Welcome to our student-written blog series dedicated to supporting and empowering disabled students to progress and succeed at university.

Here, Dominique Hegarty, a student from the University of Kent, shares her experiences, insights, and practical tips on navigating the academic aspects of life at university.

So, you’re thinking about going to university, or perhaps you’ve already received some offers (congrats!). You may be a little unsure of what to expect since university can be a big adjustment, both personally and academically. Perhaps you’re asking yourself:

  • Who will I go to if I struggle with my course?
  • How should I write a university essay?
  • What support will be available to me as a disabled student?

Before uni, I had so many questions, especially about the studying aspect. This article aims to tell you the four things I wish I had known about at the start of my degree.

  1. Teaching Staff

One thing I came to realise fairly early on is that at university, you’re given more independence than at school.

It’s your responsibility to go to class, do the work, and ask for help when you need it. Lecturers won’t necessarily check up on you, so if you’re struggling with the course, it’s up to you to take the initiative and ask for support. The teaching staff want to see you succeed, so even if you’re feeling a little nervous about opening up to them, it’s best to ask them for help because that’s exactly what they’re there for!

If it’s the content you’re struggling with, remember that many of the lecturers and seminar leaders will be experts in their field so will know a lot about the subject and will therefore likely be able to help you. Even if you’re not struggling, having a good relationship with your lecturers and seminar leaders can make all the difference and really improve your academic experience of university.

  1. Study Support

It may be the case that the teaching staff aren’t able to give you the help you need, and if this happens, your next port of call should be the study support team. This is a team dedicated to helping you in any way academically so make sure you’re familiar with the service and what it offers once you start uni.

At The University of Kent, we have the Student Learning Advisory Service (SLAS) which runs workshops to help you develop study skills. You can also book 1:1 appointments with a study advisor who can help you with essay writing, research skills, revision help and so much more. I’ve used this service more times than I can count throughout my degree and found that using it has helped me develop my confidence and abilities as a student.

  1. Learning Plans

Learning plans are just one part of the overall support package universities can offer students with particular needs or disabilities such as a hearing impairment, autism, or dyslexia, for example. It’s an individual plan that aims to make studying as accessible as possible and help you succeed at university.

At the University of Kent, we call them Inclusive Learning Plans (ILP), but the name can vary slightly depending on the university, for example, at Canterbury Christ Church University, they are called Learning Support Plans (LSP).

I was given an ILP because I have generalised anxiety disorder, which can really impact my ability to study and meet deadlines. I get extra time in exams and can also apply for more extensions on coursework deadlines, among other things. It’s been a lifesaver, especially when I have a looming deadline that I haven’t been able to make much progress with due to my mental health condition. It’s so reassuring to have that safety net of the ILP and know that I won’t be penalised if I don’t meet the initial deadline.

Learning plans are specific to the individual and their needs, so the support can vary. If you think you may be entitled to a learning plan, consider getting in touch with your prospective university and speaking to their student wellbeing/disability support team so they can put the support in place in time for when you arrive. If you’re still deciding on where to study, you could seek out the student support teams at open days to ensure that they have the appropriate resources to support you in the ways you need.

  1. Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)

Last but certainly not least, let’s talk about the DSA. The DSA is funding given to disabled students to cover any study-related costs they have due to their disability.

The DSA’s definition of disability is broad, including physical disabilities, long-term health conditions, specific learning difficulties, sensory impairments, and mental health conditions. Simply put, if you have a condition which impacts your ability to study, you may be eligible for the DSA.

And do you want to know what the best thing about the DSA is? It doesn’t need to be repaid and is available in addition to other loans or grants you apply for!

The support could be financial, such as reimbursed taxi costs to and from uni, or it could be in the form of specialist equipment or services. I was eligible for a new laptop with programmes pre-installed that are designed to make studying with my condition much easier.

I also have a specialist mentor who helps me manage my anxiety related to my studies. Like learning plans, the support given to you is specific to your needs and is discussed in detail at a needs assessment, which determines what you could be entitled to.

I’m sure the last thing you want to be doing while applying for university is filling out yet another application form, but I promise you the process is straightforward and well worth it in the end. If you’d like more information about the DSA, make sure to check out the DSA webpage.

In essence, your academic support network at university can be made up of teaching staff, study support teams and additional funding. The support is out there for you, it’s just a case of asking for it! It’s so much better to have the support there to fall back on in case you need it

Lucy King

25 May 2023

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