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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Resources] : Student Interviews


Name :
Anna Charles-Jones
Course :
Applied Community Studies
Year of study :
Level of study :
UCAS Disability code :
4 - you use a wheelchair or have other mobility difficulties


What route did you take into higher education - was it FE or 6th form college?

It was 6th form college and I did three A Levels. I had the option to stay at school but I decided to go to the local 6th form college. There was also the option of the tech. I could have gone to as well to do B. Tech or NVQ and those sorts of things.

At 6th form college was it a case of them saying that everyone applies to university who gets A Levels?

There was quite a strong emphasis on university, but obviously not everybody did. It was the norm, definitely, for everybody to apply. Certainly from my parents as well. I've never been pressurised to go to university but my parents have always encouraged me to go as far as I can within education. So they'll be pressurising me to do an MA next!

What sorts of information, and where did you get your stuff about the different universities you wanted to apply to? There are quite a few on the market aren't there?

Yes, but it was the student prospective one that I went through, alongside the UCAS book. Initially, it's quite complicated the way I got to university, initially I applied to do Criminology when I was in my final year of A Levels. At that stage I was expected to get three Cs and I then had - my best friend died and I was also in a car crash, which buggered my arm. That was five weeks before my exams, so I couldn't write for my exams. I did as well as I could and came out with a C and two Es. Prior to this my mum had told me to withdraw from UCAS, so I withdrew from UCAS in the April before my exams in the May.

Was that before the car crash, then?

It was around the same time. It was all very intermingled. I think the car crash was probably a week after I withdrew, something like that. So I withdrew and I had always planned to take a year out and I reapplied on my year out with my adjusted grades and, as a result, got unconditional offers, and at that stage I applied to do Community Studies to six, I think I applied to, and the one that I wanted was Edge Hill, and then they told me that they weren't doing the course. My second choice for some reason didn't do the course either. So I was then down to four. Then we decided to visit three of them, which were Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. I had this aim of getting as far away from home as possible so they were all up north, miles away from home. We visited three and Manchester was the first one we visited. Within five minutes I said, 'This is where I am coming.' My mum said, 'You've got to visit the other two.' So we went to the other two and there was no interest whatsoever. There was just something about Manchester - probably because I met Ann within the first five minutes.

It wasn't an Open Day or anything?

Yes it was an Open Day. I think that may have clinched it for me as well, because the others that I went to I just went on visits arranged with individual tutors, whereas I came to the proper Open Day here. It wasn't a disabled students' Open Day either, it was the bog standard Open Day.

How did you find out about Ann then?

She was in the foyer and she accosted me in the way that only Ann can. I walked straight in here, first thing on Open Day, and Ann walked up to me and said, 'Oh I can see you are in a wheelchair, have you decided to apply for your DSA ...' We've never looked back, really, and she often talks about that.

Did you get any support at your 6th form college?

I wouldn't have said that I received any specialist help over and above what my able bodied counterparts got. I am lucky enough to have Aunty June who is an OFSTED inspector and an ex-headmistress and so was very au fait with the UCAS system. I got a lot of support from her and from my mum, who is also an ex-teacher. So, as far as writing personal statements and doing all that bit, mum was very supportive all the way through. We sat for there for hours pouring over prospectuses and all the rest of it.

Did you get a personal assistant or anything like that while you were at 6th form college?

During my studies I had a support worker until I was 16 and then got all bolshy, as teenagers do, and said, 'I don't need a support worker any more.' So I did my A Levels on my own.

So you went off to a different college and did it differently. In the exams, the first time round, if you had a bad arm how did you do that?

I was able to write but I could only write for ten minutes and then I had to take a twenty minute break. So, I was lucky enough to have already got it set up because of my disabilities - my existing disabilities - that I was allowed as many rest breaks as I needed because of my Hydrocephalus - so I just went through as standard. I had 25% extra time and unlimited rest breaks and that is what I have always done my exams with.

Did that fit into the timetable? Presumably nothing was ever timetabled on the same day.

