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DEMOS Project

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


Please note : This student wishes to remain anonymous. Therefore where ever possible we have removed the names of any persons involved, as well as details of the university and the course. These have been replaced and can be seen between brackets.

Name :
Year of study :
Level of study :
UCAS Disability code :
4 - wheelchair user or other mobility difficulties


Can you explain what route you came through to get to university?

I did a GNVQ in HND Computing for two years at (name of college)College and finished that and applied to university.

Can you explain what the support system was at (name of college) College where you were studying. What sorts of support you got in the classroom.

In the first year I started off with a couple of support workers to help me out though the day - all full time. Then the second year it gradually went and I didn't have many at all, only now and again in lectures when I needed notes taken.

So they were taking notes for you?

Yes. In the second year there weren't really that many lectures that needed notes taking and it was not a big group and I knew everybody in my class. The lecturers were good as well, they helped me round the building, so I just got round by myself eventually.

How did you use the computers?

I had a mini keyboard, which I would get a friend or a lecturer or a note taker to attach.

How did you go about doing your assignments?

I had a laptop so I could do it at home or at college.

How did you find out about university? What sort of careers advice and systems did you have at the College for finding out about university?

It's pretty simple, I went to (name of university)which is one of the four universities and went to the careers office at the college and she was really helpful and helped me to apply on the UCAS form and we did it in our tutorial groups as well and went to visit the universities and talked to the disability advisors. I got a lot of information on the DSA from the careers lady.

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Did you apply to all four universities or were you only getting the information?

I actually only applied to (name of university) and (name of university) in the end.

Did you visit all four?

No. I didn't visit (name of university).

Was it just disability offices that you went to see, or did you go and find stuff about courses.

Yes, I started off going to find stuff about the courses and then, while we were there on the Open Days we were able to see the disability advisors.

Do you remember on the UCAS application forms there is a section about disability. Can you remember whether you put a lot of information in there?

No, I just said I was a wheelchair user and needed full time support and note taking. That was all I put down.

What happened next, after you got the UCAS form in, what was the procedure?

When I found I had got a place I had to go for the DSA, find out how to do all that, getting in touch with the disability advisors at the universities and go and see them, asking them what they offered.

Once you got your UCAS form in, was it a case of the universities inviting you in at that stage?

No, it was me making appointments to see them, and the careers woman actually helped me do this.

To discuss support and so on?


Did you get to see any of the course or department tutors to find out information, or were you still visiting the disability offices?

We did see one Open Day at (name of university), and that was all course related so we looked around the building and talked to some of the tutors. But at (name of university) I didn't really talk to any of the tutors.

So you didn't know much about (name of university) when you came, would I be right in saying that?

Not about the course, more about the equalities and they way they could help me out.

So, were you accepted pretty much from your qualifications from the application form?


Did both universities accept your application?

The (name of university) didn't but (name of university) did.

Do you know why? Was it just to do with your qualifications?

I don't really know why, because it is a bit of a dodgy area. My tutors thought that they could not have refused me for my grades, because they were the best in the group. So, they thought it could have been for the support need. When we went to see them they weren't very helpful in that way and said they would need to make some adaptations.

Was this the people on the course or the disability adviser?

The disability adviser. I think there was a lot going on at that time and she was leaving or had only just arrived or something like that.

Were you applying to the same course

No, when I originally applied here it was a three year degree, but because I was off ill after I left college, I decided to come back and do 2 + 2.

So it was a personal choice and it extends it slightly. You were telling me about DSAs. Explain what that was all about and at what stage you had to start sorting that out.

We didn't really know anything about it at the beginning, apart from that we could get some funding for equipment and a note taker. The first person to tell us the most about this was when we came to (name of university) and he gave us some leaflets and how to apply for it - and what you could get. But he wasn't the most helpful person, he really went off into his own way but wasn't really very much use to us in the end.

What role was that person in?

He was a disability adviser. We went to see him, a few of my tutors went with me as well. He said you get so much money and you had to apply for it but it would take a while and you probably won't get a support worker, there wouldn't be enough money so you would have to apply for more funding to get a note taker. You would probably have to have a big campaign with your MP to get money. So we came back to college a bit confused and not quite sure what to do. This continued and I think, in the end, we got in touch with the LEA who told us how to do it. You need to go for an assessment, I didn't really know much about that. I think we applied for the assessment through the LEA and it was quite a while before the assessment came out and I'd started college by then.

