Kirsty Guilfoyle is a recent law graduate from Sheffield Hallam University, aspiring solicitor and has a long-term health condition called Myalgic Encephalomyelitis also referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Studying with a disability is difficult, but studying with an undiagnosed disability for over ten years was much harder. For me, receiving a diagnosis was the turning point where I could finally access treatment and support that made studying possible. Therefore, I utilised all that my university offered to disabled students on my return and, by working smarter, I went from barely being able to keep up to achieving a first!
Here’s a list of top tips for studying with a long-term health condition:
Inform the university Disability Support Service
They can help you apply for Disabled Student Allowance to provide funding for specialist equipment or a support worker. They could also put in place assistance in relation to your assessments, such as extending deadlines or deferring an exam if you suffer health complications.
Alternate forms of assessments
Your university may allow alternate forms of assessments to level out the playing field. For example, exams may not allow you to demonstrate your abilities if you cannot recite as much from memory or you become exhausted.
Find your way to a room beforehand if you use a wheelchair or scooter.
These can be invaluable tools on days where typing or writing is difficult. I was able to get one funded by DSA and given permission to record lectures so that I could take in information rather than struggle to keep up with notes.
Manage your time effectively, prioritise and stay organised
Creating a timetable for your lectures, seminars, homework and extra-curricular activity allows you to keep on top of deadlines and make time for REST. Also, if you’re unable to finish work or are unwell, you still have time to reschedule.
It also helps to set calendar reminders, alarms and making to-do lists beforehand to stay on top of work and extra-curricular activities. Breaking down and prioritising tasks on the to-do list helps you decide where to start and makes it seem less difficult to complete.
Maximise concentration and practice mindfulness
Work out the times when you are most alert or focused to do challenging work. I also used a ‘focus timer’ app on my phone which would time twenty minutes for studying, then a five minute break. I worked harder knowing when my break was and stopped me from getting distracted. Social media blockers help too!
Mindfulness is a brilliant way to enhance concentration and improve mental wellbeing for those who cannot exercise. Try the app ‘headspace’ which provides ten short introductory sessions for beginners.
Make use of all your university services
Make use of your university’s Careers and Employability Service to get advice relating to improving your CV, employment or volunteering opportunities, and let you know about any events or schemes aimed at disabled students.
If your university has a Wellbeing Service, it can be helpful to talk to someone if you are struggling, especially with mental health problems.
If you feel you are being treated differently or a policy disadvantages you because of your disability contact your Student’s Union
Software apps and other tools
University computers may have software specifically designed to help students with disabilities. I had one installed on my laptop that allowed me to create brightly coloured mind-maps to brain storm and really helped with planning assessments.
Microsoft Word Tools are useful too, the sort function rearranges your references alphabetically and a ‘speak’ feature reads your work back to you aloud to help you pick up on any mistakes.
Disability focused careers and campus events
Seek out careers and campus events as they are definitely worth attending to network with disability confident employers and to discuss any concerns. Many careers events are advertised on the MyPlus Students’ Club Events section. By attending these events you can also find out more information about work placement schemes for disabled students.
Apply to progressive employers who are committed to diversity, check out a whole range of disability confident employers from various industries including law and banking on the MyPlus Students’ Club Who We Work With employer directory.
Disclosing your disability and mitigating circumstances
This is ultimately a personal choice but doing so helps an employer to provide the adjustments you need to help you work. The Access to Work scheme can help fund the cost of these adjustments too. You can download the MyPlus Students’ Club guide on being open here. Find more helpful resources on the website here
As a result of winning the MyPlus Students’ Club monthly prize draw I spent the day at top law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. A recruitment assistant emphasized that if a grade has been impacted by a disability related reason, the ‘mitigating circumstances’ section should be used on application forms to explain this so that recruiters can understand. Download MyPlus Students’ Club guide on accounting for differences on your CV here.
Superpowers or ‘Your Plus’
And finally when applying for roles think about the desirable skills and attributes that you have developed due to your disability and demonstrate how you acquired these in applications. For example, mine are: