Disability at University

I’ve been hearing impaired my entire life, yet I’ve never given myself the disabled label. My notions of disability were entirely constructed from the Paralympics – and as aspirational as this is, I still don’t see myself as part of this community. Being hard of hearing but not knowing BSL is one barrier, and having no particular horror stories other than a few misheard remarks, I felt I didn’t deserve the ‘title’. 

Throughout my compulsory education, I would merely mention at the start of the year if I could sit at the front. I suppose my teachers thought I was keen, and years of having the ‘disruptive kid’ put next to me to somehow make them work hard, my deafness went largely unnoticed. I was progressing normally, no need for extra support, which has conditioned me to not ask for it – after all, I’m fine. 

University has been a totally different experience. Other than the complete upheaval, my impairment is even lower under the radar. The complete independence means I sit myself at the front of lectures – but any self-conscious first year will tell you, the cool kids definitely still sit at the back. 

I decided to see what the disability services my University could offer. Apart from a dedicated officer in my parent school, I was redirected to student finance. I applied for a DSA (Disability Student Allowance) when I found I was eligible, only to attend a Study Needs Assessment that showed I wasn’t disabled enough. An interview with a complete stranger assessing how disabled I am, when I have spent the last 19 years playing it down, I don’t know why I thought I would be entitled.

I suppose the only consolation is that someone else “more” disabled is benefitting from such structures, and that support is available to those in need of it. Universities are responding to the needs of students, with more support for mental health available over the last few years. But more needs to be done. Often, University feels like a heartless corporate beast, only interested in you as an individual on open days and graduation. Investment in existing students rather than ad campaigns every application season would answer both issues – students are free advertisement, lucrative if you gave the support we need.

The university system is flawed, yet I’m still having the best time. Whether I can hear you in a club, that’s another story.

Lizzy

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