What does the assessment entail?

That's just for what equipment and support you will need. They come and interview you and you tell them what your needs are and then they recommend to the LEA how many hours you need and the equipment you will need for your course.

Where did you have it done?

The LEA sent me out a form which I filled in and I needed to get a doctor's note and other notes to go in it. And it had to be signed by (name of university) as well. Then we arranged with (name of access centre)for an assessment and then they just came out. It was quite a while. I was meant to start university but I had no support worker and so it didn't start for quite a while. Then the assessment was done and there was a bit of trouble getting a support worker and then we found one. But I was still at university with a support worker but no equipment, so the assessment had been done but the money had not come through.

Did you have a year then, when you were waiting to get a support worker sorted out?

When we spoke to the disability adviser at (name of university), he didn't really know what he was doing and me and (name of support worker), who was my old support worker at college, didn't know what to do. So I rang round a few places and eventually got through to the Disability Office at (name of university), who didn't understand what was going on and said that they could probably get me a support worker quite easily. They arranged it, cutting out the disability adviser.

Wasn't the disability adviser from the department?

Yes he was from (name of university) and should have been working in conjunction together, but somehow ... he didn't really know what he was doing at all.

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On the course

You said that you didn't have the equipment or a support worker. How did that first week or so go in that first year, because in enrolment you have to go round and fill in a load of forms and so on.

Yes that was hard because the first day was OK, you go in and see your department and get your form filled in. Then you have to come back and go into registration. Find the big hall and get round the building and wait in queues to get stamped etc. It was hard that week because there were another 100 or so students doing it at the same time. The building wasn't that accessible for me to get into so we struggled with that, but once we did it we jumped to the beginning of the queue.

So once you got into the building, for each queue, did people notice you and ask if you wanted to come up or was it a case of you being proactive?

They just nodded, because we had to stand in certain lines and when they saw us they said we could go straight up.

That happened each time did it?


So you were struggling at the start for a support worker and somebody to take notes for you. So how long did that go on in terms of the first term?

Luckily we actually started late in that term, but it was probably about the middle of October that I eventually got one with the college helping out with support workers just for the first couple of weeks, then they found me one. But this guy was only going to be with me for six weeks. At the time I had no equipment and long hours, as well, and I was struggling to keep up with work because I couldn't do any at home. I spent long hours at university. After the six weeks they did find someone else to take over. He was very good and he stayed with me then for about a month or so. At that point it was nearly Christmas time and I still had no equipment and was really stressed and feeling quite ill. So I decided to take the year off. So by Christmas time I stopped and took the rest of the year out. But, by January, I got the money through but didn't go back anyway.

What equipment did you need at home to facilitate your studying?

It was a laptop and printer and some software and Internet connection.

So it was writing that the computer facilitated you with - and without the computer you can't do it?


So when you came back was everything sorted out?


Was it smooth? No problems?

Yes, there was nothing more that could go wrong, in a way, yes everything had been sorted. I still had the same support worker and he was really good. I had all my equipment at home and just came in and started the course.

When all that was going on did you get much contact with the department? Did you have a personal tutor and so on? If so, what was their response in terms of trying to help you?

Yes. I had the course tutor who I spoke to and he was really good. He tried to help a lot. I told him I couldn't cope with the workload because I didn't have any equipment at home and that I was considering doing part time. He said I could do part time, but it would be in the evening and over six years and he said there was not much point. He did offer to do me on a credit basis, I could do as many modules as I wanted to in the year to help me spread it over, say, four years. So we tried it that way but I decided that I was pretty ill and couldn't cope. He said he would keep my place open for the year after.

So you are studying full time then?


What does the support worker do? Are they full time? Just explain everything that they do.

A support worker takes notes for me in lectures; helps me around the building; connects any equipment I need to the computers and will do typing if I get tired and, if I'm ill, they'll come in and sit in on my lectures and take notes for me or type them.

So if you can't attend this person will come in?


Have they got a computer background?

The last one I had and the first one I had did. The previous couple haven't, no.

