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  • Disabled Students: Your Guide to Navigating and Accessing Higher Education Freshers’ week is over and, now that classes are starting and the nights are drawing in, new University students are getting into the swing of their new lives. Starting university is a time that can be simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Concerns about making new friends, money and succeeding academically are matched by the enjoyment of discovering a new town or city, going out whenever you please, and taking an important step towards independence. For disabled students, there is more to consider. On top of the usual concerns that all students have, disabled students may be anxious about whether they will get the support they need to complete their studies, how accessible their new home and campus will be, and whether they will experience stigma or discrimination. On Twitter, I asked current and former disabled students what advice they would give to a new disabled student, embarking on a university course this year. Here is some of what they said: @PhilippaWrites @Amazonnewsmedia encourage to seek out other disabled as a support who are more advanced in course — amules days (@AmulesDays) September 25, 2014 @AmulesDays @PhilippaWrites good idea. The company/eye view/ even proximity of other disabled people is useful/informative/encouraging — ANM (@Amazonnewsmedia) September 25, 2014 @PhilippaWrites I'd say do LOADS of research about the help you're entitled to before you go and expect to have to fight for support... — Diane Shipley (@dianeshipley) September 25, 2014 @PhilippaWrites ...at every turn, but know your rights and be a nuisance if you have to be! — Diane Shipley (@dianeshipley) September 25, 2014 @incurablehippie something that I've found this week is that although the buildings on campus are accessible, campus itself is really not — BUCKET OF ENTRAILS (@TheeJenneger) September 25, 2014 @incurablehippie so I guess my advice would be to ensure you leave plenty of time to get between buildings. — BUCKET OF ENTRAILS (@TheeJenneger) September 25, 2014 @incurablehippie also, take full advantage of all support offered by the Students union for disabled students. At SHU there is loads :) — BUCKET OF ENTRAILS (@TheeJenneger) September 25, 2014 So, what help and support is available for disabled students? And what rights do you have? We’re going to address some of these questions now. Should I tell my Uni that I’m disabled? Most universities now have services specifically for students who are disabled, dyslexic, or who have mental health problems. Registering with these services is a crucial step towards getting the support you may need. They have access to resources and they also know what help is available, so they may even be able to suggest things you haven’t thought of. What support is available? This varies a lot, depending on the resources and expertise available, an individual person’s health condition or impairment, and the subject somebody is studying (for example, an art student would need different support to an engineering student). However, the support you are offered could include specialist equipment, extra time in exams, a support worker to take notes during classes, or occasional leeway with deadlines. What about financial support for disabled students? Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) has been in the news recently, after plans to cut it were announced and later delayed. DSA is an important benefit because being disabled is so expensive, and because it provides equipment and assistance that can make the difference between a disabled student succeeding or failing. In fact, research has shown that disabled students with support from DSA are more likely to achieve a first-class honours degree. DSA can be used to fund: special equipment such as laptops, speech recognition software or voice recorders people to take notes on lectures, scribe for students or proofread students’ work, called ‘non-medical helpers’ travel expenses. This video explains how it works: DSA does not need to be paid back, and the earlier you apply, the better. For more detailed information about your own situation and your particular University, try to find the department that's dedicated to supporting and empowering disabled students (your students' union should know). Circumstances differ, but you have the right to reasonable accommodations and to not experience disablist discrimination. Royal Holloway University has produced an information booklet for disabled students, full of useful facts and advice, which is a good place to start. How are you getting on as a disabled student at University? Let us know on Twitter or on our Facebook Page! Follow or ‘like’ us, too, to make sure you don’t miss any future blog posts we write! (Image credits: Bruno Girin and Xbxg32000) Read More...

