All students should have equal opportunity to experience university. Student Communications Ambassador Becky Spicer shares her insights into accessibility and university.
University can be scary at the best of times – it’s a new environment, with new people and lots to learn. This can be even more difficult if you struggle with a disability, mental health condition or long-term illness. Bath Spa University is committed to supporting students with accessible and inclusive learning.
Disabled Students’ Allowance
The Government offers Disabled Students’ Allowance for those who need it, on top of any existing finance. Their website clearly outlines eligibility for DSA:
"You can apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSAs) to cover some of the extra costs you have because of a mental health problem, long term illness or any other disability."
DSA doesn't need to be repaid and can help you access learning which may have been challenging before due to your mental health, long-term illness or disability. I didn't consider myself disabled when applying and didn't think I would qualify. However, DSA covers students with mental health issues too – I met the criteria and found it was very helpful to my studies.
Assessment for DSA
The assessment for DSA involved meeting an assessor who talked through my mental health condition. In 2015, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. The assessor asked me various questions relating to how I’d found my access to education affected by mental health issues. He then wrote a report to DSA, which detailed recommendations for my allowance. The talk was confidential and only shared with DSA.
In terms of what DSA offers, it depends on your condition. I received specialist computer equipment, such as a microphone for my computer. I also received installation of the software Sonocent. I often lose concentration due to intrusive thought, but this software allowed me to record the lecture, highlighting and organising my notes so that I could easily refer back to them.
The DSA also paid for me to see a non-medical helper through Clear Links. This person was not a mental health professional but helped me with the effects of OCD – such as managing my time. I saw this non-medical helper throughout first year but opted out of this during second and third year, as I felt it was no longer needed.
Academic Access Plans
"All applicants offered a place at the University are invited to complete a questionnaire requesting some information about their disability, specific learning difference, autism spectrum or medical or mental health condition. This information will be used to produce an Academic Access Plan (AAP)."
An Academic Access Plan (or AAP) is information about your condition and learning requirements. This plan is, with your consent, shared with staff and lecturers when needed. An AAP may include studying adjustment recommendations, breaks for examinations, exemption/modifying of presentation assessments, adjustments to field trips or industry placements.
My AAP was extremely helpful in requesting deadline extensions during third-year. I often spend too much time on compulsions. The AAP made a lot of difference. It felt like a safety net. If you meet the criteria, I highly recommend accessing one as soon as possible. You never know when you might need more help.
Bath Spa University
Bath Spa University are committed to accessibility for all students:
"All students should have equal opportunity to experience university. We provide confidential information, guidance, and practical support to students with a disability including: specific learning differences and/or neurodiversity, autism spectrum, mental health or medical condition, sensory or mobility impairment."
Lecturers and Personal Tutors
I was able to record my lectures, seminars and meetings on my laptop or even using the Sonocent app on my phone. I had to ask permission from lecturers beforehand, either in person or via email. I was always allowed to, and everybody was incredibly supportive.
I would recommend speaking to your tutors, if you feel able to, about your condition. It always helps if they can understand where you're coming from and the challenges the classroom might present to you.
At the beginning of term, you'll be given a Personal Tutor. This is someone from your course who is available for meetings and support throughout your time at university. You might see them frequently or hardly at all – it’s up to you – but the option is there.
Get Started is an event by Bath Spa which runs before the start of the academic year. First-year students who have disclosed a disability (including specific learning differences and/or neurodiversity, autism spectrum, mental health or medical condition, sensory or mobility impairment) are invited to attend.
Get Started is a series of sessions to help you adjust to life at university. This can be really helpful if you’re anxious about being away from home for the first time.
As well as accommodating for mental health or learning differences, Bath Spa also supports and adjusts to fit the needs of those with physical health or medical conditions. The paths on campus are wide, there are lifts you can use, and plenty of Disabled Parking spots for easier access to the main learning areas – such as the library or Commons.
Student Wellbeing Services
Student Wellbeing Services is there to support you throughout university. If you have questions about mental health, accessibility, money or wellbeing, they can help provide professional advice and guidance.
Bath mental health services
There are a number of good companies and organisations within Bath designed to support people struggling with mental health issues. Here are a few:
Most organisations are offering virtual therapy or interaction with clients during COVID-19. Remember, it's okay if you don't enjoy a particular therapy or organisation. There are others out there and it's worth finding one that works best to support you and your specific condition.
Finally, I'd like to reassure you about how understanding Bath Spa University is. The University considers the welfare of students first and foremost; this creates a place of accessible learning for those with specific learning differences, mental illnesses or physical disabilities. It's an accepting and positive place and I hope you enjoy your time here.
Disclaimer: The Bath Spa blog is a platform for individual voices and views from the University's community. Any views or opinions represented in individual posts are personal, belonging solely to the author of that post, and do not represent the views of other Bath Spa staff, or Bath Spa University as an institution.
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