now limited mobility. With no confirmed places I had started to think that maybe University wasn’t for me.

But then I found Occupational therapy, I had never heard of it before. To be honest, I thought it was Occupational Health, but then I completed further work experience and decided this would encompass all I wanted in a profession, more so than my initial choice of Physiotherapy. Initially, I thought I would need to apply through Clearing but I found UCAS Extra which is a feature that allows you to apply for one further course at a time so this time I needed to find the place I wanted to study. This now needed to meet my original criteria of being campus-based with accommodation, have a good disability support service to help with my processing disorder, but also support my newly acquired physical disability. So Brunel was my 7th choice university but the best decision I ever made.

Support at Brunel

The Headstart Programme gave me the opportunity to move onto campus and meet some of my course mates and lecturers a week before fresher’s week. For me, this made a huge difference I had the opportunity to unpack and get to know my way around the campus. I struggle with change and meeting new people and this meant on the first day of lectures I already had a few familiar faces. We were also able to access the online system and learn how to use this as well as gain other valuable skills that would later be useful for my degree.

At Brunel, we are Lucky that the Disability and Dyslexia Service houses the West London needs assessment team, which provides an overview of the support you can access from DSA (or NHS bursary in my case). This can vary depending on your needs I got a laptop, Dragon (a speech to text software) and software that reads a text, as well as a note-taker for my lectures and 1:1 study skills support.

I also got separate placement support which provided me with Taxi’s to get to and from placement as well as later changing to part-time for my final placement to allow me additional time to rest. My condition comes with pain and fatigue and rest is essential for me to be able to function on a day to day basis.

Accessible accommodation was also key for me and I stayed in a few different rooms during my time at Brunel with the latest being an adapted studio flat which was newly built and had everything needed to best support my independence with my partner.

Outside of my studies I love sport and play Wheelchair Basketball and have represented Great Britain at the U25 world championships as well as being part of the Brunel team to win silver at two championships. Brunel has recognised this and as a result, I have been a sports scholar for the past few years. This has allowed me to have access to the sports facilities and gain a financial bursary to support my dual career.