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Student Experience Column: Disability services provide vital support to our university students

ByOlivia De Zilva

Nov 23, 2017

When I first started at university, I was completely lost, in every definition of the word. I found the experience completely overwhelming and found myself sinking down this strange, toilsome rabbit hole from which there was no escape.

I’m not ashamed to say that I have a long history with mental illness so coming to university was not easy. Toward the middle of the semester, I was all but ready to give up my dreams of being an academic when my tutors drew my attention to the Disability Service. Through this, I was able to find my feet at university and come to the realisation that there is no reason to suffer alone.

In honour of Disability History Month 2017, I want to stress the importance of these services on campus. Many are unaware or even ashamed about seeking help at such an extreme level. When people think of ‘disability’, a predominantly physical image comes to mind. However, this is not the case. the Disability Service works with people living with all sorts of impairments, whether it be physical, mental or anything else in-between. Living with depression can be excruciatingly hard, especially when slotting in a social life and balancing academic commitments. It can impair your concentration, your motivation and, worst of all, your ability to get things done. As a student, this is imperative.

When meeting with the Disability Service, I was able to obtain a plan catered to me which would give me extra time and help with completing assignments. With this burden off my back, I was able to come up from a 50 per cent average student to consistent first-class grades. Before being on the service, I never would have even dreamed of writing for publication due to me probably having dropped out of university all together.

After using the support provided by the Disability Service, I have had the courage to openly talk about my disability and realise that is it not a flaw in my character but rather the chemistry in my brain. I realised that it’s okay to talk about these things openly and that it shouldn’t be stigmatised, especially for young people who need that extra help. Additionally, because of my journey with the Disability Service, many of my friends have had the courage to access and research it for their own mental health, making campus a much more open and safer place.

In many ways, accessing the Disability Service changed my whole outlook on having a mental illness. I realised that many people suffered from the same issue as I did and that it shouldn’t define who I am. Working with the staff there, I found that it was important to tackle an issue like this head-on instead of hiding in the shadows. In my first appointment, I was shaking, ready to quit university and start a new life working my way up the fast-food ladder; however, by my final visit, my dreams of being an academic were slowly becoming more realistic and I was ready to take on second year like a pro.

As I am writing this, I am reflecting fondly on my journey so far. I am in a foreign country half way across the world, at a new university and on the cusp of another successful semester. If I owe my luck to anyone, it would be the Disability Service. I want to stress that through this service, I was able to grow as both a student and as a person. By having my own personalised plan catered to my needs, I could make university something that I enjoyed, rather than something to be feared. So, to everyone reading this who may think they need some extra help, don’t be afraid, there are plenty of us out there in all shapes and sizes.

Image: Dun_Deagh via Flickr

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