Coming to the end of my undergraduate experience, I thought I would share my overall experience with Ask Jules while studying at undergraduate level. My knowledge of them began when I went to an open day at Southampton Solent University and another disabled student made me aware of the organisation, Ask Jules. The organisation assists those students with a disability who want to go to University.
Found out more about Ask Jules
My Beginnings with Ask Jules
Ask Jules began by Julie Pool aiming to help her son on his own journey at University and saw the difficulties ahead with everything involved with the process in preparation for, before and during his time at University and the limited support available. After helping their son, Julie Pool and her family built an organisation to assist others who are facing similar issues to get the best out of their studies and have the best experiences they can.
I decided to contact Ask Jules via phone and email to see how they could help me and I was pleased by the response I received from them. Ask Jules enquired more about my personality and my needs, the services they offer and how best they could help me at University. Just by listening to them, I felt comforted by their knowledge from their first-hand experience.
The members of Ask Jules talked to me and my parents through the entire process step by step, including the funding you can receive as a disabled student and could help me speak to the appropriate services to make sure I was to get what I was entitled to, using their own knowledge and advice. Having them on side definitely helped as they kicked butt.
Step by Step
After speaking with Ask Jules and getting their support in the process as well as the appropriate funding, our next step was to create a job advertisement for a suitable personal assistant (PA) and carer role. I had to think about what I wanted from a PA personally and academically, what traits I wanted them to have, as we would be spending time together around the clock which could influence and help me at University.
Ask Jules were very insightful and helped us create an advertisement tailoring specifically to me and my needs, that I have Cerebral Palsy and how it affects me leading to mobility issues including using a wheelchair. Then we moved onto more specifics. But as well as this I wanted to show potential applicants that there is more to the job than care. I wanted to show more personality, I am a bubbly, friendly person who is up for a laugh and challenge. I love to go out, cinema, coffee shops and for a bite to eat, that I like shopping but also like staying in for pamper and film nights. I created the job advert and then a more detailed job description and then passed it onto Ask Jules beforehand.
Ask Jules put the adverts up on the appropriate websites and handle all the appropriate checks and recruitment process, speaking to potential applicants before they were then shortlisted and recommended back to me. I then reviewed the details of each applicant and decide which ones I would like to interview. During the interviews, an Ask Jules representative was with me and my parents and asked various questions to lead to a successful interview.
After each series of interviews, Ask Jules spoke with me and my parents at length about each of the applicants to see if we wanted to offer any of them the position or continue the search. Ask Jules will then offer the successful candidate or candidates the role, sometimes in the style of the X Factor to add lightness to it. They then go forth and organise everything from the training dates, necessary paperwork and schedules.
There were times during University where the PAs I had were ill or quit and we didn’t find anyone in time, I was worried about what we were going to do but Ask Jules had that covered. Ask Jules have a number of PAs or bank staff that only want to work odd shifts that can fit around their lives that they call on for this exact thing. If I ever needed one, they would try to find one who was available and close to where I lived and who had worked with others who have similar disabilities to myself. These PAs will then try and cover what is needed until the regular routine can be taken up again. I have had to use it a few times while at University and I actually felt myself really getting to know them.
Reassurance from Ask Jules
I had to re-recruit new PAs some way in my year at University. It hurt me, upset me, I built up a relationship with these people and then they leave, but I had to keep a clear mind, I may not have been the reason behind the resignation. A few times, I myself found relationships with the PA was strained and started to not work so I debated asking Ask Jules to help me sort the issues out or help me re-recruit. When I re-recruit, Ask Jules help you go through the process of advertising, interviewing and training again. I was careful as I updated them to cover things I originally missed. Unfortunately, at one of the times I had to re recruit I was in the middle of completing a deadline and it would be hard to juggle the re recruitment process and manage my deadline at the same time. In the end, I had to let my tutor know what was happening and he helped me handle it.
Years with Ask Jules, I feel reassured by their ongoing support. The family at the centre of the organisation have been through the whole process first-hand, they empathise greatly, they get it and this is what mattered most to me. Along with this, I was able to create long-lasting friendships with some of the PAs, some of which I still have to this day.
Hiring Carers – Round 1: The One in Jest
Ahead of me going to Southampton Solent University, I decided to recruit two people, one personal assistant and one morning carer. I was careful to craft them in my wording choice and detailing each element in the job, distinguishing between my personal needs such as toileting, cooking and cleaning and academic support with similar interests and knowledge in my chosen subject of Media Production and take effective notes to help me achieve the highest I can, while also being upbeat and open-minded. Then elsewhere, finding someone with care knowledge and experience for the morning carer role. Her duties surrounding toileting, personal care and showering and tidying my bedroom.
Following giving everything to Ask Jules, it was an anxious wait as we waited for CVs, cover letters and references from suitable candidates to be given to us. I was surprised how much you could tell by a CV and cover letter. When they were shortlisted, I felt happy and wanted to make sure all the personalities matched and they were aware of exactly what was needed to be done and best to help me. Me and my parents chose to interview three candidates.
NOTE: All of the following names have been replaced with Harry Potter names for the purpose of this blog.
The Candidates: Pomona, Helena and Myrtle
Pomona was a few years older than the others and had the necessary care experience but no real media knowledge which was defiantly needed for my course. Unfortunately, I thought she would not be suited to a care role and for these reasons and her we did not offer her the role. For the second applicant, she had recently graduated from Southampton Solent University the year before and had the media knowledge needed for the role.
