Disabled student diaries 2009
Andrea's Diary (Disabled Student Diaries 2009)
Friday 2 October, 2009
As I live in Coventry, the same town as the university, I won't be living on campus. I've had numerous visits to familiarise myself with it but it's still a bit daunting as it's so big. I take two buses to uni which is currently taking me around an hour and a half due to roadworks. Though I'm not very good at recognising the right routes around the uni, my 4 year old black Labrador Cara (my guide dog) is excellent at this, and I know that we'll be able to work together to figure out where to go on Monday.
Happily, I couldn't have chosen a better subject as the buildings I need are right near the bus stop. To help me do my work, I'm going to need some computer equipment. I filled in the relevant Disabled Student Allowance forms some time ago and had an assessment in August. After this, I requested a small netbook computer, JAWS screenreader, a printer, a scanner to help me read the text books and a dictaphone so I can record lectures.
I've also requested funding for a helper who can come into lectures and read things off the screens for me, and help me read handouts - that kind of thing. I've not done this before so it's a learning curve for me. Whether I'll get the handheld GPS device I've asked for in order to help me find my way round a little better is perhaps another matter.
Sadly, none of the computer equipment or funding has turned up yet so I will be starting without.
Saturday and Sunday 3-4 October, 2009
This weekend is Freshers weekend for Warwick students, which gives newcomers the chance to explore the uni as well as moving into accommodation and so on. However I wasn't there as I had a prior arrangement down south.
In 2006, I became one of the youngest guide dog owners in the country at only 15 - it was part of a pilot scheme to see how younger people would cope with it, 16 being the usual age at which visually impaired people are allowed dogs.
My guide dog Cara accompanied me at school from the start of year 11 and the whole experience has been seen as a huge success. To say thank you, Guide Dogs invited the four young people and their families down to London for the day. It was fantastic to meet everyone, and I think it’s helping to reduce my feeling of anticipation about tomorrow.
Monday 5 October, 2009
At one point they flashed up a picture of Cara and told everyone that you should only stroke her if her harness is off which was really fantastic; after that, if people wanted to say hello to her they came up and asked. I then met with my personal tutor and some of my lecturers. They were asking what they could do in lectures and seminars to help me. They have agreed to send me notes and PowerPoint presentations prior to lessons which would be great.
I've met loads of people (Josh, Lauren, Suraya, Praveen and Natalie) which I'm really glad about because I thought that living off campus might affect the social aspects of student life but it hasn't. After the welcome meeting we hung out in the common room and went to get lunch. They were all willing to help me with crowds which is one of the things I struggle with - and I think today was the busiest on campus.
Having that human support was great but it was also good to see how well Cara coped with the people and the noise - none of which bothered her at all. On Tuesday I get to choose my subject options earlier than everyone else so I can avoid the crowd of 600 people who will be there Wednesday. What will I choose?
So yeah, my first day has been brill and I can't wait for tomorrow!
Tuesday 6th October, 2009
Last week all sociology students were given a timetable of what would happen in the first week, and today we had to attend module talks in order for us to choose what we'd like to take. I had already chosen my modules however I was still unsure about one of them social welfare in Britain which I decided to change to media sociology, which sounded more interesting. In the end, my chosen modules are: sociological imagination on investigation (a core module), birth of feminisms, class, gender and empire, and media sociology.
Because I had been allowed to choose my modules, and meet the lecturers earlier in the day, I didn't attend the talks. Although this would have been a good way to meet other students, I was advised by a member of staff that they would be extremely busy, and so I went back home. Prior to leaving however, I met with the media lecturer and he provided me with all of the PowerPoint slides, which he had 'reduced' for me and printed out on paper.
Went on Insight Radio, a station for visually impaired people, to talk about the pilot scheme to give guide dogs to younger VIs that I was on and that has now been launched officially. I was asked about how I was finding university so far, and like I said on the radio, I'm having a fantastic time!
Wednesday 7th October, 2009
She told me Thursday and Friday would be the best days to meet other students, and after later speaking to a few people on facebook, they said that it was mayhem and probably a good thing that I didn't go.
Not going in to uni today meant that I was free when I was contacted by a local newspaper who wanted to interview me about my experience of the guide dog pilot scheme which I mentioned above. The interviewer said that we looked like the 'perfect partnership' which was lovely. She told me that we'll be in the paper either towards the end of the week, or early next week. Having a Guide Dog while at school really enhanced my life so I am pleased to help them promote what they're doing.
Thursday 8th October, 2009
I met up with a second year student, Poppy, who was really helpful. She has been supplied to me by Disability Services here on campus; they have lists of people willing to be notetakers and mentors and they're ultimately funded by my Disabled Student Allowance.
When we arrived to pick up the packs, there weren't many first years around and therefore no great opportunities to socialise. We went to the cafe to get some lunch and she told me that anytime I needed any help, just to contact her. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow which will be the first proper chance that I'll get to meet the other students on my course.
