Negotiating support

Starting university can be a challenging time for anyone as it may involve leaving home and living independently. It is important to remember there are support networks in place so you can make the most of your time studying and to ensure you get the help you need.

Disability support office and course department

As mentioned in ‘Step five: Getting support in place at university in our Six Steps into Higher Education guide’, some blind and partially sighted students facing complex access challenges (for example courses which had practical elements or used lots of diagrams) found it helpful when their disability support office worked with their department to develop their support arrangements. If you think this would be beneficial to you, suggest this to your disability support officer.

Alternatively, some students found it easier to negotiate specific support with their department directly especially after they had been on their courses for a while and got to know the course staff.

Whilst you might decide to work directly with your course leaders, it is still important to meet with the Disability Support Office to develop your initial support plan, make your exam arrangements, and find out about the wider support available at the university.

Notify your university

As stated in ‘Step one: Your UCAS application in our Six Steps into Higher Education guide’, if you have taken the recommended advice to declare your vision impairment on the UCAS form, be sure to keep up to date on communications with your university whilst you are applying so the support network is in place on arrival. Preparations such as accessible notes and transcriptions can be organised beforehand to avoid delay from the course department.

Additional support

Consider reaching out to the local social services department near your university or college as they may be able to further support your accessibility needs. As mentioned in our Student housing section, it is always advisable to make these arrangements beforehand to ensure support can be organised for you.

Student volunteers may also be able to support you on campus. They could assist you when exercising your guide dog, provide directions or guide you around campus while you are getting to know your way around.

Individual exam arrangements

You may be entitled to Individual Examination Arrangements (IEAs) such as a reader, scribe or extra time and rest breaks. If you have extra time for your exams you may be able to request sitting only one examination per day. For example, where 50 per cent extra time may be given for a three-hour examination, it is not reasonable to sit two six-hour exams in one day.

Make sure to speak with your disability or support co-ordinator about your individual examination requirements.

Useful guides for more information

What to do if things go wrong at University or College guide

This guide provides support on what to do if you are having any trouble with your course and feel that you need to raise an issue.

Get the guide here

Top tips from Chris Ross, disability adviser at Birmingham City University


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