Saturday, 30 April 2016

#BADD2016 Earning your degree differently should be ok

This is my post for #BADD2016, Blogging Against Disablism Day 2016

People who know me will know that I have a maths degree. So far, apart from the astonishment that anyone would *want* to do a maths degree, nothing too much out of the ordinary.

What makes it less ordinary is *how* I got it. You see, I was extremely ill during those years and spent a lot of time in hospital and/or confined to my room.

When it first became clear during my first year that I was going to miss a lot of lectures, what do you think the reaction of the university and my doctors was? Was it how can we help you keep up? (ha ha ha)

No. Straightaway I was told to go back home to my parents who could "look after me". The most "support" offered was a 1 year deferral.
But I now knew I had an INCURABLE illness (diagnosed in Easter of my 1st year)! How the heck was this going to help?

At first I was very dispirited. I decided that the best option would be for me to do my degree at home through the Open University. That way I could get the course material and then study it in my room.
This is when I (finally) had my *lightbulb* moment.
Why did I HAVE to study like everyone else?
What rule said that the only way to get a good degree was to have a 100% attendence?
As it turned out, at my university, none.

So what was stopping me in creating my own Open University style course right there?
I already had personal care in place from social services, so that was thankfully not an issue.
I could stay at university with my new friends, enjoying the benefits of university life when well enough.
When really ill and unable to go to lectures, I could get notes brought to me and work on my own. I could even buy books to help me with money from DSA.
Excited, I decided that I WOULD go back and attempt my second year.

But I encountered resistance. "This is not how we do things."
Among other things:
  • Friends bringing me notes would be disruptive to them. (photocopying their notes after lectures and bringing them when they visit? Really?!)
  • I shouldn't be "encouraged" to miss lectures by authorising other students to lend me their notes.
  • Some lecturers gave out printed notes and, in a bid to boost attendence,  had a policy of not giving them out to students who did not come. They initially refused to make an exception for me.
  • One course had 10% set aside for handing in weekly coursework (1% per paper). I missed some deadlines due to being in hospital. This was not accepted as an excuse. The lecturers running it said it was "only" 1% so I "shouldn't be concerned".
  • I shouldn't take the exam having missed so many lectures because I would fail (no, I wouldn't, and I should be allowed to try).
A special commendation should be made to my tutor who fought my corner tooth and nail and solved most issues for me.
It was only when I passed my exams with flying colours that attitudes completely changed.
After that lecturers fell over themselves to be supportive, even visiting me in hospital to bring me notes.

Unfortunately not everyone is so lucky.
I follow the twitter feed @PhDisabled.
What is clear is that almost 20 years on, disablist practises such as grades being given for attendence, or no allowances being given for deadlines are still common.
It is also clear that universities are still set up for the traditional way of learning and simply cannot cope when a student needs to be different.
Yet it is ok to be different. I even went on to do a PhD and became a maths researcher!
I am proof positive that what is important is *what* you learn, not *how* you learn it.