How Your College or University Can Help When You Are Chronically Ill

by Jen McGregor

Jen Studying

Hello again SecuriCare Blog Readers!

I imagine some of you will be heading in or back to education after the summer and as I’ll be starting my seventh year of studying, I thought I’d share some tips! …And also a few things I wish I had known when I started higher education. I really hope you find this useful and it helps ease the worry about how you can attend your course and get the most out of it.

Before You Apply

You can contact the disability services at any institution of your choice to see what assistance they offer. I contacted a number of different colleges before I decided where to attend. The disability departments were able to give me advice on how accessible their buildings were and they provided me with maps highlighting the lifts and disabled toilets. Even though I didn’t have my ostomy at the time I applied for college, they were still extremely supportive. They exist to make things as easy as possible for you whilst you study.

When the time came for me to apply to university, I’d just heard I was due surgery to form my ostomy and remove my large intestine. So I was even more nervous to attend because not only would I have my ostomy, I would be recovering from major surgery! It was very important for me to find the right university.

This led to frequent visits to the disability services department of my top choices and I was given tours of the facilities, along with access to both paper and online maps. This helped me decide which university had the right course and the right support. The main reason I chose my university (The University of Strathclyde) was because they had an extremely accessible campus - each building had lifts and disabled toilets and I was also given a free parking permit and pass so I could park right outside any building I needed to. This was a huge help as a student with a limited income because parking in Glasgow City Centre costs £0.60 per 12 minutes!

Many other things can be provided depending on your individual needs – you’ll likely have an assessment to help with this. Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is a key thing to apply for and the disability services department should be able to help you navigate the process. 

When You’re Accepted

Contact the disability services to arrange your DSA application as soon as you’ve accepted a place on a course. DSA is a grant that covers any additional study needs you might have because of your disability or chronic health condition. In my case we discussed my health appointments which can affect my attendance at university so part of my DSA went towards the recording of my lectures - paying for a dictaphone and funding the cost of hiring someone to arrange the recordings.

The next step is to acquire medical evidence from your hospital or GP such as a letter outlining your health condition. This can be used when requesting reasonable adjustments or making an appeal to the exam board – be sure to save a copy to your computer!

Next step; planning for exams – if your course has them! The disability services will help you work out if you need adjustments for exams so they can be taken with as little stress as possible. The options could include sitting exams in a small room with fewer students or taking the exams alone. This is my preferred set up as I can be in a room beside a toilet and not have to worry about having a bag leak and disturbing others, and additional time is added to the exam to make up for any breaks.

Another option is to have alternative assessments, which I take advantage of when I have a surgery or hospital admission. This means that instead of attending the university or college for exams you can get an assignment to do at home. In my experience this has been an extended essay and I was given a set time to complete and submit it.

When You Start Classes

My biggest tip for attending higher education with a chronic illness is to get help with extensions or deadlines. You can use the copy of your medical letter to send to your lecturers or tutors if you are struggling as they should be able to extend deadlines and support you with coursework.

Another tip: I like to introduce myself to my course tutors as I find it beneficial to let them know I might get sick or have a bag leak which means I have to leave suddenly, so they don’t draw attention to me. I learned that trick after putting off leaving while on a course of antibiotics and my tutor wasn’t aware of my condition so I ended up being sick in a bin! Trying to explain it to them afterwards was really awkward.

I also sometimes let my lecturers know about my disability if I email them a question or ask for clarification I could have got in the lecture but was unable to attend so that they know I’m not skipping lectures for fun, or because I’m hungover!

During Your Studies

The college or university can help with things throughout your course of study, if something new crops up just be sure to tell them about it. They can also help you appeal against an assignment or exam result if your condition caused you to struggle. It could mean you get another attempt at the coursework or exam which isn’t classed as a re-sit. It could also mean you have compensation - extra marks or a reduced pass grade to help you gain the result you deserve, but this will vary by institution.

Extra financial help may be granted by your university if they offer a discretionary fund. This was a huge help to me the year my partner and I were going through fertility preservation, as we had to pay for it ourselves privately. We used our student loans to pay for the fertility preservation so didn’t have much else to survive on! Thankfully our universities helped us by reimbursing us two thirds of our study expenses so we actually had money to live on and we will be forever grateful for it. 

Don’t forget; your college or university is there to help you get the most from your experience and to help you develop the skills and knowledge to get into your chosen career field. All you have to do is ask for assistance and they should do everything they can to help. Also don’t forget that the disability services are your friend and it’s important to keep in contact with them so you get the best student experience possible!

Good luck to any chronically ill students out there – I wish you a healthy and successful year!

About the author

I'm Jen, I've had Crohn's Disease for more than 10 years and have a permanent ileostomy. I love all things fashion, animals and travelling. I'm also a student, a vlogger, and I have a dream to bring my adaptable clothing line CrohnieClothing to the masses.

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