Disabled at Uni: 4. Accommodation, social care, and health care
Last week, I wrote about the support services in place at the University, and how to get set up with them. This week, I’m discussing health and social care, hiring Personal Assistants, and accommodation at University.
One of my key pieces of advice for disabled students about to go to University is that it’s really worth living in halls if you have the opportunity. I did this in my undergraduate, but with my Master’s I stayed living in my flat. It’s far less common for postgraduates to live in halls than undergraduates, but some do.
University is full of social opportunities, student clubs and societies, nights out, and new friendships. The more time you’re able to spend on campus, the more you can benefit from this. If you’re living further away, it’s easy to become quite detached from what’s going on at University.
Unis usually have some halls that are adapted for wheelchair users. Mine didn’t have any with ceiling track hoists but had plenty with larger adapted bathrooms and Closomat toilets (which wash and blow dry you at the touch of a button). Mine also had an adapted kitchen with space under the sink and hobs to get my legs, and a washing machine (other flats in the same halls had to go to a communal laundry room). If you’ve got more complicated needs that go beyond a standard adapted room, it’s still worth contacting the accommodation team, as they may have something that meets your needs – you’ll only know if you ask.
Typically, if you’re funded by social services for your social care, your original Local Authority retain responsibility for your care while you’re at Uni. If this is your first time living away from home, you may not know exactly what care you need in advance. It might be worth spending a week writing down every task you needed help with and exactly how long it took and what needed doing. That diary can then be given to your LA (or NHS body if your care is funded by Continuing Healthcare) to help establish what care support you might need. If your care is funded by Continuing Healthcare, who retains responsibility for funding it may be more complex – but discuss it with your assessors as early as possible.
I usually hire people without care experience, and had a lot of luck advertising at my Uni and hiring fellow students. It did mean that I had to train people myself, but worked well for giving me what I needed. I would say make sure not to hire anyone on your course – that can be uncomfortable – I really struggled when I had someone hired and we ended up in the same module. I wanted to be taken seriously by my classmates, and didn’t feel comfortable with other students on the course knowing my care needs. Universities often have job sites, or facebook pages for advertising student jobs, and that’s where I’ve found people successfully in the past.
One thing that’s worth thinking about is where you want your doctor to be based. There is often a surgery on or affiliated with your campus, so you can move your registration there during term-time, and return to your home GP in the holidays. There are advantages to this, in that your GP is au fait with how the University prefer to support students – if you need to fill in a special extenuating circumstances form, for example, then they’re likely to know how to that.
However, if you have referrals pending to other clinics, changing your GP in the middle of the process can get in the way of those referrals. Similarly if you’ve got a lot of health conditions, there are also advantages to remaining with a GP who knows your needs. It’s worth discussing this with your GP before you go to University, so you can take their advice. It might also be worth contacting the Health Centre at your new University to discuss your situation and needs, as they might also be able to advise you on whether to change or not.
Some Universities do a pre-course orientation for disabled students, or allow disabled students to move into Halls ahead of the rest of the campus community. If these things are on offer, then it’s well worth taking them up on the opportunities. Navigating a new Uni can be a challenging thing, especially if you have mobility impairments, so that bit of extra time to become familiar with it is worth taking. If they don’t offer this formally, contact disability services and ask whether there’s anything they can do for you specifically. They might well be able to give you a campus tour, or similar. In my final year, I rented my room for an extra week, so that I could move in early and get set up in my own time. This also meant I could sort out minor problems that arose, and meet with professors before the chaos of Fresher’s week began.
If you decide to stay living at home, or away from the Uni, then it’s worth trying to get things in place for you to be able to spend quite a bit of time on campus. Whether that means getting your driving license, applying for more care, or identifying late night public transport routes, if you want to make friends at Uni it’s worth doing interesting things – which often happen in the evening.
Next week, I will discuss starting to study, and being prepared for the academics in your course.