10 Challenges I Faced at University As a Disabled Person

Back in 2009 I first began my undergraduate degree at the University of Leicester studying Interdisciplinary Science (I-Science). After that, in 2012 I began a Masters in Global Environmental Change. I was there for 5 years in all finally graduating in 2014. It was a fun time but it also presented a number of challenges. In this post I will list 10 of the challenges I faced the University.

  1. Socialising

I feel nervous and awkward when talking to people sometimes, which I’ve talked about before on this blog. It is mostly due to my hearing loss. So at University I often found it difficult socialising with my course mates and the other students in my block. I did make some friends but ironically I met most of them in a noisy nightclub where it is most difficult to talk to people.

  1. Hearing What the Lecturers Are Saying

As I mentioned in the last point I have a hearing loss, and this made it difficult for me to hear what the lecturers were saying in lectures. I would have to sit at the front of the lecture hall whenever I could, but sometimes this wasn’t possible. Lecturers sometimes spoke too fast, or too quiet, or kept wandering around the room so I couldn’t see their face to lipread.

  1. Meeting Deadlines

Particularly in my Undergrad degree, I had a lot of coursework on the go all at once. We had to answer and submit a bunch of questions (called Core Learning Exercises) by 9 AM every Monday. This was on top of all the required reading and all the other main coursework that we had to do. I often struggled to finish the questions on time so I asked for an extension on the deadline, which they gave me. They allowed me to submit it by Wednesday instead of Monday, which helped. But I still struggled sometimes.

  1. Transport

I’ve described the problems I had with transport at University in another post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Basically, during my Undergrad years, we employed a private taxi company to take me to and from the campus every day. This wasn’t ideal as it was really expensive and I had to book it in advance all the time. This limited my flexibility and spontaneity. During my masters, I used the normal student buses, which turned out to be better, but I did have some problems with the ramps and the drivers.

  1. Finding Good Carers (and Keeping Them)

I had in total about 18 different carers over the 5 years i was in university. Some were great, some not so good, and some were downright bad.  I used a care agency called Athena Care for my undergraduate degree and then changed to Advantage Healthcare for my masters. It seemed like I had to go through a lot of not so good carers to find the good ones. And when I did find the good ones they didn’t always stay for as long as I would like. But I did have some very good carers who I am still friends with today.

  1. Struggling with Group Work

In I-Science we had to do a lot of group work. Every week we would have what they called “facilitation sessions” where we had to work in groups of about 3 or 4 to answer questions. There was always quite a bit of background noise in the room due to the chatter. I found it very hard to hear my course mates so I couldn’t really contribute anything useful. In theory group work is meant to help you learn because you are discussing it with other people, but this doesn’t work if you have a hearing loss. I never really got any benefit out of these sessions. If there’s one thing I learnt at University it’s that I tend to work better on my own, not in groups.

  1. Lack of Accessible Societies

At University there are a number of societies that students can join to meet people with similar interests. However, most of the societies were for physical sports like football or Tae Kwon Do, which I couldn’t do as a wheelchair user. I did join the society for my course and the chess Society, but that was about it. This was another thing that limited the number of people that I socialised with.

  1. Isolation

I felt a bit isolated and separate from everybody else. The door of my flat did not open onto the communal corridor like everybody else’s, it opened to the outside. So I didn’t have the opportunity of bumping into people every day as they came and went. Often I would just eat dinner in my room rather than going to the communal kitchen. This became a habit as it was easier, and I probably should have made more of an effort to go and eat in the communal kitchen every day. At least that way I might have been able to mix with other students a bit more.

  1. Doing the Required Reading

Particularly doing I-Science there were a LOT of textbooks on the reading list. So many that I didn’t have time to read them all. It would have meant spending all my waking hours with my head in a book. Plus it wasn’t always possible to get hold of the book that we needed and they all cost too much to buy. I find it easier reading e-books but the textbooks weren’t available as e-books so that didn’t help either.

  1. Having Slow Typers

I had some carers that went with me to uni during the day and I would dictate the work to them and they would type it on a computer. This got frustrating sometimes because some of them were not very computer literate. Some of them couldn’t even spell which is something that you really need to be able to do at University. I wish I had Dragon naturally speaking back then because I would have been able to type faster myself then dictating to someone else. This video does a good job of illustrating how it feels trying to direct someone who is not computer literate.

What challenges did you face at University or any other type of education? Let me know in the comments below.

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