I have a visual impairment and a bone condition. I’ve always enjoyed studying so for me university was the definite next step, the question was just how I was going to do that.
I began my undergraduate course at Keele University but after my disability access needs were not able to be met, I moved to the US to pursue my studies. I came to Brunel to do my PhD, focusing partly upon disability. Whilst I went through the same DSA process that I had for my undergraduate degree, the systems in DSA had changed, I had to really work to have an Apple laptop rather than a Windows computer as I use a screen reader. This was a big problem for me as in my undergraduate degree I had been given a Windows laptop and had many problems with it before DSA finally conceded and gave me an Apple laptop. You may be thinking what’s the problem? They’re both good laptops? Whilst this is true screen readers are very different on each device. On an Apple laptop (or any Apple device) there is a voiceover, a screen reader which is built by Apple for Apple, on a Windows laptop there is the narrator (the free built in option) but most screen reader users buy JAWS which is an external software for windows. For me, I had always used Apple voiceover so the thought of starting a PhD and having to learn a whole new software was just too much. I am very fortunate to have a lot of support from my immediate family so was able to communicate effectively to DSA. I often find that when articulating my needs to people that unless I have an able-bodied person in the room emphasising and reinforcing my words that I am dismissed.
One of my biggest challenges when starting at Brunel was that as a postgraduate student, I fell under the support of the disability department, but they were unsure how to help me. In the end, the only support they could offer me was to talk with my supervisors and department about my disability. As I am confident to advocate for myself as well as having a good working relationship with my two supervisors, I felt this was not appropriate.
I have received a lot of support from the student welfare team who have been able to help me fathom out systems of support that do not always fit what I need but continuing an open dialogue has been tremendously helpful.
Whilst at Brunel I have received a lot of support from my two supervisors and my department, having people who understand my disability and how I work is really helpful when I need to talk about a difficulty or a particular access need and I feel supported during my studies which makes a big difference.
One of my biggest achievements at Brunel has been how I have been able to access and interact with different parts of the university, I’ve found that the majority of students at Brunel have been welcoming, open-minded and happy to make the effort to include me in events and activities. This has meant that I have been able to be a committee member of the mature student’s society and a PGR rep for my department.
There are so many things to be a part of at university, it can be overwhelming but it’s definitely worth being involved in what interests you. The best advice I can give someone with a disability who is thinking about or beginning at university is to communicate with your tutors, your disability department, and other support systems available at university.