When I was asked by Trailblazers to write about my university experience, well I thought I could write a scathing review of my university and simply highlight all their failings and how miserable they had made me (but that would be too easy). So instead I decided to write a more balanced point of view about my experience because even though I hate to admit it (through gritted teeth I type this) it wasn’t all bad. Yep, that’s right, there was some good amongst the chaos and stress (and high blood pressure) the uni had caused me.
So let’s start at the very beginning. I got into my university through clearing. Shock – horror – accidentally swallowed my gum. I know what you’re thinking (I don’t really, but I’m going to assume) Are you mad? How can you go to a university you’ve never even visited? What if they have more stairs than a M.C. Escher painting? (I’d counteract that with have you not heard of distance learning, my dear fellow) What if you hate it there? (Well I am free to leave, though I have been told transferring or dropping out is not easy or simple task to do, but neither is living with Muscular Dystrophy).
I sadly missed out on my first choice by one grade. I remember viscerally calling them up, begging to be let in. I choked during the exam. Someone passed wind of the foulest smell, by the time I could return to a normal breathing pace, I had five minutes left. However if you let me onto your course, I promise to work extremely hard, hand in all my assignments early and leave a fresh apple on all my lecturers’ desks before class. I just couldn’t go back to the hell hole that was my sixth form college (now that I think about it, the walls were painted a shade of fiery burning hell crimson). But alas, they wouldn’t budge and so I was left free falling through the A-Level system and with no time to hit the pit that was my despair. I armoured up. Computer on, phone by my side, pens and notebook at the ready. I began to etch out the first few shapes of my future.
What happened to your second or third choice, I hear you ask? (Let’s be honest I wouldn’t have gone to my third, fourth or fifth choice, even if they paid me… which they didn’t, I checked my post box every day for a month). My second choice fell through when I visited the campus, the department where I would be studying was located at the bottom of a hill. (I’ll leave you to ponder that one). I looked at the uni’s in my city and those that did my course and thus my search began. The acceptance of living at home came very quickly, as it would be impossible to get accommodation let alone accessible accommodation at such short notice. (In retrospect I would have applied to live in halls, had I known the adaptations possible and the support available when choosing to live in halls).
I targeted three universities to call but as expected their lines were busy. Though undeterred, I would keep calling each one every 15 minutes in hope someone would pick up (not the best thought out idea, when you’re not the one who pays the phone bill). My perilous search for a future started at 9.30am but out of the three strands of destiny, only one made it through the eye of the needle, sometime after midday (that uni fitted all my criteria but also the official uni colour was in fact my second favourite colour… in retrospect it was the simplest form for fate to send her signal my way).
After jumping over the UCAS points hurdle and sprinting in sending over the necessary documents, I was going to university.
I had my DSA assessment at another university in what I thought was in good time, (at the beginning of the summer before you start, is in fact, not in good time). I was made aware early on that, a lot of the things I would need would not be in place when I started. So as soon I as started, I booked an appointment to meet with the Disability advisor at the university, who were helpful enough to put short term provisions in place while the bigger ones where being processed. I was even advised to start in three months time, which would have given them time to get everything in order, however what would I be doing during that three month wait. With the creativity of my mum, we worked out short term solutions to my access needs in the meantime.
The first year was definitely the most difficult of the three years I spent there (as it turns out they didn’t get any of my access issues dealt with due to a supposed backlog of other students’ needs that they needed to address). I couldn’t use the disabled toilets, as they were wheelchair accessible, which is not suitable for someone who struggles to get up from low seats (the adapted toilet seat I needed was eventually installed in the second semester of my second year). However this meant after lectures, I usually dashed off home in a hurry (which isn’t very ideal when you’re trying to make friends). I also couldn’t bring in my ergonomic chair(motorised office chair) that I was issued through DSA, which assisted me from sit-stand positions. With no helper allocated because of the too few or too many hours I spent each day in uni (which eventually meant in my final year, I had accumulated two years’ worth of hours and so could get a helper, every day for as many hours I was in that day). So in the meantime I lugged a riser cushion around (in a very unfashionable backpack which had an uncanny resemblance to something Indiana Jones would have owned).
I unfortunately didn’t get the bulk of the support I needed until my final year, the helper would who push my ergonomic chair around the campus, help me fetch lunch from the canteen and assist me to the university library (which I only visited thrice, I bought all the books I needed). Thus the final year was without a doubt the highlight of my three years, as I had all my needs finally met, which showed me the importance, of the part it would have played, if I had received the appropriate support from year one (or two… and am glad to say this was evidently reflected in my final grades).
I went to London Metropolitan University and did not attend my graduation for a number of reasons, one of which was access (well lack of information about it anyway). But hey-ho, this isn’t the first time I have been unable to go somewhere because of access and I’m certain it won’t be the last.
My university experience was challenging to say the least but because of my course, the amazing lecturers and friends I made – would I do it all again? Hell yeah!
Top Tips when going to university:
-Do visit the universities you apply for
-Get in touch with the disability advisors of your top three choices
-Be open minded, if you have a problem or concern – say it, you’d be surprised at what’s possible