Kate: How to navigate uni… with a disability

Kate graduated from a Bachelor of Creative Arts in 2014 and has worked in marketing and as a video editor. In the past, she has mentored young Indigenous students to progress their education as part of the Deadly Ways, Our Ways mentoring program.

Navigating university, whether you have a disability or not, can be challenging at times. If you have a disability, you may have lots of questions about how you will get around campus or the types of support you have access to as a uni student. Even if you yourself don’t have a disability it can be hard to know whether or not you should step in to help those who do, or how to be considerate of their needs.

As someone with Cerebral Palsy who has successfully navigated university, whether you have a disability yourself or know someone who has, I hope these tips based on my own experiences will help you.

1. Ask before jumping in to help

I use crutches to walk and a wheelchair for long distances and going shopping. My wheelchair sits on the back of my car. To make sure the wheelchair is secure, I have to set up a device to pull the wheelchair into a tilted tray using a piece of rope. I then need to cover it with a specially made cover, which has my numberplate on it.

I have had people come up to me in car parks and ask if I need a hand. I often say no because it’s harder to explain what to do when you have a certain process of doing it than it is to just do it yourself. I am thankful that these people have asked me and I don’t mean to appear snobbish, but sometimes it’s a lot easier for me to do things without having to describe how it is done.

Having said this, it depends on the person as to whether they want help or not, so always ask before jumping in and helping.

2. Transport options

There are many wheelchair-friendly buses but if you are considering using this service, check with your local transport department to see where the nearest public transport is. Even though traveling by public transport is a lot cheaper than paying for a taxi, it is always a good idea to find out what your options are before heading out.

If you have a friend who is in a wheelchair and you’re taking them out, most manual wheelchairs fold up and can be placed in the boot or back seat of the car. Make sure when you park that you allow for extra room on the passenger side so they can get in and out of the car easily. If they have a disabled sticker ask them to bring it with them. This will enable you to park closer to the shops and avoid being hit by any vehicles reversing or driving past. I have had some close calls, where a vehicle has either nearly reversed into me or has come around a corner and not seen me until the last minute.

3. Plan ahead

Some classes on-campus are not wheelchair friendly and there is nothing worse than enrolling in a course at uni and finding out on your first day of class that you can’t access the room. So, if you need a wheelchair-friendly classroom, make sure you contact either the Disability Support Team or your Student Relationship Officer (SRO) in advance to make sure your day is not ruined by not being able to attend class.

Planning ahead and checking for accessibility is also vital when it comes to attending group work meetings or catching up with friends on-campus. Whenever I get asked to something, the first question I ask is: `Is the building wheelchair-accessible?’ This way I know whether I will need to use my crutches or wheelchair.

If you are inviting a friend or study buddy with a disability to go out with you, be considerate of their needs when planning ahead.

4. Have fun

Everyone needs to let their hair down sometimes and just have fun. It's normal to worry about what other people think, but whether you're shy, short, tall, walk funny or are in a wheelchair, life is too short to worry about things like this. That might be easier said than done, but believe me, once you can find a way to not care about what other people think, you're more likely to relax and enjoy yourself and your new study buddies.

I hope these strategies help you and your friends navigate uni, whether you have a disability yourself or want to support someone else who does. 

If the thought of making new friends at university freaks you out, check out these tips for meeting new faces. If you'd like to know more about how USQ can support students with a disability, contact the team today.


Rachel: Taking a look at invisible disability

Kate: The dos and don'ts of applying for graduate work... with a disability

USQ disability support