No, I don't think they did. I only had about four exams anyway for A Levels. I think they literally just put one on each day. I distinctly remember one of them taking several hours. It was about six or seven hours to do a three hour exam. As you can tell from my results, I was expected to get Cs and I got Es in two of the subjects, so it obviously did impact on it. I don't think I could really be bothered with it at that stage. I thought, 'I can't be bothered, I'm going to give up.' I just did what I had to and walked out.

But it didn't help because people would say you've got time to think because you get the extra time, whereas if you are in the pressure of two or three hour exams you have just got to write what comes into your head and when you get out you think, 'Oh no, I forgot about that, that and that!' I have a very short concentration span, so that didn't work. My concentration span has been narrowed down to about forty five minutes, and after that time my brain literally just switches off. If I'm looking at a question, I can look at it for forty five minutes and think, 'That's it.' You've got to get it in forty five minutes if you want my attention span. So, it's like starting a new one every forty five minutes. So, I don't think I actually benefited from the extra time. I think it put me on a par. I very rarely used all the extra time; it was the rest breaks I needed. But actually sitting in the exam writing I used to stick to my two or three hours or whatever.

In total you will have only done two or three hours?

Yes, actually sitting in the exam room, but it used to take me four or five hours including the rest breaks that I used to take. Especially if it was a boring exam. You'd do half the time on your academic work and then an equal amount on a cup of tea, or whatever.

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You know on the UCAS form, what information did you put there? It asks specifically about special needs/disability?

I was very open about it all the way. I think I put something along the lines of 'part time wheel chair user'. For some reason I was obsessed with halls when I was writing my UCAS form - 'I have to have an en suite room.' This was the point that I had to get across. There was very little I had to make them aware of on the UCAS form, from my point of view because I am so used to dealing with my disability anyway; I knew it would be no problem for me to walk in and say, 'I need this, this and this.'

I was already in contact with Ann. I can't remember it now, but apparently I contacted Ann in my first time round in UCAS, which was two years before I came here. I can't remember doing that but I know I was in contact with her a year before and I've stayed in very close contact all the way through. That was quite odd because we did a conference a while ago and she said, 'Did you realise, in your file it says 1998 you contacted me?' I didn't even apply until 1999!

It must have been that you did a lot of investigation.

Yes, I did do a lot of investigation; I can remember my mum saying, 'Phone this person and see what they do.' But there wasn't that much emphasis on learning support units - it was more phoning the tutors to see what they were like. I was much more obsessed with the tutors and whether they were nice people. If they were OK to chat with, you generally don't have a problem working out your extra needs, or whatever. So I used to spend hours on the phone to admissions tutors. I have absolutely no recollection of why I was contacting Ann that early.

Did you start applying for DSAs then, in the summer?

I think I kicked it all off in the April. It was very early. I had everything in place a week after I started my course, which as far as I know is a record! Because I was on my year out, I had my grades, I had unconditional offers, decided I was coming to Manchester and then immediately applied for DSA. I think it was about the April; Ann would be able to tell you exactly when it was, but I think it was April, before the summer, because I remember knowing from April that I was coming to Manchester, even though Manchester didn't know it yet. Once I had been here and had a look, that just made up my mind for me. I had the unconditional offer and so I just got everything into place.

Did you have an assessment done here, at Access Summit?

Yes, I came up for the Open Day. I then came up again for the Disabled Students' Open Day, I think it was, and that was at Didsbury where it was arranged just for disabled students down there. On the same day we arranged my Access Summit interview, assessment or whatever. So I actually had ... I think that would have been early summer - maybe the latter part of the summer term, I'm not sure. But yes, it was very early on and after that it just all slotted into place.

When you visited at Didsbury you must have been happy with the access to the buildings and so on?

There was a certain amount of 'Well I'll cope with it,' because it's only since I've come to university that we've got disability rights and we must have access and all the rest of it. Before it had been a case of, 'You will just cope with it,' and apparently, well I know there was a lift actually put in once they knew I was coming, at Didsbury. Apparently my course tutor argued the case for getting a lift in one of the buildings down in Didsbury. That was because of myself and another disabled student, both chair users who were coming in that year. So once I got there the access had already improved a little bit. As a result of me getting a Disabilities Officer position in the Students' Union they are constantly asking me questions and they know that if they mess up they will have all hell to pay and they are very good, generally.

