As new students up and down the country prepare for university life, we’ve put together some tips from our online community for disabled students starting out. If you’re a seasoned student or graduate, please feel free to share your own!
- Make sure any access and care arrangements are in place and finalised. Get things confirmed in writing by email so you can access them quickly via smartphone if there is a problem.
- Are you employing a Personal Assistant (PA)? Start their induction early so they know what to expect and you can ensure a good match when you arrive at university.
- Is your Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) sorted? Have you had an assessment to see what support you might need? If not, contact Student Finance England.
- Have you checked your benefit entitlement? Some disabled students are eligible for other financial help on top of DSA and Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal independence payment (PIP). For more information try the benefits checker or contact the disabled students helpline or check out the Students Support and Benefits Handbook.
- Speak to the doctor’s surgery you’ll be registered with at university, before you leave and find out what their registration process is, and if necessary book appointments.
- Put essential contact details in your phone. Good ones to include are student accommodation services, students union advice service, student support disability services, nightline, 24 hour security, local taxi companies (especially accessible taxi services), any local authority numbers you may need.
- Don’t forget to pack any registration or welcome literature from the university – put essential documents in a folder and keep them close to hand. Another essential is a map of the university.
- If you find using a photo booth difficult, take a stash of printed passport photos with you. You’ll end up needing them for all sorts of things, such as student ID cards, National Union of Students (NUS) cards and rail cards.
- See if the students support service offers a disabled students induction. It can be a great way to orientate yourself around the university and also meet other students that have had similar experiences to you.
Transport and access
- Find out what bus routes you may be taking and if it helps, look it up on Google maps or street view, so you can recognise where to get on and off. Check accessibility of the buses and get a bus pass sorted out before you leave.
- Some universities have free ‘safety buses’ which you can use to get home after a night out. Find out if your student union offers these and if so, when and where they are available and what accessibility they have. They can be a real lifesaver if accessible taxis aren’t readily available and you’re trying to get home!
- If you’re taking your car, find out about blue badges or parking passes, make a note of where the good parking spots for your accommodation, students union, and lectures are located.
- Find out where accessible toilets are located around the university. If you can get an advance copy of your timetable and the locations of lectures, you can work out the easiest routes to take.
- Check out the library for access, including the locations of accessible workstations. See if there is a library tour or induction you can go on; this can help you quickly find out how to locate journals or use moving bookcases if they have them.
Stuff you might need
- Remember to pack spares and extra batteries for any equipment you’d be lost without.
- Make copies of all the paperwork you might need related to your disability, such as proof of entitlement or relevant medical notes.
- Think about logistics. For example, find out where your nearest launderette is. If it’s far away from your accommodation think about how you’ll transport your washing to and from your room. (Some students use a roomy backpack or a shopping trolley)
- Likewise food shopping. Where is your nearest supermarket? Do they stock any special dietary products you might need? If not, stock up before you go.
- It can also be helpful to stockpile anything else you go through unusually quickly, in case there are any difficulties replacing them at short notice (for example continence products or items of clothing that wear out fast).
- The university should have a student support department with a disability section. The staff are there to support you with any issues you might face and to ensure you have the things you need to study successfully. They may ask for your permission to discuss your situation with your parents when necessary, so have a think about whether that’s the right option for you.
- Most student unions have a disabled students representative and if you have any issues it can be useful to talk these through with them.
- Many student unions have independent advice services. These can be really helpful if you have issues with the university whilst you are a student.
- If you’re interested in joining, make a note of the contact details and any welcome events for the disabled students’ society before you leave for university. You could even send them an email beforehand to find out what’s on.
- Lots of universities have Facebook groups, where you can get chatting to people on your course or in your halls before you go. It helps to break the ice on your first night.
- Most universities have a freshers’ fayre, where you can join societies and sports teams. These are a brilliant way to integrate yourself into university life and meet new people that have similar interests to you. They usually keep information on available societies and teams on the students union website. If you don’t see anything you fancy joining, you can always start a new society yourself!
- It’s also worth bearing in mind that some welcome week or freshers’ week activities might not be accessible to you. For example, if you find loud noises difficult, the icebreaker party club night might be a bit much. But there are often alternatives available so find out about those (try the student union or student support team for information)
- When you move in, prop your door open (with a doorstop or a crate of beer!) and say hi to anyone that walks past. Do it even if you’re feeling nervous – just remember that everyone else is too – even if they aren’t showing it.
- Stay in touch with friends and family back home, tell them what you’ve been up to and how you’re getting on. Make a plan to visit them, or visa-versa, so you have a date to look forward to.
- Remember that even though Uni is culturally held up as the ‘best years of your life’, it’s often just a stereotype. If you aren’t having the time of your life, don’t worry that it means you’ve failed. In reality, very few students breeze through their university life without facing the odd problem here and there.
For more great tips – whether you’re a new student, a new parent or simply new to Scope’s online community, why not check us out today!