Friday 9th October, 2009
We were split up into deliberate non-friendship groups so that we would have to mix with different people. I was with five others (Kat, Zoe, Heather, Chris and Lucy) and by the end of the day, we were really good friends.
We were given a task called 'The Sociology of Art' whereby we had to go around campus, examining two pieces of art, and asking people - students, lecturers and other staff - what they thought the point of having art on campus was. In particular, there were some coloured rectangles on the walls of the atrium area of the building, all backlit. It was recently commissioned art but it seems that most people hadn't even noticed it was there: "It breaks up the white" was the most common response.
Although this wasn't the most exciting task, it was really useful in helping me get to know the other students as we had to work together to make our mini research project, presenting our findings to the rest of the sociology students at the end of the day.
I think today was the best so far as it was the first time that I was able to properly meet the other students. They were all extremely helpful which meant that I didn't need an older student's support and so didn't feel left out in that sense; being registered blind didn't hold me back at all!. I can't wait until next week when I will see them again, and will hopefully start to have more of a social life: going out etc, and being a normal student!
Saturday 10th/Sunday 11th October, 2009
Just a few things that haven't gone to plan though. I still don't have any of my equipment from the Disabled Students' Allowance, my laptop for instance, which is really annoying and means that I will need human notetaker support in all of my lectures and seminars. I hoped that I would have the equipment ready for the start of lectures.
Also, all of my friends at uni have received their maintenance loans but I haven't. Maintenance loans are for everything bar tuition fees; most people seem to spend it on accommodation but also on books, paper, anything you'd need to help with your studies. I phoned student finance to find out where my money is ... and apparently my passport isn't valid, even though I applied in April and my passport was definitely in date at that time. This means that I will have to send in my new passport, and it may take 6-8weeks before I receive any money, which again, is really frustrating.
I'm also realising now how long it will take me to get to university, for example, I will have to catch the 7.30 bus on Mondays for me to get there in time for my 9 o'clock lectures, and although it won't really bother me this year, I may consider moving onto campus, if not next year, then definitely for my 3rd year as I will be required to go in a lot more to use the library etc. Yes, that's something that I will definitely have to think about.
I've had a really good week but I haven't had a single lecture yet. I just can't wait to start now - the course begins properly on Monday. Wish me luck!
Monday 12th October, 2009
Usually I get up at quarter past six in order for me to get to uni for nine, but the other day I was contacted by the BBC Coventry and Warwickshire radio station to see if I would do a short radio talk about these student diaries. Mum drove me to uni where I met the interviewer who asked me loads of questions about how I am finding it so far. Apparently I answered really well which was good as I was very nervous.
A few students I met last week came up to me and told me who they were (Alice, Lauren, Josh) which was helpful as I sometimes struggle at recognising faces. We sat with them, listening to the lecturer who, for the first half an hour, told us what we'd be covering in this module; it all sounds really interesting.
It lasted for about an hour and a half, after which I stayed with my assistant and the others. Carrie showed us the cheapest places to eat, and we all sat and chatted for a while.
I got back home around 4.30 and after sorting my dog Cara out, I spent a bit of time looking through the reading packs and getting everything ready for tomorrow. Carrie e-mailed me the notes from today's lectures which were brill and covered everything that was said.
Tuesday 13th October, 2009
I had my first feminism seminar today, which again sounds very interesting as we spoke about the origins of feminism. My seminar tutor, who also happens to be my personal tutor, explained that Britain was one of the last countries in which feminism developed which really surprised me. Most of my friends take this subject too.
It seems a lot of people thought that I was just training her because apparently I don't look like a blind person. That might sound a bit weird but they said that the speed that we walk and the fact that I don't walk with my head looking at the floor is quite impressive). This made me feel really good and not as though I'm being left out which was one of my fears prior to starting uni.
I didn't get home until 8.30 which isn't late, but it was very dark. Though Cara works just as good at night, I don't feel very safe in pitch-blackness, especially as I have to change onto a second bus. Last week I met with the disability officer at Warwick and she said that part of the Disabled Students Allowance which pays for ink cartridges and that kind of thing, can also be used to get taxis; either if its raining or if I'm going home late some nights. This is brilliant as it means that I can start to experience some of the nightlife that Warwick Uni has to offer. It's called the General Allowance and will take some time to set up.
Wednesday 14th October, 2009
When we got off the bus, she took me straight to a member of the admin staff and they gave me a really good one which I used in the lecture and listened to when I got home.
Thursday 15th October, 2009
Friday 16th/Saturday 17th/Sunday 18th October, 2009
I probably won't be doing much over the weekend in terms of meeting people from uni as Alice is going back to London for the weekend to see her family. Now I've established some really good friendships at uni, I want to develop them outside of the academic arena as well.