  • Essential Smartphone Apps for Disabled People 61% of Brits have a smartphone, and 91% of us always have our phone within arm's reach, so it's no surprise really that some of the most innovative and useful tech inventions in recent years have been smartphone and tablet apps. This has certainly been reflected in the surge in the number of apps available for disabled people to help to track, manage and take control of many different areas of our lives. So, in this post, we're going to look at some popular apps that you will definitely want to know about! Apps to remind you to take your meds If you take a range of medication, or if you have problems with your memory, it can be really difficult to be sure you've taken your pills every day. If you need to take different meds at specific times of day, it can get even more confusing. Thankfully, there are a range of smartphone apps that can help by alerting you when it is time to take your medication and you can relax, knowing that you won't forget to take those all-important medicines. Pillboxie is an iPhone and iPad app that makes it easy to manage your medication schedule (cost: $0.99). MediSafe Meds & Pill Reminder is a similar app available for Android devices (free). Track and monitor your pain levels with Catch My Pain Catch My Pain is an app that allows users to make a note of their pain levels and keep track of which parts of the body hurt, and how intense the pain is. By marking up a human body with a colour that corresponds to the degree of pain and noting what the pain feels like, users can create an ongoing record that helps you to monitor whether things are improving or getting worse, and this can be shared with doctors if appropriate. Catch My Pain is available for free for Android and iOS devices. Hearing aid apps for smartphones Hearing aid apps, combined with earphones or bluetooth headsets, allow people to use their phone to amplify the sounds around them. Hearing Aid with Replay for Android (free and paid versions). soundAMP Lite for iOS devices (69p). Use Mood Panda to track your moods Mood Panda is an interactive mood diary where users can make a note of their mood and keep track of any patterns that occur. The app produces graphs and calendars to give you an immediate glimpse into the state of your moods over time, and you can keep your records secret or share them on social media. Mood Panda is a free app available for Android and iOS devices. MobileSign: a British sign language app MobileSign contains over 4,000 searchable signs that can be used to help people to learn BSL or to communicate with Deaf friends and colleagues. It is a free app available for Android and Apple devices. The same developers have also created Deafworkmate, which is an introduction "to Deaf Culture, British Sign Language (BSL) and other forms of non-verbal communication. If you work alongside deaf people, employ deaf people or have deaf customers then Deafworkmate is an ideal learning resource for you". Diabetes UK tracker app The Diabetes UK charity's tracker app "is designed to be quick and simple to use, taking the daily chore out of logging levels such as blood glucose, carbohydrates and calories". The information you provide over time is then translated into charts and graphs so you can keep an eye on your blood glucose, insulin, carbohydrate, calorie, weight and ketone measurements. The Diabetes UK Tracker App is a free app for people with iOS and Android devices. If you've got a smartphone, it is well worth looking out for apps that are relevant to your condition or your lifestyle. We need to embrace things that make life easier so that we can expend our energy on things that are more productive and fun! Do you use any smartphone apps? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook! Read More...

  • Bright, Bold and Bling: Disability Products No Longer Need to be Grey! I'm back in the land of grey. But, as you can just see in the corner, my red shoes cheer things up a bit As soon as I figured out that I was going to be walking with a crutch in the long term, I knew I had to get one of my own. Because, while I'm forever grateful to the NHS for providing me with crutches in the first place, I quickly tired of how grey they were. So, thanks to eBay, my depressingly colourless mobility aid was replaced with a livelier, red one, and it felt much more me. A few weeks ago, however, my physio consigned the groovy red crutch to obscurity and, finding myself back in the grey land of epic greyness, I searched the web for alternatives. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there are many more options for disabled and elderly people to find attractive mobility product options than ever before. This means that, just as we might express our personality and style through our clothes, bags and shoes, we can also extend that to our walking aids, equipment bags and other useful tools. Mobility aids can now be bright, colourful and stylish. I’m replacing my grey crutch with a far nicer turquoise one, and here are some other places you can get trendier, more attractive disability gear for yourself: Sticking with crutches for a moment, Chic Aid do a wide range of coloured designs available, in full- and half-crutch designs. So if you’re a bright pink, orange or lilac kind of person, you can brighten up your days with some more cheerful walking aids. If you are looking for a pair that features more than one colour, check out their designer Ellipse crutches, too. If you’re never happier than when you’re surrounded by sparkly bling, GlamSticks is a must-see. Every GlamStick they sell is hand-crafted, and you can either choose from the designs on the site, or