BBC - Ouch! (disability) - Fact - Student Diaries 2003: End of year reports

Disabled Student Diaries 2003

Ouch! Special Report
Disabled Student Diaries 2003

Student Diaries 2003: End of year reports

by Ouch Team

25th June 2004

We go back to find out how our students are faring at the end of their first year at university.

CIARAN

As I write, there are approximately 12 days left until I find out whether or not I've passed my first year of university.
Ciaran (with a new studenty look!)
At the moment I'm handling this rather life-altering fact by flitting between moments of complete self-confidence ("I only need 40% overall - of course I'll pass!") and absolute mind-numbing terror ("S*** - what if I've only managed 39%?"). It has certainly been an interesting nine months, and if I do manage to make it on to my second year, I have to admit I'll be most chuffed. Despite all my initial reservations - and there were quite a few - I would highly recommend this university lark to anyone.

Right, that's the quirky introductory bit out of the way - let me pick up where I left off. Back in September I was just starting to get settled into my whole new way of life - the biggest and most immediate change being the direct payments/sorting out my own care thing.
Ciaran having a lie-in
When I moved from home to uni, I suddenly had to take charge of any personal assistance I needed. If you receive Direct Payments you become an employer. Empowering, huh? That means I have to run the show like a business, update timesheets, keep accounts, pay my PAs, hire and fire, etc. In the beginning, it seemed to be extremely complicated and difficult, but to tell you the truth it's nearer the opposite ... it's dead simple and the more you do it, the easier it gets. Plus, it gives you tons of freedom. The only thing I would say if you are considering it is start sorting it out early - the sooner the better, really (although having said that, I left it to the last possible minute and didn't have any major disasters, so don't worry too much).
Ciaran at a gig (where else?)

Social life

But of course, no self-respecting person, disabled or not, would come to university just so they can learn how to become an employer. That's right, folks - as exciting as signing timesheets and handing out payslips can be, there are actually many other enticing experiences on offer to you, The Average Disabled Uni Student.

Over the course of an academic year, these may include (but are not limited to): falling sideways a lot due to alcohol intake, being told you are a fire hazard, getting in to places for free and thus looking cool, strangers buying you drinks, not being able to get in to places 'cos of access, lots of useful extra time in exams and for coursework, trying (often unsuccessfully) to make progress with the opposite sex and last, but by no means least, making up amusing anecdotes with regards to your disability, e.g. "An angry magician did it" or "I was saving some kittens from a tree".

Socially, you may have your work cut out for you to begin with in terms of breaking the ice, becoming 'accepted' and seen as an equal by your peers. It might take a good few months and it can be very frustrating and upsetting, especially in the early stages. However, you shouldn't lose faith. Remember, most people you meet will have a very fixed, somewhat stereotypical notion of disability comprising of Stephen Hawking and Davros - that's one hell of a preconceived mess to clean up, but if you stick to your guns and don't say "I want that one" too often, people will come around.
Ciaran hard at work on his laptop

Lecturers and lectures

The other thing you will have to watch out for is any major accommodation and/or lecture access issues. For me, the latter has gone really well, with lots of expert note-taking being provided, as well as additional typed notes directly from the lecturers and lots of brand new, shiny LEA equipment being delivered ... eventually.
Ciaran's troublesome bathroom door

Exams

The lecturers' helpful attitude thankfully spilled over into my exams as well - I was given plenty of extra time, my own room, and they even provided me with a university laptop to type it all out on.

Accomodation

However, the issue of accommodation has been something of an ongoing battle. Since last September, I have been trying to get the door to my bathroom converted to a sliding one, so as to make the room as a whole more maneuverable - they finally put one in last month. The strange thing is that , at the end of June, having been unable to find accessible living quarters anywhere else, I'm moving to the other Halls building (they're at opposite ends of the same courtyard). So after eight months waiting to get one sliding door put in, they're now going to move me, and then get one fitted in the new room within a matter of weeks! Talk about doing things the long way round! Ah well, maybe now they'll get the message and fit sliding doors in all the 'accessible' rooms. You never know ...

Anyway, summer is once again just round the corner, and I'm looking forward to spending it in Manchester. I'm also - barring a right royal screw-up by yours truly in the exam stakes - pretty optimistic about my second year. Fingers crossed, eh?

SARA

So it's a year on (well, a student year anyway) and there is so much to tell and so little time to do it in.

I'll start by saying that it has been Fantastic with a capital 'F'. I love my course and I love my friends, and I wouldn't change a single minute of the last year!

Now for the boring stuff - 'they' made me include it, I promise.

Exams

Well, luckily I have managed to escape written exams this year (in fact, I don't do them 'til the third year. Let me hear you say YYYYEEEESSSSS!!!). However, in their place, we do get to experience the terror that is PRACTICAL EXAMS - and trust me they aren't easy, because you have to reel off a whole load of information on demand.

But on the plus side, I think I may have found the answer to accessible exams for the visually despaired amongst us. No pesky exam papers, no worries about extra time or super duper all-singing and all-dancing 'talking' or 'enlarging' computers - you simply have to walk into a room, grab a body, and away you go! (OK, maybe I should explain this a bit further because that sounds a little worrying. I can guarantee you that it's all above board and clean, and that clothes are worn at all times).
Sara on a night out
One exam that could have been a total nightmare but wasn't (thanks to the imagination and thoughtfulness of my neurology lecturer) was 'Movement Analysis'. The standard version of this exam is done on a computer with a tiny little video clip of someone walking. Totally inaccessible to me, I think you'll agree!

