My experience as a disabled student at Exeter - Part 1

December 6, 2022

By Dante Munday, Disability History Intern

It is quite common to perceive disability either in two ways; as the result of a sudden, life-changing event, where it happens all at once, or as a stable part of someone’s life that has always been there.

But this is often very far from the real experiences of disabled people. Many physical and social issues can prolong someone receiving help or acknowledgement of their disability. Some disorders take years to diagnose or develop in someone’s late teens or mid-20s. Neurodivergence is often missed in women and non-binary people as children, especially autism, ADHD or OCD, due to symptoms presenting differently or greater pressure to mask them. Stigma also makes seeking any help a challenge.

This means that for many people, like myself, disability happens slowly, awkwardly, and in unexpected ways.

So what is it like going through this process while also being a student?

For me, I had to learn as I went along. Here’s the first part of what I learned about disability and well-being:

Don’t be afraid of AccessAbility

Since I hadn’t gone to AccessAbility during my first year at university, I was worried that I wouldn’t be ‘accepted’ going to them later, or that I’d be treated differently. This was especially true when I was still waiting on the final diagnosis. There was an expectation to be turned away, or proof to justify my place.

However, AccessAbility was always incredibly kind and considerate. They were considerate of my mobility issues and actively pushed for my support, offering it even if I wasn’t sure I deserved it. Their aid with the Disabled Student Allowance was also incredibly helpful, and they normalised that I deserved and was allowed support. They helped with multiple other areas too to advocate on my behalf, such as accommodation.

Use your Individual Learning Plan (ILP)

I remember having my first discussion with Accessibility about my ILP and being overwhelmed by the number of options. Having felt like I was doomed to always just struggle my way through what was easy for my non-disabled peers.

One of the hardest things to combat was giving myself space. I dealt with a lot of internalised ableism, especially when taking extensions or mitigation, or being allowed to opt-out of presentations. It felt unfair, and many of my fellows treated it that way.

But it was normal to update my ILP, and I wasn’t judged for having to alter my diagnoses as they came, and allow for my needs based on something I was waiting for a diagnosis for, so long as it related to symptoms.

The most important thing about the ILP is that it is equity, not equality. Acknowledging that I had different barriers, and different needs, and that my ILP was there to even the playing field, allowed me to be gentle with myself and accept the help I needed.