Disability Case Study Megan, Year 1, long-standing illness or health condition (disability Category E)
Megan (not her real name) did not provide any additional information regarding her disability on the UCAS form.
Prior to the start of the academic year, at a meeting with the Accommodation Office to discuss the allocation of rooms appropriate to disabled new students, the Accommodation Officer advised that Megan had asked for a ground floor room, not far from her School of Study and had sent in a letter from her GP which stated a diagnosis of M.E.
The Disability Co-ordinator phoned the family home to speak with Megan and invited her to come along prior to the start of the academic year to discuss any support she might need. Megan was not keen but her mother, who had insisted on the request for the ground floor room, wanted to come along.
Megan and mum arrived at a meeting where the Disability Co-ordinator gained more information about the effects of Megan’s M.E. on her energy levels, concentration and so forth. She described the differences between independent University life and life at home and school in relation to the emotional, social and physical demands on new students (shopping cooking, cleaning, laundry, making new friends, living in a different environment) as well as the academic demands of more independent University study. Megan thought she was well prepared and that she would not have any difficulties. She did not want to apply for DSA as she wanted to be the same independent student as her peers.
Towards the end of the Autumn Term, Megan sent an e-mail to say she was having difficulties. She has missed classes and thought she would not be able to complete her assignments, which all seemed to be due at once. She was tired, but not sleeping well. Megan was invited in for an appointment on the same day.
At the appointment, Megan shared her fear that she could not cope with University, that she felt when she spent time socially with her new friends she was not then able to attend lectures, do her reading and so forth. Megan had not told her friends about her M.E. and so this made it hard for her to find a reason not to join in all the activities.
The Disability Co-ordinator discussed the practical matters of managing her outstanding workload and helped to work out a possible timetable for producing the essays before the start of the next term. She contacted the Teaching Office and Megan’s Personal Adviser, with Megan’s permission, discussed the proposed extensions to deadlines which Megan would apply for and also provided the reason for Megan’s missed classes.
She discussed with Megan the merit of talking to at least one of her friends about her diagnosis explaining that it meant that she had to pace her activities and get good periods of rest. She reassured Megan that students with M.E. do succeed at University, but that Megan needed to come to some reconciliation with her diagnosis and what it implied for her management of time and energy, and her friendships.
Megan could see the merit of the argument, but found it difficult to deal with and it took a number of meetings for her to begin to build her confidence. In the meantime, Megan had taken a week off to go home to rest and also to talk with her mother about her difficulties and what she intended to do about them. Megan had been withholding the extent of her problems from mum as she felt a failure.
Megan finally did talk with a friend and instituted a more reasonable regime for sleeping and working. She applied for DSA and with a voice recorder for lectures and voice recognition software to speed up her note taking and writing, she found she could make more reasonable progress with her work which reduced her anxiety and sense of personal incapacity and failure. Her learning support assistant, who helped her with library tasks, photocopying and such like, saved her a lot of time and energy. Throughout, Megan’s emotional response to her disability remained troublesome and she would periodically rebel against what was, in fact, a regime which constrained her more than she would want.
Contact was maintained with Megan through regular meetings through the rest of the academic year and any issues which caused stress were addressed as this was found to be a major contributor to increased fatigue. Megan struggled through the examination period, but found that, as she had rejected any exam concessions, she did not do her best and had to take a re-sit in August. Additional time for rest breaks was allowed for the August exam and Megan was able to pace herself more sensibly and get through.
As with many new students, Megan had found it impossible, at every stage, to anticipate the effects of University life and work on her disability effects. Only by experience, trial and error, could Megan find that, in fact, independence is better achieved by taking support when it is needed and finding ways of studying and living which are compatible with the constraints a disability imposes. The willing co-operation and understanding shown by Megan’s Personal Adviser, Teaching Office staff, the School assessment officer and other academics when extensions were required was essential in enabling Megan to progress through the year. Co-operation and information sharing are key to facilitating students’ careers.
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