My lecturers are all aware that, if they can, they need to schedule on the ground floor. It doesn't always work and we work around it. There was only one module that was a complete mess up, which was computers. It was when they were re-doing the library at Didsbury and there was no access to the computer suite for disabled students. They completely forgot this and I was none too pleased when I had to get out of bed at 8.30 one morning to get into university to be told to go home. But, because I am OK on computers anyway, instead of having the whole module I had about three hours tuition with a member of staff on a one-to-one basis and that brought me up to speed. So, generally, I do everything the same as everybody else, but on that one occasion I did get special tuition, which doesn't bother me. Some people have a problem with 'special lessons', but it doesn't bother me at all. I got the feeling that I knew more than the tutor did when we actually got into it and I realised how simple the stuff was, because my computer skills were already all right.

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On the course

Just tell me about on the course in lectures and so on, do you get any additional support?

Yes. I started off floundering and then agreed to use a dictaphone. Decided that the dictaphone was far too much like hard work because it took me three hours every night to transcribe everything and once I discovered pubs and clubs that went out of the window. Since the end of my first year I have been using a note take, who is actually a friend of mine as well, which gets over the issue of having somebody in the class with you. She has been introduced to all my friends. Everybody knows exactly why she is there and that they can't buy notes off her and all the rest of it.

Is she on the same course?

No, she's a professional note taker. She also does my personal care as well, so she is just like an all round person for me. She just comes in and takes my notes and I work from her notes and that works really well. I still sit there and actually contribute to the lecture - if anything I actually talk more than I used to because before I was trying to scribble down and stretch my hands and scribble a bit more. Now, because I am not actually taking the notes I can contribute to the debate more than I used to - and at the same time I am not missing out on my notes. So that is really good. I'm still getting used to the little abbreviations she uses!

Obviously you need handouts, like any other student, but you don't need lecturers to give you transcripts because you have got a note taker.

On the couple of occasions that I have not had Ally with me, I have asked for course notes but I have never had any success. But my friends, because I find myself lucky not being like a dyslexic student who has a hidden disability, everybody can see my disability and therefore everyone seems willing to help. So on those few occasions I've just got hold of my friends' notes and just photocopied them. So I've never really missed out in that sense. But yes it has been a problem sometimes when I've asked for lecturers' notes. They must be like the Crown Jewels or something because they just won't give them up for anybody.

Is it the same in seminars and so on? Do you take the note taker there?

Yes, we just call them all lectures; we don't tend to differentiate and she comes into lectures with me - which at the moment is two lectures a week - that's it. I think I do four hours at the moment, which is pretty cool. I think it goes up to six next time.

I was going to say, if you get such an amount of extra time for examinations, does that apply to assignments? It is going to cause you difficulties trying to write essays, isn't it?

I'm OK on the computer, this is the thing. So, on the computer I seem to be fine. I perfected typing one-handed and now I have the use back of my hands if very rarely causes me a problem any more. The reason I still have a note taker is because of my concentration lapses. Ally looked at my notes and said, 'Well, you can write OK that the notes that you take are a mess because you can tell when you are daydreaming. So I still have her for that reason, but my hand isn't really a problem any more, and never has been because I used to type one-handed. I was relatively quick anyway. So I have always just done my assignments. I have been given extensions in the past but it has been extraordinary circumstances rather than just my disability. Well the last one was that I had a bad placement in January this year. A really, really, bad placement and I exhausted myself just trying to keep going with the shift work and I also couldn't do my research which was supposed to be for my practise dissertation, which just happened to be something like 50% of my second year mark. I went to my lecturers, who were brilliant about it and they gave me an extension until the end of the summer from April. So I got a six month extension to enable me to go and do another piece of research. So I didn't do as well as I hoped to in the second year. But at the end of the day it's not the biggest - it's now that is the biggy. So I'm not so worried about that. But I have had extensions in the past. That was the biggest - six months; quite a major extension. It meant I got no summer.

How did the lecturers on the course find out? Is there a communication system whereby, 'We've got a student with a disability coming on this course,' therefore everybody knows suddenly and ... or did you have to go and inform them?

