I have Cerebral Palsy and am partially blind, but it won’t stop me getting a degree

With the right support and a lot of hard work, you can achieve anything

After nearly finishing my first year at Trent (which still hasn’t quite sunk in yet) I feel I can open up about my experiences first hand as a student with not one, but two disabilities, both which can have a significant impact on my day-to-day life.

To the naked eye, I think most people would tell me that “you don’t look disabled”, and sometimes when I tell people they can come across as quite shocked.

I have Hemiplegia (a type of Cerebral Palsy) affecting the left and side of my body, as a result my muscles are tighter and weaker than someone without CP and I have poor balance and coordination. Cerebral Palsy in a shortened down explanation is caused by damage to the brain, and can result in muscle weakness to any part of the body, mostly affecting arms/legs but can also affect speech, depending on the part of the brain that is damaged.

I am also visually impaired, or in my personal case, registered blind. I do have vision I can use, I also have two related conditions, Nystagmus which is where my eyes “wobble” (move involuntarily) and this affects my reaction times, perception of how far away/close something is and peripheral vision. I also have Astigmatism, where my corneas aren’t shaped like usual, so it can cause me to see things blurry.

I always had visions of seeing myself at university like any other teenager, and for years had wanted to train to become a physiotherapist, to in effect “give something back” and help people in a similar situation. After speaking to my parents about my potential ambitions (they have always been incredibly supportive), we all agreed that it may not be the best option for me, so I set out on a new plan to find out what it is I wanted to study at University.

I was never too keen on the idea when in the middle of my GCSEs that I wanted to do another two years studying subjects which I would have to take exams in, so I looked into doing a diploma instead, and there I discovered a Level 3 Diploma (equivalent to doing 3 A-levels) in health and social care – it involved ZERO exams!

At the Harry Potter Tour in Watford, before coming to Trent

At the Harry Potter Tour in Watford, before coming to Trent

Two years later and I was looking into going to university to study a degree in health and social care, as I’m still not totally sure of what I want to do when I finish.

From being brought up in Leeds, but knowing from the get-go that neither uni of Leeds or Leeds Beckett did the course, it was time to get my thinking cap on. I knew I wanted to go to a university within a city, so my choices of Trent, DMU, MMU and Bradford were formed. After some careful consideration and wise words from the majority of family members, I went with my gut instinct and confirmed Trent as my top choice, with DMU as my insurance.

Even though with the excitement of starting university and having receiving my offers, and knowing I was well on my way to achieving more than what I needed to get into one of my top two, I couldn’t help but feel apprehensive about how or if my disabilities would affect me to a degree where I might not be able to “hack” it living away from home. Sure, everyone has these worries but the added worries of “will I be able to navigate around on my own?” or “what if people treat me differently due to my disabilities?”

Celebrating handing in our last group assignment

Celebrating handing in our last group assignment

Before I came to Trent, I was told about the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). This means I have special software on my laptop to help with my vision, such as a programme to help with reading back assignments as I type them. I have a separate monitor which is bigger than my laptop screen so if I need to I can read from the bigger screen which can make studying and doing assignments 10 times easier.

I have really enjoyed my first year here and I don’t feel as though my disabilities have held me back in any way. I’ve managed to live independently away from home and I’ve had fantastic support from my family, my boyfriend, tutors, and close friends.

Me and my amazing boyfriend, Sam

Me and my amazing boyfriend, Sam

I would say anyone out there with disability who wants to go get a university degree, you can and you will, with the right support and a lot of hard work, you can achieve anything.