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Disability
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Are you disabled? Do you have a medical condition such as ME or do you have dyslexia or dyspraxia? Are you Deaf or hard of hearing? Or do you have epilepsy, diabetes or sickle cell anaemia? Or do you use a wheelchair or have Asperger syndrome?

The term ‘disability’ covers a very wide range of different impairments, conditions and difficulties. Some have a profound impact on all aspects of your life – others might appear to you – or to others- quite minor. You might have always been disabled- or you might be having to come to terms with a very recent diagnosis.

Whatever your situation if you have any impairment, medical condition, mental health difficulty or specific learning difficulty that has an impact on your ability to study- or any other aspect of your university life – you are likely to share some common anxieties and concerns- whether or not you choose to call yourself ‘disabled.’ The following advice pages discuss some of those common anxieties.

Socialising - Should I tell people about my disability?
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Most disabilities are ‘invisible’ to other people. Is it better to tell people about your disability so that they understand when you need help- or just to explain why it is that you seem ‘different? If you have a visible disability you may frequently find that other people make wrong assumptions about what you can - and can’t - do.

If you had always been treated differently at school or you found your parents’ tendency to wrap you in cotton wool frustrating you might be eager to shed the label of your disability. Many students, arriving at university free of friends from home and the daily surveillance by parents, want to grab all the opportunities they can to reinvent themselves. It’s a natural process of development and self discovery. The extent to which you can do this safely will depend on your disability. If you have epilepsy for example it is essential to continue with your normal medication routine and wise to inform your friends, flatmates and tutors what they should do if you have a seizure.

Here are the opinions of some past students:
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One of the biggest challenges when I meet new people is knowing what I should tell them about my disability. It isn’t obvious to most people at first. There’s always going to be someone who can’t accept my difference but I’ve decided that if people can’t accept me for what I am then they’re not worth being friends with! I think most people need to be reassured that they can ask questions and I usually explain what my disability means to me rather than just tell them the medical name.

I really changed my attitude to my disability at university. I didn’t choose it but I realised it is definitely part of what makes me who I am. At school I tried to hide it but now I’m much more accepting and this helps other people to be more accepting too.

I really changed my attitude to my disability at university. I didn’t choose it but I realised it is definitely part of what makes me who I am. At school I tried to hide it but now I’m much more accepting and this helps other people to be more accepting too.

I decided not to tell the university about my disability when I applied. It’s not easy to put on a form that you have a mental health disorder. But when I became unwell I was forced to tell my tutor and it made such a difference. My friends knew there was something wrong and when I explained it was all so much easier to have it out in the open. When I finally told my tutor about my disability she was extremely helpful, supportive and keen to find out what she could do to help.

I decided before coming to university that I wouldn’t disclose my disability. I felt somehow I could leave my disability at home. It seems pretty ridiculous when I think about it now but I honestly thought I could ignore it. In fact, not wanting to draw attention to myself caused more problems. I stopped wearing my hearing aids and instead tried to sit at the front of lecture halls. I was become more and more self-conscious in seminars, I couldn’t hear what was going on so rather than risking saying the wrong thing I didn’t say anything. When I did finally build up the courage to seek help from the Disability Centre it was such a relief!

Being different
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You may feel that your disability sets you apart from other people. You might experience other people treating you differently. Or you might be frustrated because you aren’t being treated differently.

I do feel different and have felt quite alienated at times. I wondered why no-one asked about my disability but began to see that this could be because people were worried about saying the wrong thing. I’ve learnt to be more comfortable about myself and the way I look and this makes it easier for other people to be comfortable too.

Often people do want to help. They just don’t know what they should do. I’ve become much better at asking straight out ‘could you open the door for me please?’ It’s so much easier once you’ve done it than waiting for help and getting frustrated if you’re ignored.

I think I’m as independent as the next student. That’s always been important to me. I’ve changed at university though and have accepted that I do take longer than others to do some basic tasks and sometimes I do need help. But this doesn’t mean that I can’t make my own decisions and think for myself.

I am very aware of times when I’m treated differently. It used to upset me but I couldn’t say anything. Now I do say something. It helps clear the air and usually it’s just ignorance and mistaken good intentions. I’m visually impaired and in freshers week a group of my new friends went to see a film without me- they thought they were being kind!

I found it very difficult to know how to communicate my needs to other people, I don’t like being the focus of attention. I don’t think that will ever change but I am learning how to ask for help when I need it.

Some Dos and Don’ts
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Do seek out people or support groups to discuss your anxieties with

Don’t think you are alone in having a disability at university

Do ask for help if you need it

Don’t confuse struggling with your problems alone with being independent. Asking for help does not mean sacrificing your independence.

Links
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UCL Disability Service

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