I have generally always used my wheelchair, so there is always immediately that thing that you can see that I am disabled. I actually make a point of using my wheelchair in these surroundings. It is a subconscious safety mechanism that I do. Every time I go to a new place I will purposefully use my wheelchair, even if I don't really have to, just because I want people to be aware of the fact that I do have a disability. It is also fairly obvious when I walk. As far as the very first time they found out that I was disabled, I can't remember. I can remember going to see them, possibly on the Open Day, or maybe the disabled student's thing, I can't remember. I think it was actually both, because I remember, on both occasions, or certainly one I remember, one of my lecturers sat down with me for an hour and a half. I'm fairly sure that I sat down with two of them previously, which would have been at the Open Day. I've only got a teaching staff of six or eight so that solved a lot of the problems first off because they are a very small team, they all have their offices on one corridor and they are always bobbing in and knocking on each others door. It's very friendly on the course. They have also got a very small number of students. It's a maximum intake of forty five. So it is more like a classroom style. For that reason you get your face known very quickly.

I remember talking to people at Open Day and sitting down and discussing, although as far as I remember that was more to do with the course than my disability. I also remember a week before my course started - because I moved into halls two weeks, for some reason, before my course started - God knows why. But a week before the course started I went to see Mike, my course leader and sat down and said, 'This is what my disability means and how it affects me,' and all the rest of it, 'Please pass this information onto everybody else.' No problems at all. They know that if I need the loo - I need the loo now, and I just run out of the classroom. They know that if I am sitting there daydreaming, it's nothing offensive, it's just part of my disability. And there are just a couple of others who are absolute buggers because they will ask me questions intentionally because they know that I am daydreaming! But they have been brilliant.

Are OK about disclosing and so on?

No problems at all. I've never had any problems at all.

You've not had any problems with any of the lecturers?

Not really. There is one lecturer who can't get her head round the fact that I have a note taker who isn't a student, constantly trying to get Ally involved in class discussions and things like this, 'Why aren't you saying anything, Miss Rivers?' 'Because I am a professional and I am sitting here doing my job, which is to listen and take notes.' 'But you should be taking part in the discussion.' No she shouldn't. Ally will take a reading book in and if we go off and do group work, she will just sit and read a book. My lecturer cannot get her head around the fact that Ally is a professional and not a student - it doesn't make sense to her. 'But you sit and take notes?' 'Yes, it's my job to take notes - it's not my job to take part in the discussion of the group.' Then five minutes later she says, 'Would you like one of these?' 'No.' As far as that is concerned I've never had any real problems. My lecturers have always been great. I had one spell of illness in my first year, during which I was off for quite a long time - probably about three weeks, and I had lecture notes e-mailed to me and I had the assignment dates e-mailed to me. I hadn't missed anything by the time I got back.

Did you send Ally in to take notes then?

She wasn't working for me then. She has never actually gone in when I haven't been there; just purely because ... well I don't know, I'm good friends with Ally as well, which muddies the waters a bit. No, she would go in for me if I was ill. She won't go in for me if I've got a hangover.

Not if it's your own fault.

No, she says, 'It's your own bloody fault that you've got a hangover. Now, are we going to work or are we not?' She'll turn up at the door and I'll say, 'Oh, I've just got out of bed.' She'll say, 'Oh well, what are we doing? Do you want me to clean your house instead of going to lectures?' and things like that. We work around it, but she refuses point-blank to go unless I'm on my deathbed. I have no problem with that although I might moan and grumble about it.

You know at the Access Summit interview, you get a learning agreement or a report. How has that been implemented?

I can't remember exactly what it said. From memory, I don't think a lot of it was implemented, but at the same time I think a lot of it was irrelevant. I'm happy with the way that I have been dealt with and if I have ever needed anything I have only had to ask - from my university lecturers' point of view. The learning plan, I think, was a bit too over the top. I didn't need as much as it said I needed. So, therefore I would have kicked up a fuss if it had been implemented. I would have said, 'You are trying to treat me different' I'm quite happy with the way it has gone but I don't think we've stuck to the learning plan!

What would you say about the overall support of the university for disabled students?

Are you trying to get me killed?

You have obviously had a reasonably good experience yourself on your own course.

