Disability, Uni and Me
Posted: April 01 2020
Ryan, Anthropology BSc
If you’re thinking about university and you’re not sure about going because you’ve got a disability, TAKE THE PLUNGE, GO – trust me you won’t regret it. Will it be challenging? Yes, but it’s challenging for everyone.
My name is Ryan, I’m a 3rd-year Anthropology student (although I’ve been at university for 5 years – long story), I have cerebral palsy which affects my walking, speech, stamina, energy levels and general daily life. That being said I’m also an international athlete and run my own charitable disability awareness organisation Enabled Not Disabled TM.
Life at Brunel’s been good to me, let me share my experience.
When I first came to university I was very nervous, I was the first person in my family to go to uni and then there was the small (BIG) problem of having CP (cerebral palsy but it's long to write that out each time: CP = cerebral palsy). Growing up I’d always had my family to support me, now I had to be responsible for cooking, washing and everything in between. Luckily Brunel has adaptive rooms, rooms for disabled students that can be adapted to your needs, as a result, I got a bigger room with a bigger bathroom – handrails galore and a bath (I get a lot of muscle cramps so having a bath was a must). I was also able to park my car outside my flat, a perk reserved only for disabled students – this made traveling off-campus much easier, and not having to worry about how I’d carry my shopping home.
Within the first few weeks, I met with the DDS (Disability and Dyslexia Service) to discuss my support profile – what would I need to help me achieve at uni. I was able to get additional time in exams; my lecturers were made aware of my condition and I received support with adaptive equipment. There is a world of programmes I knew nothing about, mind mapping software, voice-to-text, etc., all super useful! When I first came to uni I also received my own laptop to support my studies which was a game-changer. I know things have changed slightly now but Brunel still supports disabled students with applying for DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowance) which helps you to get equipment, scribes or note-takers and any additional support you need as a disabled student.
So, what is life like for me on campus?
Well at first it took some getting used to, living with other students, balancing daily tasks and becoming more sociable. I started my journey in Sport at Brunel and at that time have become a CP World Champion (twice!) in the long jump and represented GB. There are tonns of sports activities, clubs and societies – basically, there’s something for everyone. In my second year, we started Wheelchair Basketball at Brunel, a club that has disabled and able-bodied players. So, as I said there really is something for everyone. Early on I got involved with the Union, an organisation run by the students for the students, becoming the university’s first-ever disability officer. This was cool as it gave me a chance to advocate on things I felt needed changing, run events and engage with the student population meeting a huge range of people.
The thing about uni is there’s always something going on, you can get involved in as little or as much as you want or you can manage. You do still have to study… As I always say you never know who you’re going to meet at university or what opportunity will present itself. Through Brunel I was able to do a placement in the DDS, learning how they help students like me and working alongside the staff that had helped me in the past. I was also fortunate to do some time abroad in Indonesia working with a disability charity, something that would never have happened if I didn’t go to Brunel. My favourite thing in my time at uni by far has to be the TEDx event – Brunel hosted one and I was lucky enough to be one of the speakers! YouTube it!
I could go on and on because I’ve had such a great time but let me share some practical tips before I say bye:
- meal prepping is a must, I get really tired with my condition so sometimes it’s a struggle to cook after a long day of class and training. Having meals prepared that I can warm up is great!
- DO EVERYTHING! In your first year… as in go to as many different clubs and societies as possible, if there’s something you’re interested in check it out. As you progress through the years your workload increases, I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found it a challenge to stay on top of things – my hands get tired very quickly
- always try and get assignments done early – it sounds so obvious and I’m guilty of some last-minute essays but allowing yourself more time to do them and read over is massively useful!
Lastly, get out and be open, most people won’t care whether or not you’ve got a disability, all they need to know is that you want to have fun, every group welcomes people with disabilities and you never know who you’ll meet. I met my partner at university in her first few weeks at uni, we’ve been together ever since. Coincidentally she’s a wheelchair user, not that we planned it. Being together we were able to get an accessible flat that was fully adapted to suit both of our needs – even electric blinds and adjustable surfaces! (she likes the kitchen top low obviously and I prefer them high as I generally stand). I went off on a tangent but I’ve been basically trying to say uni’s been great, I’ve has a lot of fun, met amazing people, had unique experiences and all with CP.