Tag Archives: university

Setting up a disability community gave me a sense of belonging – Sam

30 under 30 logo

This story is part of 30 Under 30.

 

Sam is a student at Oxford and a Scope for Change campaigner. She is the current President of Oxford Students’ Disability Community and a founding member.

As part of 30 Under 30, Sam talks about the difficulties she faced when she started university, feeling isolated and how setting up a disability community changed things. 

For as long as I can recall, I’ve had a hearing loss. I remember my mum telling my teacher on the first day of school that I couldn’t hear well, and I got my first pair of hearing aids when I was 7. Despite my hearing loss I’ve always been in mainstream education, and coped pretty well. I never had any trouble with the work, made friends easily, and my hearing loss was largely an afterthought. This changed drastically when I left for university.

For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled

The switch from a small classroom environment was jarring, and I found I couldn’t hear at all in lectures. At school I’d been taught by the same teachers for years, but at university I had new tutors every term and not all of them understood my hearing loss. The majority of socialising took place in pubs, bars, or at dinner with the rest of my year group – I had a great group of friends, but spent most of our time together desperately trying to pick out their lost words from a solid wall of sound.

I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I felt like I was the only person struggling. At the same time my hearing began to deteriorate faster than it had ever done before, and at the end of my second year I found out I was now profoundly deaf. For the first time I began to think of myself as disabled.

I was becoming increasingly isolated

I’d never known anyone with a disability growing up. I’d met one other deaf person at university, but nobody in our social circle was disabled. I found myself becoming increasingly isolated – I couldn’t talk to my friends about losing my hearing as they had no experience of it themselves, and it was less upsetting to stay in on my own than to go out and struggle to hear the conversations. I was desperately unhappy.

Sam smiling, holding up a sign that says We Unite

Setting up the Oxford Students’ Disability Community

About a year and a half ago, one student at the university sent round a Facebook message inviting other students with disabilities out for a drink and a chat at a local bar. I didn’t know anyone, but I decided to go. About 20 other students turned up, and when we got talking and it was like a light had been switched on.

All of us were having a hard time, with tutors and peers not understanding our disabilities, and some of us had been experiencing discrimination because of this. Before, we’d all been convinced our troubles were individual, but it was now strikingly clear that this was a problem for many other disabled students at the university. We banded together, forming a working group of disabled students – the Oxford Students’ Disability Community (OSDC).

We began to spread the word, communicating with the university to improve support for disabled students, running social events, and starting a Facebook group where students with disabilities, mental health conditions and specific learning difficulties could ask each other for advice or support. We became the student union’s official disabled students campaign, and before long we found ourselves with a community of more than 400 people.

I no longer feel alone

For me, that sense of community is so important. So many of us had found ourselves isolated by our disabilities and the way others responded to them. I had never felt more alone than when my hearing began to decline, but once I began to meet other disabled students I realised I was anything but.

We have a wealth of shared experiences and whilst our disabilities are different, I’ve found we can relate to each other in ways no one else has done before. That understanding is so important in a culture that so frequently ignores and alienates the disabled, and I feel so grateful to have found it. OSDC has given me some of my closest friends, helped me find my voice as a disabled person, and fostered an overwhelming sense of belonging.

To find out more, visit the Oxford Students’ Disability Community’s website. 

Sam is sharing her story as part of 30 Under 30. We are releasing one story a day throughout June from disabled people under 30 who are doing extraordinary things. Keep up to date with all of our new stories on our 30 under 30 page.

Off to university? Top tips for disabled students

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!

Paperwork

  • 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.Two male students talking
  • 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.Disabled parking bays
  • 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).Uni student smiling

Getting support

  • 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.

Socialising

  • 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!Disabled student at student union bar
  • 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!

Why I believe in inclusive education – #100days100stories

Guest post from Mima from London, who took part in our First Impressions, First Experiences employment programme and is now aiming for university. Mima uses an electric wheelchair, and types on an iPad to communicate.

When Mima was in secondary school she spent some time at a special school. The lessons at the school were not at the right level for her, and she’s since developed a strong belief that disabled and non-disabled students should learn together whenever possible. Here, she shares her story as part of our 100 days, 100 stories campaign.

I’m hoping to go to university to study sociology and religious studies. I loved sociology when I did it at A-level – you can really look into society and see how it works. I’m especially interested in disabled people’s rights and education.

Inclusive education

I have a very strong belief in inclusive education. I went to a mainstream primary school, but then I went to a special school between the ages of 11 and 14.

It wasn’t right for me at all. I wanted to learn and do my exams, and we were singing ‘Ten Green Bottles!’ I wasn’t learning anything.