Yes, I have had a very good, positive experience - I have been lucky. I think the attitude towards disabled people I would say is generally very good. I don't think I have come across people who have said to me, 'I've had bad comments.' or 'I've been bullied.' or anything like that. People generally seem to be very supportive. If anything, it pisses me off that people keep opening doors for me. Can I not open them myself? They are very kind, but that is what gets me in the end. I want to open the door myself; I'd quite like to open the door. No problems attitude-wise. There is always going to be the one of ignorance, in the nicest possible way. That's a very hard one to combat. There is still ignorance, but it is purely that and it's not a nasty thing that they should be blamed for.

I think, from very recent experience - I'm talking of a case with very recent clients, I'd say the Learning Support Unit does a very good job. I don't think students appreciate what that job is. I don't think they are as aware as they should be of the services that you offer. There are still a lot of problems in the wider university. A lot of problems. Lecturers just not knowing their heads from their bottoms! They are still making a lot of very silly comments. I can't see how they can possibly be thinking about their actions because they are just blatantly going so far the wrong way. But, again, that's an education thing. It will change with time. People are going to be made to stop doing certain things. It's just going to be a case of time. But, yes, some of the lecturers. Smaller campuses seem to be better, from my experience. You may have different experiences but I seem to find that if you have got a student who is on a smaller course they are less likely to experience problems.

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Just to go on to assessments in terms of examinations at university. Is it the same situation as the arrangements that you had for A Levels (see pre entry details)?

Yes, I've carried those through. I get 25% extra time and unlimited and un-timed rest breaks and for that reason I generally sit my exams in a separate room. I usually go in one of the lecturers' offices.

I was going to say, how do they work out how much time you've spent in the room?

They trust me. Hand on heart, I stick by it. I have no desire to cheat. No desire to cheat whatsoever - that's never been an issue. But it's quite good sometimes. That is the one time that I think I notice that I am set apart from the other students. Because, number one, I'm in there for longer, and, number two, I'm in a completely different place. That can be quite odd sometimes because the rest of the time I literally do what everybody else does. That is the one time that it is highlighted that I am different. On the other hand, they are great. I still have the same rules about what I can take into the exam room with me.

So you don't use a computer?


What was the problem with that?

I've just never done it, so I've always been more comfortable writing by hand. I nearly considered it for my A Levels. Then they decided that - I don't know whether it was a cock and bull story or not, but they came up with a story, something like a week before my exams, that was something along the lines that if you are not used to using somebody transcribing what you are saying you won't get it right. I was thinking that I think what I am going to write when I write it with my hands so why can't I think it and say it and somebody write it down. But, that didn't work. I think if I had used it then I still may have used it now.

Are you talking about using a computer or a scribe?

Well, a scribe or a computer. I've considered using a computer but I think that will possibly put me at an unfair advantage because I am so quick. I was a PA during my year out. I was PA to a Company Director and I am quick. Literally, I've got the potential to write a thousand word essay when everybody else is writing 600 or 700 words.

Well, maybe they could give you less time!

No, no. I'm quite happy just writing. My essays are usually slightly shorter than other people's but I hopefully go for quality, not quantity. My marks don't seem to differ that greatly to other people. I could use a computer. Having sat in, because on one occasion last year there was a third year student who was disabled and I sat in the same room as her - they had all the disabled students in one room with one invigilator, and she was using a computer and I found it very off-putting. Tap, tap tap, while you are trying to write. I suppose I could use one. It's been offered to me. It's there if I want it. I've just never really felt the need. My arm tends to go through a funny patch about two weeks before the exam. They reckon it's just a nervous thing of it giving up. I always say to Mike, the course leader, 'Can I just have a computer on standby?' But I've never actually used it. The option is always there but I prefer to write if I can. I think it's the bloody-minded thing again - I will write because everybody else does.

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How many placements are you doing on this course?

One a year. Three weeks in the first year and six weeks in the second and third - so I've just done my third year placement.

Where have they been and have there been any issues around access or anything like that?

No, not really, because I am a bit of an ignorado when it comes to admitting that I have got a disability, so I just damn well walked. My first two placements were both mental health in community homes and I never let it really show. I exhausted myself in the process, but I'm just bloody-minded, as my mother would say. You just walk.

Did you go and check them out first with the placement tutor to try and get it as accessible as possible?

