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It’s Disability History Month and the Disabled Students’ Network committee discuss how they accommodate their own disabilities, and what they would like to see UCL do to support them better.

Mette, Campaigns Officer

As an Autistic person with a chronic illness as well, I have had to find a lot of #DisabilityLifeHacks to get through my studies.

These can be little things like buying pre-chopped onions so that I don’t get overwhelmed when I cook. It can also be things involving others, like me and my boyfriend learning some basic sign language so that we can communicate even when I find it difficult to speak. To deal with my sensory sensitivities I use an app that makes the background of my browser black.

Realizing that I can make adjustments for the ways in which I am different was life-changing for me.

I also need some accommodations from the university. For me, the most important accommodation that the university could make would be to educate its members about ableism. The biggest obstacle to me getting the accommodations that I need is people not thinking that I need them.

Hester, LGBT+ Disabled Students’ Representative

The two symptoms of my chronic illnesses that impact my ability to study the most are my joint pain and the brain fog. For the first, I use a variety of joint supports such as compression gloves which keep my hands warm and compression tights to keep my circulation moving. The second has become a lot easier to manage now that I have an ADHD diagnosis, as I realise that it’s not just fatigue that is making it difficult to focus on work and work my way through dense readings. I’ve adopted a lot of techniques recommended in ADHD resources such as changing the background colour of word documents to make reading it easier and using an online programme that reads out documents for me. 

It would be really helpful if UCL could provide more readable versions of texts - a lot of my required reading comes in the form of pdfs with tiny text that I can’t change the colour of. Large print versions would be a great resource for me.

Giulia, Communications Officer

Living with chronic pain that is invisible to others has presented many challenges, especially since moving to London. Having to move through crowded places has often meant that people rushing through corridors and down the streets often knock into me accidentally, and when I have a bad flare-up of my chronic shoulder and back pain, this can be agonising. I have since learned that there is great value in mobility aids, not just in helping you get around, but as visual signals to the people around you to be careful. When I have my walking stick or am even just wearing a bandage around my arm, people around me are far more patient and considerate of my needs and are far less likely to absent-mindedly ram their bags into you.

Zohar, Disabled Students’ Officer

Living with an autoimmune illness and being neurodivergent, I have to be really careful not to get burned out. To reduce the impact of my sensory sensitivities, I wear noise-cancelling headphones most of the time when I’m out, and I use stim objects (like a fidget cube) to discharge the nervous energy that builds up from being in environments with high sound, light and social intensity. I watch lectures from home which the Biosciences department collaborated with me to get live-streamed via Lecturecast, to reduce how many days I have to leave the house and save mental & physical energy from travelling. To reduce my stress levels and prevent an autoimmune flare, I practise self-care each day of the week: therapy, Mindful Soc meditation sessions, yoga, physical therapy. I also tell people I struggle with my energy levels and social processing so that if I have any issues they will already know what’s up when I tell them.

To accommodate me better, UCL need to make sure that all their disabled toilets are compliant: they need to follow the radar key scheme, not be locked by keypads or keys. They also need to ensure the red cords hang to the floor and are not tied up - this is so if anyone falls over they can pull the cord for assistance. If you see a red cord tied up in a disabled toilet, untie it!

What are your disability life hacks? What can UCL and the people around you do to accommodate you better? Let us know.