The Abled Lawyer
It can be difficult to tell your chosen university about your disability and needs as a student.
Disclosure is ultimately a personal decision and there’s no obligation to disclose. I would recommend weighing up the positives and negatives of disclosing and then decide what’s best for you.
Benefits to disclosing a disability
One positive in disclosing your disability at university is that it ensures you get the right support throughout your studies. Remember, the university will have had lots of people with a disability studying with them before. This is one of the main reasons I chose to disclose.
I remember the first time I disclosed my disability. Before pressing submit on my UCAS application form, I was asked “do you have any disabilities to declare and require support at university?”. I was only diagnosed with my condition a few months before this. I hadn’t considered my condition as a disability until I was asked this question. More importantly, I wasn’t aware of the support that could help my condition.
Taking the leap, I chose to tick the ‘Yes’ box.
Within a few weeks, my undergraduate university’s disability support team emailed me to arrange a meeting to discuss the support I would need. They were the only university to contact me; it was incredibly impressive how proactive they were!
I didn’t know what to expect from this meeting as I was still learning about the condition and didn’t fully understand how it impacted my life. It was difficult to anticipate what adjustments I needed for studying and undertaking exams when I hadn’t heard of the term ‘reasonable adjustments’ before.
The meeting was incredibly positive, the disability support team understood that I was recently diagnosed and recommended various adjustments to support me. The team gave recommendations based on past experiences with students who had the same condition. They also introduced me to the Disabled Students Allowance and supported me with the application form.
We also agreed on a learning support plan that would be in place throughout my three-year degree. This included support during my exams such as:
Having these adjustments in place for my exams enabled me to manage my condition and its unpredictability.
Because I had a positive experience disclosing my disability to my undergraduate university, I decided to disclose it again to my post-graduate university before starting the Legal Practice Course and master’s course. I’m pleased to say that my current university has been incredibly supportive.
My condition has changed since completing my undergraduate degree and I needed to consider different adjustments. For example, I am now an ambulatory wheelchair user and was anxious about how I would carry books and open doors around campus. My disability adviser invited me to the university to have a tour of the campus and show me the accessibility of the building. By doing this, it put me at ease to know that when I return to campus it is accessible.
If you do decide to disclose, one important piece of advice would be to disclose at the earliest opportunity. The earlier you tell your university, the more time they have to prepare suitable adjustments for you to start your course.
Disclosing my disability at university made studying accessible to me. I would have personally struggled without having my adjustments, they enabled me to find ways to work with my condition. Using and trying out different adjustments at university also helped me prepare for entering the legal workplace. Read this LCN Says: ‘How to find the right law firm for your career and disability.’
Although those adjustments can change depending on different environments, I had a better idea of what adjustments had worked for me previously.
If you’re an aspiring lawyer, read this Oracle: ‘How accessible is the legal profession for lawyers with disabilities?’.