When I was 14, I moved to a mainstream school. It was much better – I could do my exams as normal, and I was much happier. I loved it even then, but now I appreciate it even more. My year group was a family unit to me – some of my best friends are from school.

I worked with the same personal assistant at school for seven years, and I did A-levels in psychology and sociology.

I tried university from January to July, but it didn’t work out. The atmosphere wasn’t a good place to learn, and to be honest I was quite lonely. There were people I thought were friends, but they weren’t.

After the summer holidays I decided not to go back. I felt depressed, my confidence was quite low. I was doubting myself quite a lot after uni. It was the biggest disappointment of my life.

First Impressions

Young disabled woman working at a desk
Mima at work at Scope’s offices

My career advisor told me about an employability course called First Impressions, First Experiences. I started in September 2014.

We learnt how to present ourselves; how to prepare for interviews. We did mock interviews, which were quite intimidating – I failed my first interview, but I passed my second! I feel much more confident for job interviews in the future.

The most important thing was making a great group of friends. They are my best mates. We still talk nearly every day on Facebook.

I learnt to be more self-confident. I feel more empowered as a young disabled woman, and it feels awesome!

As part of the course, I also went on placement. I went on a work placement at Scope for three weeks in their campaigns department. I learnt that there’s so much that goes into a campaign – so many little things – and that now it’s much quicker to get messages out there via social media. I designed my own campaign on inclusive education.

I’m volunteering at my old special school now. I want to work in special educational needs, as a teacher. I want to inspire the kids. I want them to know they can make the same journey as me.

Find out more about 100 days, 100 stories, and read the rest of the stories so far.

Honorary degree for Scope’s Chair

Alice MaynardScope’s Chair, Alice Maynard, has been recognised for her significant contribution to society by the University of York. The University, where Alice also did an undergraduate degree, has given her an honorary degree.

Alice has been chair of Scope since 2009. She is also founder of Future Inclusion Ltd, which works to encourage good governance, inclusive practice and ethical business.

Alice was previously Head of Disability Strategy at Network Rail, and in 2001 was seconded to Transport for London where she developed its first social inclusion plan.

Here is an extract from an interview with York Vision, in which Alice describes what the honorary degree means to her…

Firstly, congratulations! What does honorary degree from the University of York mean to you? 

Thank you. It’s amazing. It’s a bit like getting to the top of Everest (not that I ever have) without actually having to make the effort to get there. It was great getting the doctorate that I’d worked for, but I’d worked for it, whereas this is a real gift and an honour.

You have BA in Language from the University of York. How did your time at York help you become what you are today? 

I had a great time at York. I learned a huge amount – not just about language and linguistics. It was a time when I really became a grown-up. I began to understand what I was capable of in the big wide world. I was effectively a fairly small fish in a big pond rather than being the big fish in the small pond that I had been in the girls only special school I went to as a teenager. But I did end up using my language and linguistics. When I left York I was working in the IT industry, and my second job involved localising a US product for the European market. I found my linguistics really useful for that. It made me a valuable team member, and enabled me to demonstrate what I was really capable of and really shine. It was in that job, and the subsequent job with another US company, that I really established myself in business and laid the foundations that helped me get my MBA, set up companies, and even chair Scope.

What are the biggest challenges for disabled graduates entering the labour market in 2014? 

There are enormous challenges for any graduates entering the labour market in 2014. When I graduated, it wasn’t all sweetness and light – I had a choice between two jobs and, fortunately, the one I chose was secure. Had I chosen the other, I would have lost it straight away. They rescinded their offers to all graduates because of the economic conditions at the time and several of my student friends were affected. But I guess today part of the issue is there are just more graduates now than there were in 1980. So if you’re disabled, the competition is even more fierce, and although the attitudes of many employers have improved over the years, disabled employees can still be seen as a potential burden on the firm rather than a really valuable potential employee. Disabled graduates need to demonstrate even more strongly, therefore, what their ‘unique selling point’ is and find a company that will appreciate them. But they still need to look for somewhere they can work that they can really passionate about, though, because if you enjoy your work you’re most likely to shine – and doing something you hate is pretty miserable anyway!

What do you hope to achieve as chair of Scope?

At the very least, I’d like to think I’ll leave the organisation in a better place than I found it and give the next chair a solid foundation to build on. But really I want to make sure that when I step down in October this year I leave an organisation that is fit for the future and better able to achieve its vision of a world where disabled people have the same opportunity to achieve their life ambitions as everyone else does. To do that, I have to make sure that the Board is fit for purpose: that the right people with the right skills, who are passionate and knowledgeable about the issues, are round the table, and that they work effectively as a team. Then they can both support and challenge the Chief Executive and his senior team as they implement our strategy so Scope can drive the change in society that will move us all ever closer to that vision.