What is it like to study as a disabled student at a UK university? Bruynzeel Storage Systems spoke to Fay Hart, 23, who spent four years studying at the University for the Creative Arts, where she completed her masters in Documentary Practice in 2014.
In 2009-2010 I did a foundation at UCA to decide what I wanted to do and chose Graphic Communication for my undergraduate degree. I moved on to a Documentary Practice MA because I actually found that film as a medium appealed to me; the software suited me better.
What is the nature of your disability?
I have Cerebral Palsy (CP), which is a neuromuscular disorder. The condition of the injury to my brain has stayed the same, but over time where I’m not used to walking and moving, my muscles have got tighter. It depends which part of your brain is damaged as to what level your CP is at. It’s basically an individual condition – no person’s brain is damaged in exactly the same place. I used to be able to do more when I was a child. Over time it’s got harder, due to various medical interventions. It normally changes around puberty, teens. I’m fully wheelchair bound now and can’t manage without a carer. I’m 23 and I feel old compared to the majority of students here – they all seem really young!
How easy was it to study as a disabled student when you first arrived at UCA?
It can make university life rather challenging, but my intellect means I’m able to access education as fully as anyone else. Before I came to university I’d spent quite a bit of time in special needs education, and so I was daunted by the prospect of coming to university. Also, I was adamant I didn’t want to live with other disabled people because I’d spent 12 years living with disabled people and I wanted to try something else. As a disabled person, when you start here, the other students don’t necessary come to you at first, because this is often the first experience they’ve had of meeting someone with a disability.
In your opinion, how good a job is UCA doing in terms of supporting disabled students?
UCA have done their best, but because it is a group of smaller campuses, they have got a little way to go compared to universities based on larger campuses. However I chose this campus because it is smaller so I thought there would be less stigma round disability, because it’s more intimate.
The student accommodation is the most difficult. For people with severe physical needs, there’s only really one flat they can go in, whereas people that don’t need physical care, there are a few other choices. Which means up to a point we’re all stuck together, and therefore branded ‘the disabled flat’. Although we do have some able bodied people living with us, [the university] are thinking of turning my flat into disabled accommodation only, which seems a bit of shame. We don’t want to live away from able bodied people. We want a mix.
The library. Most of my lessons are on the second floor of this library. The main building is older. The library on the UCA Farnham campus is much less of a challenge than the older building for me. I use the library quite a lot. I’m in here most days. I know the library is an educational establishment, but it’s also a social place as well. Everyone here is on a level, so you’re able to talk to each other, whatever your background, whatever your circumstances. I wish they could take aspects of what they’ve provided in the library and put them in accommodation.
For example before the library was redone, I could only access a selection of four desks with computers on. The aisles were so narrow, you could only get the computers on the end of aisles. They’ve made them so the computers are on islands now, so I’m now no longer limited to where I sit. I would love that level of freedom and choice in accommodation, too.
Are there any improvements you would make to the library, if you could?
Maybe I should do a GoPro of my experience trying to use the rolling stacks, because sometimes a moving image has more power than stills. It’s all very well taking a photo of me using the rolling stack, but what happens afterwards? Did she drop the book? I do give the university credit for all they have achieved here. A lot of the existing shelves were too narrow, but I can get in the rolling stacks now. I don’t think anywhere will ever get it totally right, because everyone’s needs are so different. If assistive technology switches, for example, were added to the rolling stacks, it would make things much easier for me. But I understand that disability is a vast area and there are many different requirements. As long as [the university] keep trying to accommodate as many people as they can, it will become easier for disabled students to study here.
What are your plans now you’ve completed your masters?
I’m hoping to go into freelance work. I would love to be a mental health rehab worker for people that are interested in getting themselves back on track. For example I’d like to teach them how simple it is to shoot a basic film on their mobile phone. Rather than just thinking because I’m like this, I can’t do anything, I want to support people and give them the confidence to try new things. When I set my mind to something I like to see it all the way through, so even if there are tough times, I won’t give up. Visit the National Careers Service website for advice for students with disabilities. For more information about Bruynzeel’s accessible storage solutions, please call 0800 220 989 or visit our contact page.