Well, for this spectacular show of equal opportunities, myself and the other visually impaired student on my course were whisked away to the delights of a Brum hospital for an alternative and more accessible version of the exam where we got our hands on some real patients. Yes folks, that's right - we were let loose on the general public. And let me tell you now, they were petrified.

OK, slight exaggeration - it was fine. We didn't cause too many injuries and for the most part they were smiling, and I got a 2:1!!!

We physiotherapy students didn't do end of year exams this year, which was marvellous. But I have to say that I am a little bitter about it. Whilst all the other students were lounging around doing the odd exam here and there (with perhaps a smidgen of revision), I was sent to work in a hospital for four weeks - 8.30am til 4.00pm, Monday to Friday.

It was a shadowing placement; we worked alongside a physio on a neurology ward and in intensive care. I did some hands-on too: spinal assessments, passive movements for patients who have been in bed for a long time and can't do it themselves, and assessing patients to make sure they are safe before they are discharged. Generally good, and the physio had worked with visually impaired people before so wasn't phased and nor were the patients. And why should they be anyway, right ...?
Sara and her friends - off to a uni ball

Lectures

Well, apart from there being rather too many lectures for my liking ... I don't have many complaints. Shock horror, a disabled student that isn't whinging? Well, OK, even I'm not perfect - there are a few creases that need a good steam iron on them.

My main peeve is patronising lecturers. I would like to point out that they are in the minority and for the most part my lecturers are fabulous (that covers my back if any of them are reading this, anyway).

I think the main problem is lack of understanding and perhaps, in some cases, feeling burdened by my presence in class. OK, so the equal opportunities manual states that they can't feel this way, but I can't say I blame them: it is an extra hassle having me there at times, and they do have to put extra effort in to include me. It would be nice, though, if they could at least slightly disguise their sighs or irritated faces!

I have to say that one of the most important things in making lectures - particularly the practical ones - accessible to me is my friends. They are all so helpful and don't bat an eyelid when I ask them to describe what's going on or tell me what it says on the overhead projector. In many respects my classmates are more understanding and helpful than my lecturers. The other day, a friend of mine, almost subconciously, leant over and traced a finger down my arm to show me what nerve a lecturer was talking about, for instance. The lecturer had forgotten to use me as the model.

One thing I do want to stress at this point is that I am genuinely talking about the minority. The physio school here at Brum has been fantastic and incredibly supportive throughout the year. I don't think I could have realistically asked for anything more.

I think the only change I may make in my approach to study next year is to perhaps have closer contact with the university's disability team. This year I have only seen them twice, right at the start, and I think they could have been far more useful than I let them be. My fault entirely. They have tried to get in touch with me, but I didn't feel the need to see them. I'm still not entirely sure what they have to offer, if I'm honest.

Right, now it's time for the fun stuff! You guessed it, it's my ...
Sara and her friend Sara Lee at the uni ball

Social life

All I can say is it's AMAZING and has never been better!!! I've made tonnes of friends - both in halls and on my course - and I can honestly say my visual impairment has never been an issue.

It's incredible. As you may remember from my earlier diaries, I was really apprehensive about what people might think. Turns out that they don't think anything. Generally people don't even notice that I am VI, and as for my close friends they have been amazing and have dealt with it so well. Whether it's the big arm wave or just blatantly screaming my name across a bar, they have all learnt when and where I may need help. They've now even got to the point where they happily take the mickey out of me for it - in a nice way, of course.

I feel completely comfortable around them and have no shame in dragging out my tilted table top or whipping out my monocular at crucial moments during Disney on Ice (er, we're a rather alternative bunch). They even whisper what subtitles say in my ear when they come on during films or TV. Another handy thing they have picked up on is that it's always best to grab hold of me when crossing Broad Street, intoxicated or not!!!

I've also had the opportunity to get involved with various societies over the year. My personal favourite has been the ARTE. No idea what it stands for, but it's basically the medical school's musical theatre group. I was in their Easter show, and it was great fun. I sang a duet from Miss Saigon with another girl and it was fab - even if I do say so myself!

Another highlight has been the radio show I presented with my friend Terry. We did breakfast on Tuesday mornings during the month that BURN FM (Birmingham University Radio Network) ran for in May. We had really good fun and I expect you all to be listening in October when we return, OK? It is possible to listen over the internet too, so there really is no excuse!

I really couldn't be happier. Oh, and that cheeky Ouch! team did enquire about my love life - well, sorry guys, but even I am not silly enough to broadcast it over a BBC internet site. If I wanted to share I'd go on Trisha!

And its exactly that kind of quality programming that I watch from my comfy little bed in my lovely bedroom - OK, so that was an extremely tenuous link, but I just had to tell you all about the little place that I call my home between September and June ...
Sara on her birthday

Accomodation

My accommodation at uni is amazing. It's self-catered, which has brought about some interesting incidents mostly involving fish fingers and chips (although once I did dabble with a pasta bake - can't say I am going to bother again). My room is lovely - still! There's not too much damage, although it is difficult to tell under the many layers of crap that have accumulated over the year. Packing up could be an issue. And who said visually impaired people have to be organised?

I get on really well with my flatmates, so we have all decided to move in together next year - it's a lovely little house in Selly Oak, not too much mould and the windows and doors are mostly in place.

I am going to be living within a ten-minute radius of all my friends, and fifteen or so pubs, so it should be a really lively year. I CAN'T WAIT! Oh yeah, and uni is only round the corner ...

So that's it, my first year at uni, and I have absolutely LOVED IT!!!
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