The interview with the second applicant, Helena seemed to start off well. I thought we would get on well, having fun together as well as helping me with the social aspect. Then her graduating from the same University would be useful. However, I knew she would struggle with the care aspect and fulfil the duties and sadly the connection wasn’t entirely there. So we did not offer her the position.
Myrtle, the third applicant who myself and my parents interviewed. She was also a few years older than me, she did not have care experience but this was okay, we would train them in a later date but what she did have the high-end revenant media knowledge that can be contributed to achieving my degree. Though she lacked care experience, we felt our personalities match the most and her high level of media knowledge and experience which would help me greatly. She also had time that she had spent in Southampton so we could plan and spend fun days in the city, so we offered Myrtle the position.
Morning Carer: Molly
Alongside a personal assistant (PA) we decided to enlist the support of a morning carer. Her role included getting me up; washed; dressed and completing duties such as toileting and showering and all sorts of other stuff to get me ready daily and my things set for my days at University. Ask Jules helped me chose someone with care experience for the role. I will give her the name of Molly. The two of us got on very well, she had a great sense of humour and was just generally fun, making me feel better when I felt down or homesick. She made it light and easy which proved to be very helpful in the mornings as I am terrible at getting up in the morning. I love my bed and can be a nightmare to get up and ready on time but it turned out to be okay.
Once we recruited both Myrtle and Molly I organised a training day before going to University in September. Ask Jules arranged for Myrtle to come and stay at my house for a few days to observe my care routine both in the day and at night, coaching her through everything so we could get a feel for what it would be when it just the two of us. It allowed us all to get to know each other more and we could plan what to do outside of University hours.
Troubles at Southampton Solent University
At the beginning of the academic year at Southampton Solent University, I felt happy about what was to come but it was a bumpy year all around.
Myrtle’s support with the academic side of student life was good, her media knowledge and experience made the coursework fun as we completed theory and practise in the course. She was a great notetaker and was very helpful in organising and structuring assignments which was something I needed for my studies. It was the social side that there was trouble.
Difficulty One: Social Life
I looked forward to FreshersFest2014, hearing a lot of excitement and enjoyment surrounding freshers week, so I was quick to purchase both myself and Myrtle a wristband. I wanted to make the most out of University life. Unfortunately, Myrtle wasn’t that enthused about going out during freshers weeks nor on general nights out. She wasn’t as sociable as she first appeared to be and strongly refused to go out of an evening or night for one reason or another. It’s too far a distance, you can’t go, you have work to do. Excuses after excuses. It was clear that she didn’t want to go out.
Friends would come and ask if I wanted to go out but she would answer for me and say no, I asked her why I couldn’t go out on my own with them but she didn’t like the idea of me going out without her either. I tried to plead with the PA, promising that I would take my mobile and stay with reliable people but there wasn’t much convincing her so this meant I missed out on nights out with friends and fellow students.
I was undermined, Myrtle saying that I would have more time to chill or catch up with my coursework or watch a film together instead, (like I was five) I felt very dejected. The frustration mounted with every week and every night out I wasn’t a part of. Seeing students get dressed up and go out at night was horrible and it made me feel totally isolated. It reminded me of my secondary school when I couldn’t go out at break times and lunchtimes.
I felt very small and like a little child again. Looking back now, I know I should have spoken to Ask Jules about the issues so they could have helped me before I became so miserable, made worse by isolation and lack of sleep. But instead, I stayed quiet and spoke to Molly who was happy to be with me on small breaks outside the halls of residence and on nights out which I was grateful for and it strengthened our friendship. I was able to join in with events, parties and nights out and I loved them.
While this was happening, petty drama began between my flatmates which escalated quickly and it made the atmosphere very uncomfortable and it really began to affect my relationship with Myrtle. Soon after, I became increasingly aware of the growing friendship between Myrtle and some of my flatmates. She was spending more and more time with them and this made me feel very low and left out, them forming a stronger friendship than I was able to. I was uncomfortable with my friendship with both parties as they soon impacted the other. She was trying to relieve her student experience rather than helping with mine.
One thing led to another and things imploded. Everyone got involved. Lines were drawn. Us and them. Everything was on the verge of breaking point one night, I was speaking to possibly the only friend I had made in my halls of residence, talking everything through when Myrtle had spent the whole night with the other two girls and said she had had enough. She walked out on me and though Molly was fantastic, covering for my PA, the whole situation threatened my plans and the remainder of my University life.
Feeling very down after what happened, I returned home for a while to decide what to do next. Upon speaking to Ask Jules, we decided to re-recruit another PA, this time one with more experience in the role. I went back to Southampton Solent University, not feeling great but I wanted to at least finish the year.
Ask Jules helped me look for a more suitable candidate and we soon found someone. I will call her Katie. One who was young, but one had worked for Ask Jules before with another student at Southampton Solent University. She was a nice enough girl but when the rest of my year at University began again, I found her to be very unsociable and short-tempered, she preferred to spend time in her room. The experience with this PA was equally miserable just in a different way and I was so glad when the year was over.
Upon reflection, I knew I should have spoken to Ask Jules about the issues I was having with Myrtle and Katie but I was too nervous, worried about what would happen if I did. Ask Jules were there for things like this and I could have sorted the issues with their help. I’m an adult and I should have gone out with any other student. The experience at Southampton was negative but it taught me to open up and ask for help from Ask Jules who were sympathetic and determined to not let it happen in the future.
Read about my more successful Ask Jules Undergraduate Experience during my time at De Montfort University.