Disabled Students Can Feel Like A Ticked Box

My experience with the Leeds disability service has been a pleasant albeit brief, and slightly problematic encounter. I filled in my name, crossed the T’s, dotted the I’s and ran over the nature of my diagnosis and how it affects me. 

As a result, I was to be given special exam arrangements: rest breaks, a separate room, extra time. However, in spite of this, I still felt like I’d been left wanting. I get support during exam periods but what about the rest of the year? I was given the option of a special chair for lectures, but I’d had enough of being separated from my colleagues because of my diagnosis. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. 

Then again, I didn’t realise that would mean being left to my own devices almost entirely. 

Unfortunately, the nature of some disabilities means that it is hard to plan my work and social life when an episode that can strike at any time, day or night regardless of deadlines or social activities. 

This time of year the cold is creeping in and unfortunately, this makes living with my particular disability all the more unpleasant. Exhaustion levels increase alongside my pain levels. It feels a little like fighting a losing battle all on my own. On some days, I don’t feel able to explain to my faculty that I just couldn’t get out of bed. On some days, I don’t feel able to explain why I hurt too much to get to my lecture and that I collapsed in my living room. 

One of the nasty things about having an invisible disability is that sometimes I need someone to help me carry this weight but you’re not always able to get that help. It’s hard to ask for help when you feel you might be discredited or scorned because simply because you don’t seem disabled enough to require it.

Believe me when I say I’m not trying to slate the excellent, hard work the University and Disability Services provide for staff and students alike. I’m merely stating that sometimes it can feel like we are a ticked-box; a precaution covered. 

My question is: Where is the pastoral care for those of us that don’t seem disabled? I walk these halls the same as everyone else but it just takes me a little longer to get there sometimes. 

One look on Minerva can tell you of all the means the University goes to in order to help its students: accessible toilets, lift access, quiet areas, all amazing and NECESSARY requirements for any faculty. 

However, it can feel like the bare minimum. The disabled experience is not something that can be alleviated easily and it needs to be ensured that there is a strong base of support to accommodate a whole breadth of needs. This is at any given time and not just when you’ve had a moment to preschedule what is needed to help a disabled student. 

Invisible or not, all disabilities need help consistently and effectively. A simple email could never go amiss. I don’t want to be forgotten between enrolment and exams.

This isn’t a University exclusive experience either. This issue spans far further than academia. Accessibility is not optional. It needs to be mandatory and it needs to be now. Not having the funds/means to accommodate disabled people is unacceptable. I for one, am tired of being a second rate citizen and only being helped when an able-bodied person deems me ill enough to warrant it. 

A spokesperson from the University of Leeds said:

“We’re sorry to hear that a student has been having difficulties. We work hard to provide a support network and do this in partnership with students themselves, including through LUU, and with service providers in the city such as Leeds Medical Health Practice.

“We urge students with any disability to contact Disability Services if they are seeking support via daily drop-in appointments, or by phone and email.  Students can also access the Student Counselling and Wellbeing Service either online or through daily drop-ins, and additional online support is provided by Big White Wall. There are also student support officers in faculties and schools who can give advice and signpost to further services.”

·         Disability Services:

·         Call on 0113 343 3927

·         Email disability@leeds.ac.uk

·         Visit the reception team between 9am and 5pm

Drop-in sessions are from 9:30 am to 4 pm. The Service is based in the Chemistry West Building.

Image: ilo.org