commission a custom, bespoke crutch. The gleaming gems really stand out; these crutches and walking sticks are absolutely stunning. If you can’t get enough diamante in your life, or if you have a special occasion such as a wedding or big party, a GlamStick will certainly make you feel like a princess. Or indeed a prince, for they have a ‘punk’ design for men, too. Attractive disability-related products aren’t just for crutches and sticks, of course. Rollators are products that certainly could benefit from some cheering up, and the Rollz Motion has done exactly that. They come in orange, pale blue, white and purple, and their shape and contours are very different to what is normally available for this kind of product. And they don’t just look good, they have the features that disabled or elderly people would want, too, including the ability to be folded, cross doorsteps and curbs, height that can be adjusted, and easy manoeuvrability. Spokz allows wheelchair users to add stylish, attractive guards to their wheels. With a choice of ready-made designs, along with the option to use your own graphics, there really is something for everybody. For wheelchair-using kids, gloves are a great opportunity to introduce a bit of colour into the day. Kiddimoto Wheelchair Gloves are bright and fun, and they come in several designs for children to enjoy. Finally, something completely different. Amanda Keenan creates really beautiful, handmade catheter bag covers. Selling her products on Etsy as Ivysnotsoclinical, her designs range from Superman to pretty birds to vintage aeroplanes. Amanda explains that, after working in care, she was conscious that people with catheters or urostomies had their urine on show for all to see. So she invented her catheter bag covers to provide a bit of colour and dignity to people’s lives. Of course, at the Blue Badge Company we’re fans of bright, colourful disability accessories ourselves. Our Blue Badge Wallets come in dozens of colours and designs and are all available here. Read More...

  • No More Excuses! Accessible High Streets Benefit Everyone “Sometimes I visit restaurants and it seems like they want me out of the way…” “The disabled toilets are either used as storage cupboards, or non-existent…” “Very often I find that lifts are broken…” These are all quotes from people who took part in some research for Trailblazers, a group of young disabled people who tackle social issues. Trailblazers wanted to look at how accessible our high streets are, and whether businesses are doing the best they can to enable disabled customers to shop with them. What they found will, sadly, not come as a surprise to most disabled people. Their findings included the following, rather depressing, statistics: Over half of their respondents said that facilities regularly don’t have accessible toilets Over 2/3 had been unable to access parts of a venue because of broken or faulty equipment 1/3 felt they could not spontaneously travel to their town centre; instead they had to plan ahead 1/3 reported insufficient disabled parking 70% said there was not enough accessibility information on business websites 40% shop online because of a lack of access in their local towns. Given that 2/3 of respondents said that they make their decisions about where to go based on the disabled access, this really is something that businesses such as shops and restaurants should be taking seriously. Even if they don’t do it because it’s the law, or because it’s the right thing to do, there is no arguing that it makes good business sense! If a potential customer is unable to get into your store or your café, you will lose their custom and they will spend their money with a competitor instead. Because this is the thing: making business premises accessible doesn’t have to be a chore or something done reluctantly out of obligation. It can be a really positive, constructive move that will build great customer loyalty and invite yet more people to come into your establishment and buy your wares! So, what does ‘accessible’ mean? When talking about accessibility, many people focus on ramps and accessible toilets. These things are very important, of course, but accessibility does not begin and end there. There are other points that businesses with premises should take into account, and these can include: Providing menus in braille Making sure shop floors aren’t cluttered and difficult to navigate Installing a hearing aid loop system Making sure accessible loos aren’t full of cleaning equipment or excess stock Installing lifts, if buildings are on more than one floor Easy-to-open doors Leaving sufficient room between tables or shelves so that people can walk or wheel between them easily If you need to keep your accessible toilet locked, use a lock for RADAR keys Staff who have had some disability awareness training so they know how to treat people and how to help. The possibilities are almost endless, and this is what puts a lot of people off. They don’t know where to start, and they don’t feel they have enough information about what is needed. In this situation, approaching a local disability group, or hiring a disability access consultant can ensure that you get specialist advice on what is required and how you might go about it setting it all up. Everybody benefits from a more accessible world. It’s not just disabled people whose lives are made easier, but also the lives of elderly people, people who use prams or pushchairs, people with temporary injuries, and more. Businesses get new customers, everyone’s horizons are broadened, and the world’s a nicer place all round. And who doesn't want that? (Image credit: Tim Sheerman-Chase) Read More...