My experience as a student with a disability

Have you ever wondered what life is like for someone with a disability? Well, it’s challenging!

My name is Joseph and I’m halfway through a Bachelor of Business/Bachelor of Laws (Honours). I live with a form of cerebral palsy that affects my body movement, muscle control, and balance. I’m also profoundly deaf…. which can sometimes be a blessing in disguise.

My disabilities make many areas of my life challenging. I use a motorised wheelchair for mobility, a cochlear implant for hearing, and a range of other products and services to help me with those aspects of life that many take for granted.

There are heaps of students at Uni of Newcastle who are living with disabilities or medical conditions which make study a little different than for students not living with such things. These conditions may be temporary or permanent and cover a wider range of physical and mental issues. If you’re looking for more information about this, like the ‘Students With a Disability Policy’, you can find it on the University website.

For me, the keys to living with my disabilities have been to:

  • plan, plan, plan;
  • seek assistance; and
  • be resilient.

When it comes to succeeding in my studies at university I have had to learn to better manage my time (easier said than done), maximise use of the available resources, communicate my needs and my expectations, and strengthen my capacity to deal with those times when maybe they’re not met.

To make things a little easier if you’re also studying at Uni of Newcastle and have a disability or medical condition, I’ve gathered together some tips and hints that I’ve learned along the way.

Manage your weekly schedule             

For me, this includes juggling my study commitments such as lectures, tutorials, and study sessions, with my medical appointments, hydrotherapy sessions, and scheduling of my support workers as well as attending social events. So make sure you create a plan before you enroll and choose your class preferences! Do not leave it to the last minute (although you can waitlist classes, like I did once, but it’s not always a guarantee).

The devil is in the details

It’s equally important to plan for those day-to-day things like making sure the lift is functioning and checking that the accessible bathroom is working; to name a few. Also make sure to arrange for any adaptations you may need to your learning materials, and for your assessments, including exams.

Put your hand up

It can all seem overwhelming at times, but you don’t have to do it all on your own. A big plus for me has been the assistance offered by the University’s Disability Support Services, (Accessability) And if I can offer one bit of advice to students with disabilities, it is to register for these services as early as possible. Doing so provides you with the maximum assistance the University can offer you to help you succeed in your studies and be part of university life. Registering with Disability Support will also provide you with access to adaptive technology resources. These could include e-texts, text to speech, screen reading software, and voice activated software, to name a few.

The importance of a Reasonable Adjustment Plan (RAP)

As part of registering with the Disability Support Service, you will be given a Reasonable Adjustment Plan (also known as a RAP or formally known as an AIP) which you then pass on to your Course Coordinators. Doing so ensures they are aware of the modifications you require. This can include sitting in-class tests elsewhere, provisions of extra time, scribers, typists, and flexible assessment arrangements.

Find solutions that work for you

With the University embracing ‘blended learning’ and, given the push towards online lectures and frequent graded activities, it can create unintended challenges for people with disabilities. To accommodate these kinds of changes, I find it useful to incorporate adaptive technology products and services wherever I can. For example, I find it easier to hear a lecturer in a face-to-face environment rather than on an online recording. To accommodate this, I’d usually be given a transcript, but this can sometimes take three days to a week to arrive. Whilst transcripts are beneficial, it can mean you are sometimes left behind in coursework, especially when you have weekly or other regular activities based on lecture material. As such, and in consultation with the University’s Disability Support Services, I was able to arrange captioning on one subject, which worked a treat.

My top tips

Regardless of the challenges faced by students with disabilities at Uni of Newcastle, my tips are:

  • finalise your timetable early and organise regular support workers;
  • register with AccessAbility;
  • distribute your Reasonable Adjustment Plan (RAP) to your Academic staff;
  • keep in frequent contact with the people from Adaptive Technology; and
  • do not be afraid to ask for help.

To register with the University Disability Support Services, visit

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