Adjusting to university can be incredibly difficult for any student, but having an invisible disability can add in an extra dimension of worry. This doesn’t need to mean you won’t be able to enjoy the full breadth of everything university has to offer, though. Here are my tips for making the most of university with an invisible disability.
Apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance.
DSA is a non-means tested grant for any Home student with a disability, long-term health condition, or specific learning difference. It provides funding for equipment or additional support that’ll help you make the most of your education.
It may sound like a terrifying process, but people tend to be surprised at how easy the application process is, and how helpful it can be in identifying strategies and tools to help mitigate the impact of a disability. It can help cover things like additional human support (for example, a note taker or a palantypist), printing costs, and assistive devices or programmes.
You can find out how to apply for DSA on the Student Finance website.
Build a support network.
The social side of university can be overwhelming when also managing an invisible disability, but even if you’re not open about your disability to everyone you meet, it can be incredibly helpful to disclose to one or two close friends about your needs. Even if it’s just so they can lend an ear if you need a moan, or some leniency if your plates start piling up in the kitchen, having someone who knows about your condition and how it impacts you can help offload the weight of managing an invisible disability.
If you want to speak to someone who has experience with your disability, you can sign up for the Warwick Enable Buddy Scheme. Warwick Enable is the university’s society for disabled students, their carers and allies, and provides a great forum for seeking support from other disabled students.
It’s also really important to disclose your disability to Disability Services. Although this can seem daunting, it’s essential in ensuring the support you need or may need in future can be put in place. It’s best to do this right at the beginning so if, for example, you need a deadline extension, your department can be made aware of the underlying reason why and permit this as a reasonable adjustment as required by the law.
If you’re having any issues with the formal support structures, myself and Warwick Enable are able to provide support and advocate on your behalf. Please just contact us – no issue is too big or small.
Try something new.
University is a wonderful place to meet new people and try new things, and this year one of my goals is to help work with the Societies and Sports Officers to make clubs and societies as inclusive as possible. Sport can be a wonderful tool for managing mental health, and many are open to accommodating a range of abilities and needs. If you’re less athletically inclined, societies are fantastic for finding a new hobby or a circle of friends who have similar interests. If you need help accessing social events, please do reach out either to the club or society directly, or alternatively to me or the Sports or Societies Officer.
Be kind to yourself.
Term one is a huge adjustment for any and every student – a new place, new people, a new system. Although it can be easier said than done, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. As the old adage goes, “first year doesn’t count!” (and if it does, the low weighting means it’ll have very little impact on your final degree classification). It’s more about settling in and finding your rhythm.
If you might find advocating for yourself difficult, the Sunflower Lanyard scheme is a great way to signal that you might need additional support, especially in the times of coronavirus, and you can pick one up for free at Senate House. All invisible or hidden conditions and differences fall under the scheme, from ASD and ADHD to fibromyalgia or hearing loss and everything in between. It’s just been rolled out at Warwick, so staff may still be a little bit unsure of what it means, but communications are going out to make it clear that the lanyard just means that person wearing it might benefit from an offer of support, a little more patience, or flexibility around Covid rules and regulations.
My biggest tip would be that your health and wellbeing should always come first. If you’re struggling, you can access support through your personal tutor or Director of Student Wellbeing/Senior Tutor in your department, or through your GP or Wellbeing Support Services. If you’ve got any specific issues, or need advice or have a query, my email is always open.