No, it never really occurred to me because if I desperately want to do a job I'm not going to let my disability stand in the way. So there is no reason why I should let that stand in the way of a placement either. So I was just downright bloody minded and said, 'I want to go and do a mental health placement - offer me a mental health placement and I'll take it.' As it was, because it is in welfare and social care and all the rest of it, they are generally very good. Apart from my last placement which was very, very bad.

What was wrong?

They had me dashing around like a blue-arsed fly all the time. Very long shifts - you did doubles, which was thirteen hours without a break. I shouldn't have been doing it; they shouldn't have been doing it. But because I am there, apparently the rules of the placement state that you should try and get a feel for what the other members of staff are supposed to be doing. So I did a couple of thirteen hours and it just knocked me flat. I got a kidney infection and a sort throat and all the rest of it. I went back to uni. a complete mess and saying, 'Oh I haven't got my research done.' But the university was absolutely brilliant and you can't fault them. They've been absolutely ace - all my lecturers. So, a great help.

Was there a substantial amount of paperwork in any of your placements at all? If so, what did you do? Did you use a PC?

I had, if we take this last place as an example, I was at the Trafford Centre doing a large scale research, whereby I had to take a questionnaire to every single shop in the Trafford Centre. I designed my questionnaire so that I could do it. I designed it so that you just tick boxes and I can tick boxes - it's writing prose that gets me. So I had 28 tick boxes on each questionnaire and I used to go and rattle off 20 or 30 in a day with no problem at all. I've never really had to do any writing of prose whilst on placement, by hand. I'll either write a note and then go and type it up on the computer at night, or something of that description. I've never actually had to sit down - it's like my mum still will write letters to people, she hates using the computer. But that is the one thing that hurts. Half a page of A4 and my arm is just killing, so I always use a computer and she hates it. All the Christmas and birthday letters are done in bulk on the computer. I just sit and read through them to check that they are all different!

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Career Aspirations

Now, moving on to careers and so on. Have you started looking around at all? Do you know what you might go into?

This first year out of uni. I'm hoping to get elected to the Students' Union, which will buy me some time. I'm already Disabilities Officer - non-sabbatical. If you are a sabbatical you get a wage and you work full time - but you have to be elected to do that. So I'm going in for election in March, I think it will be. I don't know what I'm going to go for. I'm just going to go for a job that is available.

But the Disabilities Officer won't be a sabbatical?

No. Maybe it will be Equal Opportunities Office, but it will be something different. If that doesn't work, all hell will break loose, quite honestly, because I have no idea. There are lots of things that I could do.

What does it mean you are into if you are doing Applied Community work - what sorts of things could you do?

Anything. I could be a teacher; I could go and work for the police; I could go and work in mental health with any sort of disability. My last placement was actually with the RNID at the Trafford Centre, with guide dogs, so from that I could possibly apply for a job at the Trafford Centre.

So, is that an area that you might want to go into?

Maybe. I thought mental health was my calling but having had the really bad placement I am going to have to think very carefully before I go back into mental health. It was nothing to do with the clients - it was the people I was working with. Just the internal politics at the agency - I didn't agree with it at all. Their idea of helping people with mental health problems wasn't my idea of helping people with mental health problems. So, I may still go for mental health work, but there are also a million other things that I can do. Like I said, the Trafford Centre, RNID Guide Dogs - any big charity like that. I'll find something. I'm not worried.

With some students, particularly dyslexic students, disclosure and issues around that when they go into employment ...

If they don't want me, I don't want them - it's as simple as that.

Disclosure is an interesting one. I generally don't have a problem with disclosing. If I thought that it would put me at a disadvantage at the CV stage, I would probably miss it out. But there would be one all hell to pay if they kicked up a fuss later on, because there is no reason for it. I am not the sort of person that applies for a job that I can't do. It makes it hard work for me and it makes it hard work for everybody else. I know my limits and I stick by them and if people can't acknowledge that then that won't work for me.

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Three tips for lecturers

Can you think of three tips to give to lecturing staff that would help the student?

