Service User Voice: What about the social life?

As the A-level results are published and people make plans to go off to college, it reminds me of my own excitement at being offered a place at university – something I never thought would happen. I had been accepted to study a degree in crime deviance and society at the university close to where I lived. On being accepted for my degree course, I was told that the university access team would assess my needs, deciding how best to accommodate my physical situation and learning requirements.

I was granted 27 hours’ support a week. This was to be funded through the disabled students’ allowance. It was to cover 10 hours a week of lectures in which I needed mobility support and a note-taker. The remainder of the time was divided between mealtime support, reading and the typing up of essays. Having previously only had two hours of official support a week, with many more provided by my family and friends, this made a huge difference.

My first support worker “Beth” was very useful during Freshers’ week, helping with enrolling, time-tabling and providing information on good places to eat.

But one thing was lacking: social interaction!

I had come from a small, mainstream college environment, where I had always felt accepted and comfortable. Here, there was nothing. Many of my fellow students seemed either unaware of my presence or intimidated by me. Was it because I was in my wheelchair I wondered?

The only spontaneous interaction I had, other than with teaching staff, was with other students in wheelchairs or with hidden disabilities. Somehow I did not think my disability in itself was entirely the problem, as others in my situation seemed to transcend the barrier well enough. So why not me? The answer seemed to be that I was always in the company of another person (my support worker). This proved to be a barrier I was unable to overcome, as without the support, I would not be able to physically navigate the campus and so get my degree.

During my studies I have had many support workers, some of whom have remained friends. I have valued many of them socially at university, because some days they were the only people other than staff I could engage with.

Others tell me of the wonderful social time they had at university and the friends they made. This is a void in my own life. I love the subjects I learned about and the knowledge I acquired. I have graduated twice successfully but still feel I have missed out on something!

Anika Baddeley is a sociologist and has cerebral palsy

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