The ones you have had recently haven't?

No, the one that I had recently, I had two, one of them had an IT degree - he had done my HND at (name of university), as well.

Is it a problem if they haven't done it?

In a couple of lectures it can be. But as long as they are quite good at taking notes and can get quite used to understanding what we are doing.

Things like books and so on, how does that work?

They'll help me if I need to go to the library.

Do you have copies of text books at home?

Yes I get the recommended text books that we use in class.

But you don't have to buy the full lot and have a full set?

No, we don't actually use that many text books.

Do you do any group work on your course and how have you got on with those with other students?

Yes, fine.

Are you pretty much with the support worker all the time?

Yes, actually my support workers have been really good and mix quite well into my groups and classes. In group work they just sit there and take my notes. Sometimes, if they know what they are talking about they don't mind joining in with theory stuff.

How do the other students react to that? Do you explain to them or does the support worker explain? How does that work?

I just say, 'This is my note taker, she's going to help me take notes.' No one really minds.

Do you pretty much fit into the group and do whatever role is needed?


On the computer, are you using a mini keyboard and a tracker ball type mouse?

It's like a mouse but it's a ball.

Do you use speech recognition software?

I do, but it takes longer and I gave up. It takes longer to correct the mistakes than it takes me to type it. I probably haven't got the patience to teach it.

How do you go about finding information in the library?

Well, they have just recently put the library on line, so I can do it on the computer at home when they are workshops. Most of the time, it used to be just across from the building where I was based, so I would just go straight into the library.

With your support worker?


If you are doing it from home, can you arrange for a librarian to go and pick stuff up?

I don't know, I've never tried. I suppose you could reserve it on line and pick it up later. I did send my note takers off to get me some books and I think the librarians know them quite well now and they just let them take them out.

Do you do much going through journals and finding articles and research in that respect?

No. A lot of that I can do on the Internet.

Did you do a research project at the end of that last course?

We did a sort of research project in Project Management, where we were given a topic that we had to go and research and do a presentation and report. But a lot of the information for that I got off the Internet.

Was it in groups or individual?


Did you do a presentation?


How does that work?

It was so difficult because I did all my slides but then I needed someone to change the slides because I was speaking, so it was a couple of days working on my note taker and with them learning how to change the slides and when to put the next paragraph up and co-ordinate me talking with them, really. Then we did the presentation. It went wrong a couple of times but I don't think anyone notices that much. I think the tutor understood that it was going to be difficult in that way.

So when they marked your presentation was there any mention of that?

No, no mention of me speaking and not having the right slide up.

How do you get on with other students?

A bit wary at the beginning with me coming in and my note taker as well. After a while we started working in groups quite early on and it was a lot easier working in groups. It was a lot better.

So have you got a few friends on the course?


Are you involved in any societies outside the course?

Yes, I do the pub quiz and that's about it.

Is that here in (name of university)?


Is that people off your course that go with you?


Have you won anything?


What about lecturers, in terms of their attitude. How would you rate them?

You get a mixture, some are really good and understanding and others are just rubbish and don't have much patience. They don't understand that having a note taker and writing down something and then trying to get it down and going too fast and we're asking them to repeat what they are saying. But most of the time they have been quite good.

Do you ever asks for handouts? Do you tape lectures or ask for other things?

A lot of our lectures are handout based and I do tape the lectures that I find hard to understand so I can go over them again.

So you've got the tape alongside the notes from the support worker?


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With assignments and examinations, do you get any extras sorted out through the Disability Office?

I have a scribe that does exams with me.

Do you get any extra time for essays?

If I'm really struggling for time, the lecturers normally say I can have an extra couple of days.

So you haven't got anything formal, as such, they are pretty much OK, recognising that it might take you a bit of extra time to get everything together?


The scribe, in exams, how does that work?

I read the questions and they just write down the answers.

So you speak your answers.

Yes. I'm in a room by myself with this person.

When you came to university, was that the first time you had ever done it like that?


How did you find it?

It was very hard.

Did it effect your grades at all?

It did in the first couple of exams, I would say, yes. It was hard thinking and then getting him to write down what he was thinking and then I would change my mind and then, by that time they would have written everything else down. It is pretty hard to work out in your own mind first and then tell them what to write.

