Biological sciences student, 19-year-old Kate Snape, is in her second year at the University of East Anglia. She was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy Type 2 (SMA) at 18 months old. Kate talks about university life, and the services that are in place to support wheelchair users on campus.
I would describe my first year at uni in three words – overwhelming, terrifying, and amazing!
Living away from home, I was on the other side of the country to everything, and everyone I knew. I wanted to be independent, and this was my opportunity! Once I found my feet, I started to enjoy myself – I went out drinking like most students do, made new friends, and got involved in different societies.
I sometimes struggle finding a balance between studying, socialising and taking care of myself. Everyone at university is always so busy, it can be very tempting to be overactive, and not set a time to rest and fit in the other things that come with having a disability. It can also be tempting to be the complete opposite, and spend too much time resting, which can have an impact on your social life.
Now I’m in my second year, I’m much more actively involved in things – I’m on three society committees and also volunteer with a peer support group. I’m a little bit worried about where I am going to find the time for everything!
My biggest achievement during my first year at uni was becoming so confident. At the beginning of the year I was so nervous, I barely spoke to anyone! I wouldn’t go anywhere without my personal assistant, but by the end of the year I had put myself forward for different committees and clubs, and had made lots of friends.
The campus is suitable for wheelchair users, though sometimes alternative routes have to be taken. There is a team at the university that is helping to make the grounds more accessible.
The Dean of Students has Disability Advisors who I can contact for any support I need. They also help to run a Peer Support group for students with disabilities. They helped me to settle in last year, and because of that, I have become a peer support volunteer.
There is also a society at the university that offers support to disabled students. They run social events in a relaxed environment, where you don’t feel judged, catering to different needs and abilities.
I have a note taker, lab assistant, and library assistant, all paid for by Student Finance.
I also have round-the-clock care. My carers live with me, and help me with all physical limitations.
Aside from studying, I enjoy going to events and being part of society committees – I’m the Equality and Diversity Officer on the (disabled students’ society) Chronic Committee, and am part of the Geek Society Committee. I am also the Disability Welfare rep on the Pride Committee. I love going clubbing, as well as chilled nights watching movies.
I think there need to be more awareness campaigns to support disabled students studying at university so that every campus in the country is fully accessible for wheelchair users, and people with other physical disabilities.
My advice to new disabled students starting out at uni would be: don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. University was the first place I found that I didn’t have to fight for the support I needed. There are people who want to help you, so let them.