I really want to invite some friends to my house which would be nice, as well as doing normal teenage stuff like going shopping, the cinema and so on. I think the reason I haven't done this yet is that I'm scared of being a burden - the people I have met so far are lovely but, for example, if we went into town, I'd probably be asking them loads of questions about what sort of clothes/shoes they're looking at as that's something I struggle with.
I struggle with nightclubs too; the noise doesn't make it the greatest environment for dogs and it isn't really fair to take her very often. I struggle with the flashing lights and would be scared of losing the people I was with at the start of the night. All of my friends outside uni say it's not a problem, but I'm just a worrier and don't like 'putting people out', particularly as I've only known them for a fortnight. I think its got something to do with me still lacking in confidence, but I'm sure I'll get over that!
Monday 19th October, 2009
After this we went to get some lunch in the library cafe and Alice introduced me to her housemates, some of whom are studying maths, who were all really nice. Before going home, we walked around, getting to know each other which was really enjoyable – they all seem to know the campus very well, which is good because I don't. Hopefully it won’t take me too long to figure it out.
When the disability officer asked me how I was getting around, and I told her that I was still having to rely a lot on other students, she said that she could arrange what's called 'buddying' support. This is where an older student could give me orientation support, as well as being able to offer a helping hand if there is anything that I need. This was comforting as I still don't know where the social buildings are, and so haven't been using them as much as I'd like.
Tuesday 20th October, 2009
In speaking to the other students, I feel that I've got it quite easy. Warwick Uni prides itself on high academic achievements and so we have been given a lot of work - particularly reading. Speaking to my friends living on campus, they're still getting used to having to do everything, not just the academics, and also missing family life.
I love the fact that I can enjoy the university experience as well as living at home and having the support of my family – something that the others are missing a little. Not to mention the money that I am saving – the cheapest accommodation is about £75 per week, which is a lot of money to pay to live elsewhere in the same city.
Wednesday 21st October, 2009
Lots of people ask how much I can see and assume that I need large print materials. In fact, a smaller font is better due to my tunnel vision. My liaison contact at Guide Dogs has offered to send me a pair of 'bending specs' which simulate the extent of my vision for normally sighted people.
The reading packs for me have been a nightmare! Although the writing is tiny, which is better for me, it makes finding headings extremely hard. It was becoming very frustrating and I'm already beginning to lag behind a little. I mentioned it to my personal tutor and she said that she would she what she could do. Later she persuaded Alice and Eilidh to sort out the reading packs for me, which was fantastic!
Thursday 22nd October, 2009
I had arranged to meet the disability officer who has agreed to lend me a laptop until mine comes through. It was huge and quite heavy, and so won't really be appropriate for carrying to and from university, but will be very useful for using at home. The fact that I won't be using it in lectures isn't annoying as the three note-takers that I have are fantastic, emailing me the notes from all lectures and seminars within 24 hours, and they are always in-depth and very informative.
I met up with Eilidh to give her one of my reading packs, and she said that she had nearly sorted out the other, and would give both to me tomorrow. It appears that I wasn't the only one struggling to work them out – she was also struggling and said that she had to ask one of the lecturers about the best way to organise them.
Friday 23rd October, 2009
I also found out that I would be receiving an individual induction to the library. This should help me learn my way round the sociology texts which are housed on the fifth floor.
Afterwards, I met up with Alice and Eilidh and we decided that once a week we should meet up (sort of like a mini study group) to share notes etc as we have four essays due in three weeks. We're going to look at the essay titles and try to help each other to understand them.
Eilidh also gave me the two reading packs that she had sorted out for me, and they're brilliant! She's written on the front how she's laid them out, and each week's readings have been split up with different coloured dividers. At least I won't be behind anymore and everything should be fine from next week.
Alice got on the bus with me on the way home as she's going to Kent for the weekend to see her boyfriend. I probably won’t be doing much over the weekend, but to be honest, I've got loads of reading to catch up on that I should have done last week!
Saturday 24th/Sunday 25th October, 2009
The reason that I feel so welcome and comfortable at Warwick is that I have learnt to ask for help. Everyone has always told me that if I need anything then all I have to do is ask, but it can be embarrassing, and I'm always afraid of being a pain, and putting people out. Now I know that people really don't mind. For example, if I hadn’t asked my tutor about the reading packs, I would still be struggling knowing what to read and where to find it.
I know starting uni can feel really daunting, with most people that I have spoken to with a variety of disabilities, saying that their greatest fear is being left out by the other students. I honestly don't feel that I have been left out as I have just tried to give 100% when socialising with the others – I'm planning my first proper nightclub experience next week!
I know I have the academic ability to succeed – all that's holding me back at the minute is lack of confidence, which I think many people with disabilities can relate to – don't be ashamed or embarrassed, especially if there's anything you need - we're just the same as everyone else, and I think that truly believing this will allow uni to become the experience of a lifetime!
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