Why don't you use your laptop for exams?

They won't let me. It has to be written.

Is that the computer department or is it something in the regulations, do you know?

I don't know, I'm not sure. They probably think I might cheat or something.

I'm just thinking that you are studying computers and then you are going to be doing multi-media, explain the assessment. In computing, say, you might have to do diagrams and stuff, how do you get your scribe to do that?

We just use a bit of scrap paper and I have to show him how to draw the special symbols and we do it in rough and then, later, they will copy it.

Do you get extra time?

I do get extra time, anyway, I get about twenty minutes in every hour.

Do you know what range of assessments they will be doing with you. What would they assess you on in exams with the multi-media design?

I wouldn't really know yet, but I think they will be written as well.

Are other students using computers in exams? How does that work?

There was one exam we had which was working on a computer. That was alright because I could do that with the rest of the group.

So everyone did it together?

Yes but I got extra time. I think it was an hour because it took me so long to type it.

How long does it take you? How many words a minute do you do in comparison, say, to another student?

I'd probably be able to do thirty words a minute.

So what's that? About half or a quarter?

If they were a good typer, then a normal person would probably do sixty, yes.

So it's taking you quite a considerable amount of time extra, even to do assignments at home?

Yes. Sometimes it's faster to write and get someone to type them up for me.

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Are you going to be doing a placement on your course?

We've just done one in March and in June.

What did you do?

It was actually within the college in the Science Department. Me and another guy from my group had to build a database for one of the administrators.

Will you be given another one in the next part, do you know?

We had the option of doing a year placement.

Where do you think that would be? Would you want to do it in the university again or would you prefer to go out.

I'd prefer to go out.

Did you do a placement at (name of FE college)?

We did a week placement at IBM.

What sort of things did they get you doing there?

It was a help desk, so you are on the phones answering queries from customers to do with their computer systems and any software problems they had.

Were you OK with that?

Yes, apart from that I was on a Norwegian desk, so they didn't really understand everything I said.

Oh, so they were Norwegian?

Yes, Scandinavian. I didn't really get much chance to speak to anyone, but we were mainly shadowing someone else who was doing it.

What sort of support did you get there? Was it offered by IBM or did you take your support worker.

I took the one from college. They normally sat in the background because they did not have very much to do while I was there, working with the supervisor from IBM.

In the placement here at the university, what level of support did you get for that?

I had a full time support worker from 9.00 til 5.00 and he just had to sit there. We were working in a group, me and this other guy, working on databases and we were on the computer all the time and we did the typing between us. Unless we had to go and ask someone, and then I needed notes taking, which he would do. But most times we would tape the interviews.

Was that paid for by your DSA, or was the placement taking care of that side of things?

It was paid for by my DSA.

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Career Aspirations

When you are thinking about your career, have you investigated anything along those lines?

Sort of. When I was first looking for note takers and we were talking about needing a medical note taker, there was a scheme that I think the Social Services do where they will help you pay for a care assistant, I think they call them.

To help you at work or help you at home?

Just to help you throughout the day, whether you are working or at home.

Presumably you'd like to go into computing, would you?


What sorts of problems might there be, or maybe there won't be any problems? What are your feelings about it?

Probably the hours, because it is really hard for me to work a 9 'til 5 day as it is now. I would prefer to work part time or maybe from home, which would then cut down the support I would need anyway.

You worked full time here on placement, though, how did you find that?

Yes, We came in generally from 10 'til 4. There was not really much to do with us doing database stuff, and a lot of the time it was easily done and we would sit around in the office.

You didn't find it too taxing, then?


So when you say you get tired and don't think you could do 9 'til 5, is it because you are physically tired, or what?

I think it's more physical.

Because you can't have a rest?

Yes, and being able to rest during the day. If I'm constantly working on the computer throughout the day, I'm getting tired.

But the placement you did here wasn't so much of a strain?

No, because it was shared between the two of us.

Will it be in another two years or a year that you will be thinking about careers?

It will be next year.

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Three tips for lecturers

Can you think of three tips or things that people could have done that would have made life easier for you?

Having a lot of the lectures on notes is a good way and having the notes on the Internet so I can download them from home. That's really useful. That's probably the main one that I have had problems with, not being able to get notes.

