Experiencing Higher Education as a Learner with a Disability


There are now more flexible options for accessing higher education than ever before. From fully online programmes, blended learning, apprenticeships or higher education programmes at local FE colleges. Wherever you want to be and however you like to learn, through researching these options you can find the right choice for you. And whichever option you choose you can expect a comprehensive programme of support from your place of study or work.

There are lots of reasons why a disabled learner may choose not to progress on to higher education. It could be worries about the support available or not feeling confident about living away from home or some might worry about accessibility on campus. We are here to address some of these concerns so that disabled learners can feel confident that there is a place for them within higher education.

You don’t have to take our word for it, we’ve spoken to 3 learners with disabilities who have graduated from higher education. We spoke about all aspects of university life and what support they could access during their studies. We hope their lived experiences can reassure anyone who is considering higher education.

Daniel* studied Business Management and Marketing and now works for an apprenticeship company. He said going to university supported him with the knowledge and skills he needed to secure his current job. Daniel was diagnosed with dyslexia whilst studying at university. He said he received all the support he needed to succeed, this included a support plan and his own personal tutor. Daniel told us his disability didn’t hold him back, both his studies and social life we’re excellent. Daniel’s parting words were “go for it, and don’t be afraid to request all the support you need.”

Maya* chose to study her Fashion Business degree at a local further education college. Maya has generalised anxiety disorder as well as minor PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). She said she struggled with the pressure of failing and not meeting expectations and eventually sought medical help and began her CBT journey. Maya now works as a Coordinator for the Haematology Cancer team as well as working as a freelance content copywriter and editor. Reflecting on her experience she said “Speak out, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s from your lecturer, a friend or even a medical professional.”

Sophie was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 21 but this did not come as a surprise to her and her family. Sophie completed her undergraduate degree in Education Studies and English and progressed on to her Masters degree in Special and Inclusive Education. Sophie accessed the student wellbeing team at her university and received a support package tailored to her needs. She said “The university was fantastic at supporting me following my diagnosis. Not only did I receive support to access my lectures and to be able to study effectively, I also received practical support to access my teaching placements in schools. My support package included a laptop, dictaphone, assistive software such as a mind-mapping tool for essay planning and reasonable adjustments to my school placements.”

Sophie left us with this amazing motivational comment “Communication is key to ensuring you get the best out of university life. Find out what support is available for disabled students and don’t be afraid to say when you are finding something difficult. Don’t let your disability label become a barrier to achieving what you want to achieve. You define your label; don’t let anyone else make assumptions about you based on the stereotypes associated with that label. Have open discussions, ask questions, seek the support you are entitled to and show the world what you are made of. University can be an amazing opportunity for both academic development and personal growth – so grab that opportunity, hold it tightly with both hands and do not let it pass you by if it is something you want to pursue. I have faith in you – remember to have faith in yourself, too.”

If you are considering higher education and would like to know more about the support available to disabled learners, get in touch with us today dancop@derby.ac.uk.

*Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.