Number one: talk to the student; they know what they need. Also I think it is important, again going back to this ignorance thing, pussyfooting around disability. I don't think lecturers are always honest when it comes to the academic standard of work. I think they give you a little bit of leeway because you are disabled, and you don't want that, you want to get a degree. I've had it in the past a couple of times. They will say, 'Oh well, you've only got such and such percent, but don't worry.' I'm saying, 'Why don't worry.'

So you are not saying ... 'I gave you something because I understand.'?

No, it's more like they've marked it honestly but they don't push you and they don't pick you up on the fact that you only got such and such, because you have got so much more on your mind. You are there because you want to do a degree. If they are not going to pick you up, then they are wrong.

The other thing I'd say to lecturers is to use the resources that are available within the university. I'm available, the Learning Support Unit is available - ask us if you have got any problems. There are a lot of lecturers who think they can do it on their own and quite spectacularly can't. But yes, just use the resources that are available, because there are a lot of people who eventually get round to phoning me and say, 'Do you know about such and such who is on my course?' I'll say, 'Yes, I've seen this person on several occasions and passed back the message for you to phone me if you need any help and you haven't. Now why didn't you do this six months ago, because it would have saved everybody an awful lot of time?' And they just won't do it; they can't find the link. There are a lot of resources available if people would only use it. It's the same for students.

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Other issues

On accommodation: were the halls OK in the first year? You've moved out now, is that right?

Yes. First year I was in Cambridge Halls, which were billed as being 'absolutely fantastic'. I moved in and my shower flooded, which was a great fiasco and which is probably still going on. There were eleven of them and they all flooded. That was very upsetting for me - not knowing quite how to sort it all out. On the phone to my mum and all the rest of it. All sorts of things happened there. It was generally a good year. I enjoyed being at Cambridge because it was so central. That was how I got involved in the Students' Union and that has carried on now I've moved away from the city. It was just ultra-convenient and being in halls was a great experience because, having a disability, you are less likely to make friends. It is more difficult to make friends. I was very luck to get nine flatmates, who had no problem with my disability whatsoever. They actually thought it was quite good that I had a car and could take them to Asda on a Saturday, but that's another story. But it was a good experience living in halls.

I didn't enjoy my second year in halls at all. I felt too old for it. I wanted to go to bed at 12 o'clock and everybody was just coming in from the pub and starting their radios up. Not my cup of tea at all in the second year. Towards, by about Christmas last year, I had already started looking for a flat. Everybody said, 'You won't be able to live on your own - you'll have to do this, you'll have to do that.' I said, 'I'm going on my own. I just want my own place and I don't want to share.' Everybody was going, 'You are absolutely bloody mad - you'll fall over, you'll do this and that.' Yes, I have fallen over and clocked my head and stubbed my toe and all the rest of it, fine. I found the flat through Manchester Student Homes.

Are there any adaptations to it?

No. It's ground floor and I've had things done to it since. It's just the way I've furnished it, really. Because I moved in and I had nothing. I didn't even have a bed and it was an unfurnished flat. I moved in and I've had to buy everything for it, but I've bought very carefully and I've also arranged my furniture very carefully so I have got things to grab on to when I am walking around. I have a stool in my kitchen that my dad has cut down the legs off so that it's the right height. I'd got this blooming bar stool and I'm only five foot two and I couldn't even get on the damn thing so we chopped the legs down. And I've got the stool in the kitchen, so I can either sit down when I am doing the washing up or preparing food.

I got myself an occupational therapist who was fantastic. She really did a good job with me. She's got me a seat to go in the shower and then all these little tiny things that nobody knows about. I've got a great big chunky handle on the vegetable peeler because I managed to stab one of the kitchen cabinets one day, which was quite funny. I was peeling vegetables and I insist on doing everything with my right hand, which doesn't work properly. I was peeling vegetables and just flung it across the room and it just stuck in the side of a kitchen cabinet and I just sat there and looked at it because I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I just looked at this great big dent in the side of my kitchen cupboard. She's got me a great big serrated handled grip for that. She's got me jar openers and some sort of special plastic stuff that you put on a surface so that when you are mixing it holds the bowl still. Just little tiny things like that that make the world of difference. Before that I was having my meals prepared for me a lot of the time, unless it was something very simple.

In the halls?

