Ricky is currently studying for a Masters degree in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights. In this blog he describes his experience of living independently while at university.
I worried about the support I’d get at university
As I did my A levels, I was encouraged to go to university and I knew I wanted to carry on studying. I’ve always had a passion for politics and I wanted to take it further. My concerns were that I had never been in a mainstream environment. I had always been to specialised schools and colleges before that point.
I didn’t know what to expect and how other non-disabled people learnt as, obviously, being blind means that you can’t learn in the usual visual way of learning. I was also worried about the support I’d be able to get in relation to my care and social support. It was always there in school and college, I just didn’t know what was going to be there for me.
I could be left in my room for 24 hours at a time
Originally, I had agency support for my care. I stayed with them for about a year and a half, then I went onto direct payments. I applied and got the maximum disabled students allowance DSA so I’ve always had academic support, people to take notes, scan my books and reading materials etc.
I really enjoyed the academic side of things and the academic department did everything they could for me. I don’t think they ever had a blind student before. Socially, academic support at Sussex was a total disaster in terms of being left in my room for 24 hours at a time. It really took its toll on me. I felt really lonely and I didn’t really get the student experience at undergraduate level.
My current support is so much better
I’m now at the University of Essex and I’m studying for an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights. I have to say, the support is a lot better at my new university. There are some hiccups but overall, it’s going pretty well. The student support department actually really care about the students and they’re really on the ball, properly qualified and their expertise levels are a lot higher. They know what they’re doing.
I’ve been so well accommodated and I’m really grateful to my local authority for giving me those opportunities to live life as any other university student should. I have choice.
More hours means more independence
I’ve just had my support doubled to 41.5 hours a week. It has made such a tremendous difference to me. Previously, I only had just about enough support just to live, to survive. I could only have a daily meal cooked and have a sandwich made up for the following day. It also meant that I could only get washing and shopping done, there wasn’t any time for social activities.
The increase in hours has meant I can do so much more. I now don’t have to rely on carers to do things for me out of their good will as a friend. I now have people coming in twice or sometimes even three times a day. I have a great team and they support me to do so many things.
Good social care is so important
Bad social care looks very bleak; staff not turning up, miscommunications, random staff turning up. There was one occasion where my mum had to drive down to Brighton because the agency had no one available and I would have been without food.
The alternative to agencies is direct payments. The only problem is that you have to advertise yourself for carers but once you establish a good network of people who can help you recruit it’s a really is a liberating experience to be able to employ people who have similar interests to you. When you’ve got a good team, it can work really well.
Having the right support is really good for my emotional wellbeing. As well as being able to survive, it allows me to socialise, take opportunities and explore avenues that are available to other people at university. It is so important to have good solid, reliable and enjoyable social care. Everyone deserves to live a life of dignity, autonomy and to be themselves no matter what.
At Scope, we work to change society so that disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. There are 13 million disabled people in the UK today and life is still too hard for too many.
Our new strategy has been developed with disabled people and their families and sets out how we want to make this country a better place and drive positive, lasting change.
We want all disabled people to be able to live the life they choose. That’s why we are focusing on making living independently a reality. From campaigning for better social care to providing information, advice and support, we’ll fight to make independence and choice a reality for many more disabled people.