My name is Anders, and I am a first year Biochemistry student. I’m in the 98th percentile for verbal reasoning which is way above average, and have a standard IQ. Yet I struggle to concentrate and stay focused, to have motivation, to stay organised mentally and physically, and this is due to multiple physical, mental and learning disabilities.
Difficulties with mobility, absence from university, fatigue, chronic pain, dislocation of joints and other complications such as wearing clothes that can be painful to wear, only touches the surface. Clinical depression, Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD), borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), among others. These provide a lot of difficulty in terms of anxiety over everything, low motivation, impulsive and compulsive behaviours, brain fog, severe damage to skin, difficulty maintaining positive relationships, flashbacks, panic attacks, insomnia and so on and so forth! The learning difficulties also include combined type attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyspraxia and dyslexia, which provide difficulties in processing information; it takes a lot of work for me to take something in.
I am very forgetful and have poor short term memory. I struggle with executive dysfunction, coordination, handwriting, drawing and reading comprehension. I also have auditory processing disorder and tinnitus, which essentially causes me to hear everything as my brain doesn’t filter out the important sounds from the unimportant sounds; I struggle to tell where noises come from. I can barely hear in a crowded room, or when there is background noise and certain noises (usually loud and sudden, high pitched or whispery) can cause awful pain in my ears. Did I mention I am very forgetful?
UEA is fairly accessible; that is probably the best way I can put it. Student Support Services (SSS) and the Disability Liaison Officers (DLOs) try their best; however, things still fall short. There is no assistance besides the faded orange dotted lines around campus on how to get around accessibility (for me I struggle to use stairs most days so I try to use the guides).
The best example of access issues for me was on 24 October this year, when I was having severe difficulties in moving around. I was very fatigued and in a significant amount of pain. First, I missed my first lecture as JSC had a fire drill which subsequently broke the lift; my lecture was on the second floor, so I could not make it up two flights of stairs. I took an extended break and then very slowly walked over to SSS, taking a rest in buildings when I needed. I requested to borrow the mobility scooter from SSS; however, it had broken. I decided to borrow a manual wheelchair from them as I’d used one before and gotten along quite well. However, I found that I had a real difficulty pushing myself about, and had my mentor push me over to TEC. We realised the dilemma in that I wouldn’t have anybody to push me back and I was unable to push myself alone. So I ended up being pushed back to SSS, where we noticed that both tyres on the wheelchair were punctured. I missed both of my lectures for that day, and was only able to access my meetings in the afternoon by the use of the Campus Kitchen lift as the Union House lift was once again broken. To my knowledge, the mobility scooter is still not fixed as the job is being passed all around SSS, with nobody really dedicated to getting it done.
Considering my recent appointment with physiotherapy, where I was issued crutches, I began the discussion on acquiring an electric wheelchair for longer distances, such as city trips and university days which requires me to be all over campus. But it’s quite difficult to figure out how to get around right now. For me, accessibility of UEA has improved over time, but only in the sense of being able to access more support. I was prevented from seeing a disability advisor until earlier this year, as I’d previously seen mental health advisors since that was regarded as my one and only impairment.
Even when getting satisfactory grades, absence is treated quite harshly, albeit reasonable adjustments are in place and evidence for these are with the right people. There’s a lack of understanding about how chronic illness works from academics and students alike. Especially within the sciences; in labs, it’s difficult to make things accessible whilst still following health and safety rules. For example, I recently had my lab assistance suspended due to absences for my illness without 24 hour notices; 24 hours for when I’m going to be ill. Now that I have a disability advisor, things have been easier, but the systems themselves such as timetabling and the SSS are as bad as ever.