Hi I’m Rowan! I’m a second year Biochemistry student at the University of York. At university, I am the Disabled Students’ Officer and part of the LGBTQ+ network. I’m here to tell you about my absolutely amazing experiences and give you some insight into Disability and LGBTQ+ at university.
Disabled Students Network
Writing this I am reminded of when I was applying to university. I was terrified of leaving home, going to a completely new place, all whilst looking after my disability.
But, from day one, the Disabled Students Network was there, providing regular socials, campaigning opportunities and signposting to university support services. I want to tell prospective Disabled students that, if you come to York, we will be doing exactly the same for you – making sure that you can get settled in and meet your community as quickly as possible.
For Freshers’ Week, we hold our annual festival of accessible society taster sessions, called Accessival (whether online or in-person). This is a great chance to get involved in different societies and find friends!
Here to represent you
So, I imagine one of your first questions is why, why would you volunteer 10 hours of your week to be the Disabled Students’ Officer? The answer is, I love it!
I love bringing together members of our community and providing a social space for all. I love seeing the difference I make, whether that be with University policy or with accessibility spending. And I love the experiences it has given me, from organising a Freshers’ Festival for Disabled Students to discussing University policy at high-level meetings. For many, this doesn’t sound like a great time, but I live and breathe my activism and I get an enormous sense of satisfaction from it. I think that’s the great thing about University. We are all looking for different experiences and you get to tailor your university experience to what you want to do. There is simply something for everyone at university.
Whilst disability activism is my primary passion, I’m also part of the LGBTQ+ network as the Trans/Nonbinary convener. The LGBTQ+ network is a great way to meet other LGBTQ+ people with social events such as queer cabaret to more sombre (but very important) events like Transgender Day of Remembrance.
As well as the network, there is also the LGBTQ+ Social society which holds even more social events and a number of club nights throughout the term which are amazing fun. I’m so glad that we got such a large number of people in our community at York!
Support at York
I’m sure some of you may be wondering about support when you come to university. Off the top of my head I can think of at least ten different support systems at York, so I’ll focus on a few and give my experiences with them.
During my first year, I met with my college manager once every fortnight. They helped me navigate the different support systems, manage stress and support my transition to university. Although I do remember us getting off-topic and discussing topics as varied as the virtues of rubber bands and the mini at the bottom of the lake. University is a big difference from college. So it was great to have a friendly face when I needed it, and to have someone to tell you how to get the support you need.
Another great support system at York is each department having a Disability Adviser who can arrange certain accommodations for you. Being a biochemistry student, I flit between a few departments. This means I have experience with both the Chemistry and Biology Disability Advisers.
The Chemistry adviser was amazing at talking to me, giving me a tour of the lab and introducing me to the lab staff. This meant that when I started practical work in the lab I knew exactly where to go if something went wrong. The Biology Adviser did much the same. And they also run a Biology student disability group for students and staff to have a social space for people in our community.
Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA)
Of course, support doesn’t just have to come from the University. Under Student Finance, disabled students are entitled to the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
One blustery January day I took a trip to the nearest assessment centre in Scarborough. Aside from being a great day out with museums, a castle, and fish and chips on the beach, DSA gave me the equipment I needed to study and the assistive software that I need. (Cool fact, I’m writing this using the voice recognition software they gave me!) They fund a wide range of adjustments, from tutoring, to free transport to printers, whatever you need. I really recommend disabled students going for DSA to support their study at university.
I hope this blog has reassured you about the mountains of support available at university. I wish you the best of luck with looking at university and the future!