I felt frustrated. I felt demoralised. I still feel shocked even now. Surely my entire time at University will be better than this? Hi, my name is Laurence Scott and I’m – sort of – a first year BA International Relations and Politics student. I’m a mature student: I’m 26-years-old. 2019 was a difficult year for me. The first week of 2020 left me with a similar feeling. Thankfully, I now feel a lot happier.
Rewind to 2008. My life changed overnight; I was in a mathematics lesson when my right hand turned orange. It felt like my hand was on fire, and it was larger than usual. I have been in constant pain ever since. To cut a long story short, I was diagnosed with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). This left me wondering why it happened to me, and why did it have to be a disability there’s no test for?
In 2013 I achieved A*AA in my A-levels (exceeding the AAA offer I got from University of Warwick), and enrolled on the BA Politics. Unfortunately, whilst studying I became extremely weak. There were two new symptoms which stuck out to me: extreme tiredness which wasn’t relieved by rest, and a pain in both my legs. The day before my mother’s birthday in 2013, I came home to live with my parents, who live in Norfolk. In April 2015, I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) by the NHS Norfolk and Suffolk ME/CFS service. At least I now knew what it was. The next five years were tough; it’s possible things may not get that bad again. I was unemployed due to my CFS. I have walked with a stick from 2014 to this day. I also use my wheelchair a lot. At first, I was lucky to get a wheelchair on loan, but I needed to be pushed around in it. Things needed to change. I needed a bit more independence. So, I bought an electric wheelchair. I even jokingly call it, ‘the electric chair’, when I do stand-up comedy!
I applied to the UEA and got an unconditional offer! I still use a wheelchair and walking stick to get around. Did you know the UEA used to be a golf course? Why did it have to be on a golf course? Unluckily for me, I have found that my wheelchair is not far enough off the ground to be able to get to certain parts of the UEA campus. As a result of this, I quickly began to wish I never started a course here. The UEA is not the only campus which is very uneven: I looked around the University of Nottingham, and the University of Exeter, and they were even more uneven. I hope wheelchairs which can fly will be invented soon. I think it’s such a shame that there was a time when University campuses were designed to be unsuitable for wheelchair users; the talents of those with a disability shouldn’t be lost. In January, I decided to intercalate: meaning I have stopped my studies and will begin again in September 2020, in first year again. Another problem with being a wheelchair user at the UEA, is that not all the doors are automatic, so I have had to ask staff or students to hold the door open for me, which they do.
What could be done? I think I will have to buy a new wheelchair. The option of doing an Open University degree would not help me improve my transferable skills: verbal communication skills, for instance. When I get my new wheelchair, it won’t be able to fly, but it will be further off the ground. As for the problem of holding doors open, the university should be ashamed of itself for not installing more automatic doors. But feeling ashamed isn’t enough. I hope to work with the university to find a good solution between now and September.