Things I learned along the way: Studying with a disability

Ethan Patrick on getting around University of Melbourne

Carpark. Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

‘Getting around here is going to be a struggle’.

This was my first thought when I saw Melbourne University’s massive Parkville campus. As a young person with a disability, I was coming from a relatively small high school and had little or no experience managing my disability in the education system.

Help like support workers and special considerations for exams had always been organised by my parents. Luckily, going into my postgraduate studies nearly seven years later, I was armed with much more knowledge about how to manage my condition in conjunction with my studies. So maybe you’re fresh out of high school or you’re joining higher education after some experience in the workforce. Either way, here are some tips to help you make the best of your university experience.

Register for special consideration as soon as you can

If you think you might benefit from some help in completing your studies, register with Disability Services and organise with your GP to fill out the relevant paperwork (available on the website). It’s important to note that it’s not only people with physical disabilities like myself who are eligible, but a variety of medical conditions. There are also several different adjustments that can be made depending on your needs, such as extra time for exams or extensions.

For more information about whether you are eligible and what kind of help you can receive, check out the information on the website here. We all know how difficult getting a doctor’s appointment can be, especially in the current circumstances, so it’s good to get a start on the process early, so you can focus on the important things during semester.

Check out the campus early!

When you’ve had a chance to look at the campus, whether in person or digitally, you’ll notice that not only is the Parkville campus huge, it has a lot of stairs. So, if you need to use equipment to get around or maybe you’re just clumsy like me, you’ll probably want to find the ramps and lifts pretty soon.

The university does its best to make the campus accessible but sometimes it can take a minute or more to find these alternate routes. With this in mind, once you have your timetable and if you’re able, I’d recommend making a day to head to the campus whether it be for one of the many wonderful orientation events or just a day you decide upon yourself. Use this time to find your classrooms, and the best ways to get there, considering your individual needs.

This also helps give you an idea of how long it takes you to make the trip from home with any equipment you have, without the extra worry of being late to a lecture. I spent a couple of hours (pre-COVID) wandering around campus to find exactly where my classes would be. This helped a great deal reducing my anxiety about not being able to find my classrooms quickly and of course, I got a good idea of where the best coffee spots were!

Communicate with your lecturers and tutors

Confession time. In my first year at uni, I missed more than a couple of classes because crossing from one side of the campus to next took me longer than the average student, and I was too embarrassed to walk in late.

After much agonising, I realised that the easiest way to manage expectations was to simply send my tutors an email letting them know my circumstances and that I might be a little late. Unsurprisingly, all the responses I’ve received have been incredibly understanding and kind.

If you think that your disability or medical condition will impact your ability to attend tutorials or lectures, make sure to inform not only the university but also the staff. Especially if it’s an effect of your condition that might not be obvious to them but could make a huge difference to you.

I would’ve saved myself a lot of anxiety if I’d done this from the beginning, as the teachers are not mind readers and I’ve yet to come across one that bites!

Have fun. Obviously!

This one might seem a little cliché but bear with me. You deserve the same university experience as everybody else, so don’t let your worries about having disability hold you back from doing things that you could enjoy. Once we’re back on our socially distanced campus, check out the events that are on. I look forward to seeing you around campus!

Other useful links

University of Melbourne Student Union Disability Department


University of Melbourne Health Service

Phone: 03 8344 6904


Phone: 13 11 14

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