Sophie Abel blog #WorldCPDay
Posted on 4th October 2019 at 11:10
My name is Sophie Abel and I am 23 years old. Like most children I went to school then to college to do my BTec’s. University felt like a natural next step after my positive experiences in the academic sector so far. My tutors at college and my family were very supportive in my want to go to university. As my family have all had academic backgrounds, I never questioned that I would go to university as well. I thought my Cerebral Palsy would affect what course I would do and where and worried my Cerebral Palsy would mean university would be to difficult for me. Despite this I was eager to go and at least try. After some long and important decisions, I decided to study Media Culture and Production and Southampton Solent University.
Despite the planning and preparation that went into studying this course at this university, events played out and the overall experience was not a pleasant one. I can now reflect on the experience and reassure others that it was not due to my Cerebral Palsy that I had this negative experience, rather that the tutors and people that surrounded me. I had to take a step back and decide on my next move, knowing the aspect of my disability and its restrictions were not culpable for my bad experiences at university.
Fast forward a year and I decided try university again, this time studying Creative writing and Journalism at De Montfort University. I learnt from my experience at Southampton Solent University and picked a university closer to home with regular trains operating between Leicester and Birmingham. Although it wasn’t the journey itself that was the issue, living so far away from home left me feeling more vulnerable. While I don’t think you should be limited in where you go, on a practical level it can be beneficial to stay nearer home in some situations.
The accommodation was fully kitted out for a disabled person, with the hoist going from my bedroom to the ensuite bathroom, along with 2 alarm systems that I can use in case of an emergency. Using my negative experience at Southampton Solent University, I threw myself into life at DMU with energy and vigour. I felt I had to be mindful of certain decisions; going around campus I had to be sure of access and lifts because of my Cerebral Palsy. I also had to keep in regular contact with the tutors so they knew where I was on a unit and any further support, they could give me. By being pro-active with communicating with your tutors I felt my Cerebral Palsy didn’t have to affect me academic performance as I was given forewarning and advice along the way.
Sophie Abel blogging for #WorldCPDay Sunday 6th October 2019 A global campaign raising awareness for cerebral palsy
I did have my doubts about the journalism sides of the course as a lot of it involved practical assignments; like holding a camera or going out and about to interview people. But by speaking to the tutor’s beforehand and working with certain groups of students I learnt that it may take me slightly longer, and require some creative thinking, I could still achieve these things or find a way to contribute my efforts in other ways. I always felt like a strong member of every group and assignment because I was willing to do everything that I could, and they recognised and valued that.
Due to my Cerebral Palsy I was shy and nervous about approaching new people as I worried about being judged. I then realised that with the exception of some students it was myself that was standing in the way of me joining these societies and participating. I decided to join Demon Media which allowed me to get involved in writing for their student magazine and Demon FM - DMU’s own radio station. I felt like I could hide my disability behind the pen or radio which would allow me to be judged on my ability and quality of my contributions alone. Having done this for the duration of my studies at DMU it was a great confidence boost as it allowed me to become less self-conscious and just be myself. I wanted to show the person behind the disability people normally see first and I feel like DMU allowed me to succeed.
My advice to my fellow members of the disabled community who want to go to university is don’t allow your disability to hold you back. There are always solutions you just have to be open to adapting. It may not be how you always visualised it, but you can have the full university experience.
Sophie Abel achieved a 2:1 in BA Hons Creative Writing and Journalism.
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