Source: SKILL Website (accessed 25th October 2004). Dawn Dyson, English, Sheffield Hallam University, Multiple Sclerosis
If anyone had told me 2 years ago that I would be at university studying for a degree, I would have laughed hysterically. However, here I am. After completing an Access course for two years I decided to take the plunge and apply, perhaps, if truth be told, not accepting that I could do it. I applied to several universities and got accepted at all four. Sheffield Hallam was the only one who wanted to see me and because of this I felt comfortable with the surroundings and tutors. I knew I wanted to study on an interesting English course and the English Studies Degree that is run at Sheffield Hallam seemed an ideal and varied option.
There were several obstacles in my way: I am 41 (a mature student) and a single parent with three children, all boys, one age 14 and twins at 11. If that is not enough to contend with, I have a degenerative illness, namely Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I am what I consider one of the lucky people with MS. I have good days and bad days. I drive to Sheffield on the days I have lectures and seminars and find the fact that Sheffield Hallam provided me with a parking permit very helpful.
Once I had been accepted on the course the contact was superb. I was invited to an introduction day. I was a little nervous. Where would I park? Where were the toilets? What would I feel like on the day? I needn’t have worried. I called up before my visit and I was allowed to park directly outside. Security was waiting for me. My mind was made up, I could do this.
I must say at this point in time I am still mobile, although I do keep an eye out for accessible facilities and at Sheffield Hallam they are very good. Before I began the course I had an interview with someone from student services who was marvellous. I won’t forget the day, because the staff were so warm and friendly. Following that interview I was informed of the equipment I would be allowed to obtain to assist with my studies, I was amazed.
Due to the pain in my hands I am allowed to use a mini disk to record lectures and seminars, which gives me the opportunity to work at my own speed at home. I also have a computer at home which allows me to work whenever I can and fit it in around my bad days and of course, the children.
I regularly receive emails from fellow students and tutors informing me of the activities and events that are being held in university for disabled students. There is plenty of opportunity to enjoy a full social life should that be on the agenda.
My fees are funded by my local education authority and once I got over the initial shock of form filling, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that by going to university I would not suffer too much financially.
The workload is comfortable if you discipline yourself. Although I have not had the need to take advantage of it I know that should I need extra time for submitting essays this would be given.
I was concerned about my exams. I was dreading being in a large room full of other students. I need to exercise my fingers every now and then when writing. When I stand after being seated for any length of time my legs adopt a drunken gait; a little embarrassing when I don’t use the props of a stick or wheelchair. Also there is the bladder control; I knew I would need to go during a two hour period. All these worries were put to rest when I was informed that I would be allowed to carry out my exam in a room with a private adjudicator, and also have an extra few minutes to exercise my fingers.
If I had to give any advice to someone with a disability who is wishing to go into higher education, it would be as follows: do it! If you want to do it you can, and life is too short to keep putting it off. I wish I had done it years ago!