Attending University with Cerebral Palsy: Eleanor's Story

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Attending University with Cerebral Palsy: Eleanor's Story

Choosing the right university is one of the most important decisions in any young student’s life, and can have wider implications on their personal and professional prospects for many years to come. Many people end up living and starting a family in the town or city in which they choose to attend university, so selecting a place that they like can have lifelong benefits. 

While the decision to attend university is pivotal in the life of any young person, it can be even more significant for individuals who are living with a disability. These students will need to consider a number of additional factors when making their choices about higher education: for example, how does cerebral palsy affect learning, and will there be accommodations for students with cerebral palsy?

In order to understand more about how cerebral palsy can be a factor in university life, we spoke to Eleanor, an 18-year-old student who has cerebral palsy, and recently made the decision to study Counselling Psychology at the University of Worcester. She shared with us some fascinating insights about life as a disabled student at university, and the responsibility that universities have to provide proper accommodations for students with cerebral palsy.

Find out more about Eleanor’s experiences below. 

Will you be staying in halls/living on campus?

Yes, I will be living in halls that are based on the campus.

What was your thought process when it came to choosing a university? Did your cerebral palsy play a role in your decision?

I wanted to be as independent as possible and move away from home, but it was important for me to be in an accessible environment where everything was on one campus. I did choose this university based on accessibility as my cerebral palsy limits my ability to walk long distances, so I use a wheelchair.  This university is very inclusive and offers a wide range of services to help disabled people to be independent. However, I made sure that the university offered the course I wanted as it is imperative that I enjoy the course and don’t change what I want to do because the university isn’t accessible. Universities have to adapt to your needs, not the other way around. 

Did you find some universities offer more support to disabled students than others when carrying out your search? Did this impact your decision at all?

I had an appalling interview experience with an institution that was extremely discriminatory and passively unwilling to help. The interview began with a few standardised questions which I do not feel were enough compared with other interviews. It then immediately turned to my physical capabilities which should not have even been discussed in the first interview. 

The interviewers were reluctant to provide me with a scribe as they thought it wouldn’t be confidential considering the course. They then said that none of their work placements were accessible, which doesn’t matter because if I was going to go there they would have to find an accessible placement for me. 

There were other barriers that were put up as well that were disgraceful. After the interview I wrote a very long letter to the head of the department in which I stated my disappointment in the interviewing process. After a long wait I received an apology in the form of a video call where the interviewer also told me she was disabled, which was even more disgraceful after how I was treated. 

After I received an offer from that particular university (not on the course I applied for), I wilfully declined their offer. Discrimination of any sort, whether aggressive or passive is unacceptable and frankly illegal. 

Was accessibility a concern for you when looking at university?

It wasn’t a concern but rather a consideration. Feeling supported is important for me and the university I have chosen is very accessible and is willing to make adaptations to my needs. But even if a university isn’t accessible, if a disabled person wants to attend, the university is legally required to implement the right accommodations. 

Will your university offer remote learning opportunities due to the pandemic? If so, how do you feel about this?

I am taking a gap year as I want to have the full university experience without Covid as prevalent as it is. It would be a shame to learn remotely, however, I am sure I would be fully supported if I needed to.

How do you feel about spending time in an unfamiliar town/city? Have you had any thoughts/concerns because of your cerebral palsy?

I am ecstatic about leaving home as I can’t wait to be as independent as possible. I am taking a gap year this year so I can plan the support that I will need fully before I move cities.  I will be visiting the city many times before I move there so I feel comfortable in my surroundings before I leave.  

What advice would you give to other people with cerebral palsy going away to university?

The decision to go to university shouldn’t involve any thought about your cerebral palsy, it should be based on your aspirations alone. The decision on where to go to university should take into consideration your physical capabilities as you need to make sure that you are comfortable and supported wherever you may go. 

If you have a university in mind, visit it multiple times and talk to their disability team to see if it is the right place for you. Universities are legally required to make alterations for you and should do this willingly. If they do not, then firstly, it is discrimination which is illegal, and secondly, they don’t deserve you or your intelligence! 

As long as you have a plan in place and the support you need, you have the ability to go anywhere you would want to. University is an experience that everyone should take part in, whether you have a disability or not. 

We'd once again like to thank Eleanor for taking the time to share her story about college life with us! To learn more about how young people with cerebral palsy can improve their quality of life, take a look at the resources on our Cerebral Palsy Hub.

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