If they did produce notes, say, in advance, and they produced them on the Internet, would that supercede your need to have a note taker? How would that work, do you think?

That would just give me an idea of what they were going to cover, and probably the note taker so they would know what to expect - what to get down and when to get it down.

But you'd still take your note taker?

Yes because they always expand on what they are talking about.

Can you think of any other issues?

I think the biggest issue is to get started quite soon so that you know you want to go to university and you know where you want to go and start doing the DSA, start looking for a note taker, get the Equalities department of the university to do it, instead of leaving it until the last minute when there could be another hundred or so people looking for note takers.

If you are at college, say, you've got to start doing it at the beginning of your last year, really, haven't you? At least a year in advance with the college.

Get the assessments done. I think the main thing in the assessment is to know what you want. It is OK them coming to your house and saying, 'Yes, she needs 35 hours of note taking,' whereas you probably might need more because you want to work in the library.

Was that your experience then?

Yes, I think at the time, because a lot of the support stuff, I didn't have much to do with it at college, all that was taken care of. Then they came to me to see what I needed, and it was easy for me to say, 'Yes, I'm going to be in college from 9 'til 5, but when you get to college you might find you are going to need more than that. Then they say, 'She'll need a laptop ...' But then, yes, I need a laptop but I will need it for 3 years, so getting me any old laptop is not going to be any good in two years time. Then they always recommend one particular supplier, when you can probably get it cheaper somewhere else and probably a better one as well. So it's best to know what you want and tell them what you want.

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Other issues

In terms of access for your wheelchair and so on, how do you find this university?

It is pretty bad in the way of getting to the library. You can't actually get in the lift without getting someone to unlock the door so that you can go through and get to the life. Once you get into the library, you can't get out again because there is another door there so you have to get someone to come and unlock the door there to get to the lift again - so that's a bit of a pain. You can't actually get into the canteen at the student union because the lift is broken and they won't repair it. The lift in my building is really small and constantly breaks down, so we have to use the goods lift. That's it really.

So if the lift broke in your building and the lecture is on floor 2, and the goods lift only goes to floor 3, what happens then?

Then I'd miss the lecture. I'd probably send my note taker and I'd have to go and wait somewhere.

How do you get in and out? Do you use taxis?


The universities are spread about pretty much, even if you are on a campus university, what's it like here?

There have been lectures which have been based on another campus. A couple of times we've asked for them to be moved and they have moved them, but on other occasions they haven't and we had to get a taxi to take us there and, an hour later, a taxi to bring us back. The university have had to pay for that themselves.

Have they arranged it?


It must be quite expensive. Was it easy enough finding a taxi to do that, or is it done on a regular basis?

It was lucky that it was only once a week and the taxi guy who normally dropped me off in the mornings would do it and they would pay him.

And it was pre-arranged.


Some taxi firms, you'd ring them in the day and tell them you are only going this far and they would say no, because of the minimum charge, and it is quite lucky isn't it? Has that been the case for the last two years?

It has only happened once but it could happen again this year, so there could be an issue coming up.

Do you know that there is an issue coming up?

Possibly, yes.

Why isn't it done more pro-actively, as in find your timetable out over the summer and make sure the room bookings are ...?

That's what I've said to them. I've been to the lecturer and he said that the lectures are normally based on a number of campuses because the buildings are small. I said, 'You need to get in touch with them and see if they would do it all in one building or, at least, if they have one lecture somewhere else that we could arrange a taxi.' Now they've not really done much ... they've got a timetable and I think they've been in touch with the guy to ask him where they are going to be based and in what rooms, but this guy hasn't got back to us and I'm starting in about a week.

So you don't know what the situation is?


Did you ever investigate coming away to live at the university?

No, not really, because I am only down the road about fifteen minutes anyway, so I could stay at home.

Apart from the DSA, as funding, being OK, did you have any wrangles with Benefits?

No, nothing to do with Benefits. With the DSA money you spend it or give it back.

Have you had to apply for any additional costs - taxi fares obviously.

Yes, you apply for travel costs. You have to pay a certain amount towards it, which doesn't make much sense. What you have to do is pay bus fare, which I would never normally take anyway, but you pay them that back.

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