University can pose plenty of challenges for students with disabilities. But there are services and supports that can help you tackle those challenges. Read on to learn how you can get the most out of your university experience.

There are practical challenges of living with disability while attending university. Those challenges include maintaining energy levels, the physical accessibility of the campus and the accessibility of the learning materials. And even the ability to get to the university in the first place.

This is not an exhaustive list of the challenges faced by students with disability. There are plenty more not listed here. It’s because of these challenges that students with disabilities often need additional supports. And universities are obligated to ensure those supports are available thanks to the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Disability Standards for Education. Some of the additional supports and services universities must offer include providing students with reasonable adjustments and ensuring an environment free from discrimination.

Equitable learning and reasonable adjustments

One of the ways universities meet their obligations to students with disabilities is by providing specialised disability support services, sometimes called equitable learning services. Research indicates that students that seek support via these services enjoy greater academic success.  And it makes sense. Disability support services can help to level the playing field, providing specific
supports to students that can mean the difference between succeeding and not.
Some examples include providing note takers or auslan interpreters.

Many disability support services work to help students have reasonable adjustments made. Those reasonable adjustments could relate to additional time for exams or extensions for assessments. Many services can also provide access to reduced study loads where they may not always be available. For example, part time instead of full-time study. In addition, alternatively formatted study materials or assistive technology like voice dictation or screen reading technology can often be provided.

Inform spoke with Rick Boffa, the manager of Equitable Learning Services at RMIT University who said that services like ELS could be valuable to students with disabilities.

‘I think it really does give students an opportunity to take the bull by the horns, and level the playing field, so they can engage with their programs on the same basis as their peers and that’s a great thing,’ he said.

Of course, accessing disability support services is not compulsory. While it can be helpful, you’re under no obligation to disclose your disability or connect with services at your university. However, Rick encourages students and potential students to consider it.

‘Sometimes disclosing is not right at a particular point in time. So, if they don’t feel comfortable doing it today, then maybe consider it again tomorrow.’

Getting the most out of your university experience

So how can you get the most out of your university experience? We have some tips that will help you do just that.

Firstly, be clear about what your goals are. Why are you going to university and what do you hope to achieve? If you know the answer to those questions, you’ll be in a much better position to succeed.

Next,once you have your goals locked in, look for a course or degree that matches those goals. Explore the options available to you/ And if there’s a course or degree that you’re keen to enrol in and you’re worried there might be a hurdle or barrier to you doing so. Challenge it, if you can.

Even if you’ve already approached the disability support services at your university, talk to your lecturers. And be open about the challenges you may face and the supports you might need. Work with them to find solutions.

Look after yourself. Your wellbeing is the number one priority. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, consider the options available to you to relieve some of that strain. You could reduce your study load, take a leave of absence or even just arrange some extra time to submit your assessments.

And, finally, have fun! Enjoy the experience of higher education and all that it has to offer.

How to get the most out of your university experience originally appeared in Issue 29 of Inform Magazine

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