I hope you are all well.
After last week’s post on my mainstream school experience, this week I thought I’d follow on from that and do a post on my university experience. A lot of you requested this so I hope you enjoy! I love it when you suggest post ideas to me so keep them coming!
I applied for university towards the end of 2013, ready to get everything into place when I started in September 2014. The applying process went quite smoothly with a couple of minor hiccups along the way but nothing that couldn’t be sorted. Once I applied and everything was in place, it was a matter of just waiting for my A-level results, this was probably the worst waiting game of my life! To cut a long story short, I got better A-level results than I expected and got into my first choice university!
September finally came, I’d got all my DSA equipment, met my head of programme and done my orientation training round campus so that I at least had some idea of where I was going. Fresher’s week arrived and I was both excited and nervous, excited for a new chapter of my life to start but nervous because I had no idea of what to expect.
For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of settling new students in by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t really get involved with the events because they weren’t that accessible for me and also the fact that I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really want to go on my own. I was quite nervous for the few weeks ahead because I thought everyone on my course would have made friends already and I’d be on my own but that wasn’t the case.
Once fresher’s week was over, it was time to start proper lectures. For those of you that don’t know, I’m studying Children, young people and families at York St John university.
The first lecture I had, the lecturer told me that he had no idea that I was going to be in his lectures and that he didn’t know he had a blind student. This wasn’t true at all, my head of programme had reassured me that all the lecturers did know that I was going to be there and what they had to do. So as a consequence of him apparently not knowing, I hadn’t been sent any materials for the lecture so my note taker had to read everything out to me. This made me feel like I was back in school, not at university at all. What a great start! Luckily this all got sorted and this didn’t happen again. This was an issue that has not repeated itself and I hope it doesn’t in the future.
My university experience has overall been a positive one so far. I’m starting my final year in September and I hope things stay that way. In terms of academic stuff, the support is great, I’m given things in an accessible format and usually in advance. If I do encounter any problems then they are usually sorted rather quickly. There are sometimes minor issues like a lecturer thinks my screen-reader is magic and will read images when in fact it won’t and it’s their job to describe them. There have also been quite a few times where lecturers have forgotten to send me materials in advance which can cause problems but I guess it’s a matter of remembering and getting into a routine.
One of the things that I didn’t really consider when I started university was how hard it would be for me to access books. I knew there were ways around this such as electronic formats but I didn’t anticipate the challenges that would come with these. For a while, I had huge problems in accessing electronic formats of books. The system that my university have is I request a book, they scan it, put it into a pdf and then send it to me. When they first started doing this, my screen-reader refused to read the PDF’s and no one could figure out why this was happening. I eventually got it sorted and I could access the PDF’s. However, one problem of this is that it is very time consuming and when you have three 5000 word essays it is very hard to read books for all of them and write the assignments, especially with a screen-reader. I’m still very much in the learning process of this and trying to work out what method works best for me. But we don’t learn if we don’t try!
The support that I receive is note taking support and library support. The note taking support is great. It is very helpful in lectures because my note taker writes down the important bits from the powerpoint that the lecture uses. However, there was one instance where the note taker I had wrote my notes on paper rather than on a laptop so had to type them out after the lecture..don’t ask me why, I have no idea either. The only thing I don’t like about note taking support is that sometimes I don’t feel as independent as everyone else because I’ve got a note taker but everything has its pros and cons I guess.
The social side of uni is so important. As you will have read in my Mainstream education post I didn’t have the best experiences of friendship groups and especially in sixth form I felt very isolated which had a huge impact on my confidence and me as a person. I’m very glad to say that university has been the complete opposite of this. I’ve got an amazing group of friends that understand my disability but more so, look beyond it. I don’t feel isolated because of it, there’s people from all walks of life at university. It’s surprising how many people there have some sort of disability. For example, I’ve heard there’s more visually impaired people at my university but I don’t actually know them. When people get to university, they start to act more grown up and don’t think “it’s not cool to hang around with a blind girl”. I think they start to look towards the future and learn to accept people no matter what. Being at university has definitely helped me become more comfortable with my disability. A few years ago I refused to pick up a cane but now I will happily do so. I’ll leave the cane story for another post! I believe that university has really taught me that having a disability is really okay and there are people out that will accept it, as long as you love yourself.
As you can gather, my university experience has been for the most part, positive. There’s been slight issues but nothing near as bad as when I was in mainstream education. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve ever been and that’s all down to the people that I have in my life. Having people around that love you for who you are is so so important and I’ve definitely realised that over the last couple of years. No matter if you’re in work or education, personally I think there will always be some issues because being disabled isn’t the norm and often people don’t know what to do. But if you help to resolve the issues that you face, then both you and others will learn from this and help other disabled people in the future.
I hope you enjoyed this post, if you have any questions please comment below or contact me.