Yes, I've always had care. Well, I say 'always'. This is another story that I have to tell you. I got to Christmas of my first year and had a conversation with my mum, 'I can't cope ...' and all this. In a very nice way I was given an ultimatum. This was a Friday and she said, 'If you haven't got carers by Monday, you are coming home for good. It's for your own good.' I had carers by Saturday. It was Hannah, who lived in the room opposite me in the halls. She started assisting with my laundry, cooking, shopping.

A lot of the problems that I have is with lifting and carrying things. So, shopping bags and things like that are still a bit of an issue down at the flat. I have to bring one bag at a time, or I have to make sure that somebody is coming down that evening who can pop out to the car and get my shopping in for me. But things generally sit in my car for days and days and days until somebody just happens to be walking past who can get something out of the car for me. I've built up a relationship with Sainsburys in Fallowfield. They recognise me every time I walk in. They will pack my bags up for me and actually carry them to the car, which is brilliant and just means that I've got to sort out how to get it back into the house and the other end. So it's pretty much sorted. But I still use care now and that's two years now.

One other thing - you work as the Disability Officer in the Student Union?


What is the general attitude of the student population to disability?

There are some funny stories .... just the general ones of, 'Does she take sugar?' and all the rest of it. I've seen it; some of the silly things that people say. One of the interesting ones that annoys me is that people seem to think that they need to push you up hills. You're going along quite happily and they just come up to you and they don't even ask you, and they start pushing the back of the wheelchair. I'm like, 'Excuse me, get off me!' Then I start rolling backwards. There are still some people out there who have a very weird idea of what it is to be in a wheelchair and will just start grabbing you and pushing you all over the place. You're saying, 'Excuse me, but I wanted to go that way,' and 'Do I know you?' I had a very funny one the other day. I was in the Students' Union bar and for some reason, when you are in a wheelchair, everyone thinks that they know you. You are like a celebrity. I'm sitting there .... this guy came up to me and - number one he was seriously off it. We were having a perfectly normal conversation about my job as Disabilities Officer and the comment, 'So sex is out of the question?' came into the equation, which just completely threw me. People, for some reason that when you are disabled you are desperate for sex - that's quite a common one that comes up: 'You can't possibly have experienced it before, so just because I'm obviously desperate, then you must be desperate as well.' I don't know how that one works. The other one was somebody who I have never seen before in my life came up to me - and it's a nice thing to do but gets annoying when you have ten or twenty in a night, 'Just like to wish you a happy New Year.' Like, 'Do I know you? Have I ever seen you before in my life? Are you going to wish happy New Year to my friends who are standing on their legs, no you are just going to say it to me? And they do, 'I just wanted to come up and say 'hello' to you. Always the opposite sex. I assume it must happen to blokes in wheelchairs from able-bodied women. I don't know. Very interesting, though. There are some great ones. I get told off for speeding - that's quite a common one.

The other one that really annoys me is when - you know when dumper trucks are reversing, and the noise that they make? All of my friends have started imitating that noise when I reverse out of the lift. Not funny! It's funny the first time, but when you've got six or seven people, all at different points throughout the day, 'Bing, bong; vehicle reversing, bing bong; vehicle reversing,' every time you get out of the lift, it's not funny any more.

It is, like people coming and wishing you happy Christmas and happy New Year and all the rest of it. He must have been one of about fifteen people - and that's quite a few when you are only there about two hours. It's not like it was a big night out; I was just having a quiet drink.

Are they drunk?

No, they are not drunk; they've had a couple so they are a little bit merry; they've just lost their inhibitions a little bit. The other absolute classic - I really wanted to slap this guy so hard - that's the other problem with being in a wheelchair - I can. I'm sorry to say I've done it a couple of times and done damage, because you only have to punch once. This one guy came up to me - and I was out in a club - he came up to me and said, 'I just want to thank you for what you are doing.' I said, 'Excuse me?' He said, 'I think it's absolutely wonderful what you are doing; showing the world that just because you are in a wheelchair, it doesn't stop you from going out and having fun; and these kind people that have brought you out.' I thought, 'OK, I've got a taxi here on my own and I'm getting a taxi home on my own.' I really wanted to smack him for that. Wow! Very weird, people out there.

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