Attending university has been a truly character-defining experience for me, particularly in regard to my disability. When I first accepted my offer to attend the University of Manchester, I was nervous but incredibly excited. My college helped me to arrange a DSA assessment and I was positively surprised by how willing they were to accommodate my mental health issues. Unfortunately, I was soon to be disillusioned: I found the transition from home to university was a shock to my system for which I had very little support, and the workload soon began to pile on. Nonetheless, I found the course content enriching, and the freedom of university life to be so empowering compared to how suffocating I had felt living at home.

“My college helped me to arrange a DSA assessment and I was positively surprised by how willing they were to accommodate my mental health issues.”

My mental health began to spiral in first year, and my physical health diminished with it- for the first time in my life, I was physically disabled, and I didn’t know how to come to terms with this when I had previously been so full of energy, and ready to take on the world. The university made me undertake an Occupational Health Assessment and I was told to return home before I completed first year, for my mental health. It turns out that this was the reverse of what I needed, as undertaking my examinations with the additional pressures in the summer meant that I felt more alienated and lost. When I returned back to university in second year, I was severely unwell and had been hospitalised as an inpatient but was on a 17-month waiting list to access mental health services. At this point, I approached the university for support, but realised that I had already been given most of what they were willing to offer me and was very much left to my own resources to navigate my wellbeing alongside my academia.

“I volunteered as the Disability representative for the feminist society and began to meet people like me. I learned so much about myself, and in finding a community of disabled people I would never previously have approached”

Despite this, I came out on top, and managed to stay enrolled in university. In my third year, I volunteered as the Disability representative for the feminist society and began to meet people like me. I learned so much about myself, and in finding a community of disabled people I would never previously have approached, I have gained so much confidence and so many friends. I graduated with a first-class degree, to my credit, undertook a Masters in a subject I loved and became one of the two Disabled Students Officers for the university, also undertaking a part time job as an advisor in a mental health programme. This has all by no means been easy, and the lack of any tangible support from the university for its disabled cohort during the pandemic has been frankly astounding, but I am working hard in my roles to make change, something I now feel confident to pursue. I know what accommodations I am entitled to, and feel more empowered in myself than I ever have. Maybe one day I’ll even pursue a PhD- who knows?”