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Studying with a disability

Alex is a student who has recently completed her first student placement. In this article, she shares her experience of studying with a disability.

Chasing your dreams

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that causes degeneration of joints in the body, chronic pain and fatigue. For years I worked in jobs that I could get without qualifications. Because juggling work, school and a social life while also managing my health felt impossible. This not only affected me physically but also psychologically. It left me feeling like I was not able to chase my dreams and that I would have to settle with just getting by.

This was my barrier; thinking it was not possible kept me from going back to school and achieving the goals I have to become qualified in Community Services and eventually Social Work. I want to help other people to use the supports around them. I want to help people to access services and education that will change their life by increasing their earning capacity and job satisfaction. It is all about fulfilling your purpose in life. For a lot of us, studying and gaining qualifications plays a vital role in this. I am now on my way to a career full of diverse and rewarding roles in which I help create change for people facing challenging circumstances, just like me.

Reaching out for help

At the beginning of 2017, I made the scary decision to begin studying a Diploma of Community Services. I reached out to my course coordinator who linked me into the Disability Liaison Unit at my Institution. I met with them, and together we developed an Equitable Learning Plan. That plan means I get longer extensions and adapted conditions without having to produce supporting medical documentation over and over again.

This took the weight off my shoulders. It empowers me to tailor the learning experience to my needs and use the supports in place when I need to. I strongly encourage people who want to engage in education to share their circumstances when they are considering enrolling, or if they are already enrolled.

Unfortunately, at present, there is a huge lack of information about accessible studying. In addition, there is no central resource point for people with disabilities to refer to when they are considering engaging in education. There are, however, processes in place that ensure access to education is equitable and to support students with disabilities to successfully complete their studies, without further impacting their lives. There is also a range of scholarships, grants and opportunities available for students with disabilities that are normally advertised in various locations online. These can be hard to find and sometimes take time to apply for, but can be of great assistance. My advice is to make phone calls, send emails and explore websites until you find information that can help.


Tips for once you are studying

  • Communicate with course coordinators, lecturers and tutors about your needs
  • Do not feel afraid to use the services available
  • Understand that your needs are valid
  • Introspection—practice self-care continuously and be realistic about your needs
  • Learn and respect your limitations
  • Have good advocates on your side

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