Disability, My Life, Student Life

Preparing For a Postgraduate Degree 2020

Coventry University Virtual Open Day

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Universities have had to improvise and organise alternatives to traditional open days and other events. One of these alternatives is a series of virtual open days for undergraduate and postgraduate students. 

Having accepted my place at Coventry University in March, I recieved an automated email, bringing my attention to an upcoming virtual open day held for postgraduate students. 

Having the opportunity to attend this virtual open day was a very welcome idea to me. This is because, when I originally became interested in Coventry University, instead of attending an official open day, I instead attended an arranged meeting with the course tutor for the sole purpose of finding out more about the potential course.

Whilst I did enjoy this, as it was not an official open day, there were no lectures on topics such as student life, the students union, societies or any other opportunities. So when the chance for an open day did come around, I was more than excited to find out a little bit more.

Of course, I was disappointed that due to Coronavirus I was unable to have the oppitunity to attend an open day in person, as I still had questions and queries about the course, but I was glad that there was still some sort of opportunity provided to me which meant I could ask my questions.

Accessing the online form and registering for a place on the virtual open day was a challenge and it was very confusing. The details of my course needed to be provided as part of the online form but I was unable to see my course on the list so I had to improvise. 

Another part of the form required me select whether I was a prospective student or an offer holder. Already having accepted my place on the MA Profesional Creative Writing I was unsure of which one to select, the form should have been much clearer. 

On the open evening, I signed onto the extensive forum for the virtual open day and waited for it to begin. At the start of the event, The Dean of the University provided us with a welcome presentation with a recorded message over the top. I thought there would be at least a video of him giving the welcome speech but never mind.

Throughout his speech the Dean spoke of admissions advice, ‘why choose Coventry’ and other information which perspective students would need to know. I found this presentation interesting and informative, however it made me think that I should have chosen the offer holder option, as I had already decided on Coventry. 

Elsewhere, the extensive forum gave way to more forums. Certain areas included images and slideshows of the campus and library in detail as they tried to provide all the information students would find on an actual physical open day.

Other areas contained more directed forums for each faculty. As my course belongs to the faculty of arts and humanities, this is the one I clicked on. When in my faculties forum, I was able to ask existing students and lecturers questions, which included questions regarding my course and coronavirus, and then just my course in general. 

I then also clicked onto a different forum. This forum was dedicated to the more social aspect of University. Thus I was able to ask questions regarding my involvement in societies, more information about welcome week and a bit more about student life in general.

I found this to be really helpful, and all the students that answered my questions were both enthusiastic and more than happy to take their time to talk to us. I will now be looking out for a further postgraduate open day closer to September to answer any more burning questions. 

Battling Social Services 2020

For as long as I remember, my parents and I had to battle with social services throughout my life, for different reasons and this time regarding my plans to attend university to complete a masters degree in September 2020. 

I have studied at University since 2014 and neither my needs or my budget have changed. However, after informing them of my plans to study a postgraduate degree, they are desperate for my budget to be revised and decreased somewhat.

While on the phone to them the social services team were determined to find hours of care which are ’no longer’ needed. 

My disability has never and will never change and there are no hours which are uneccessary. I can be independent at times, but if no one is here with me, I could do something as simple as drop my mobile phone and not be able to pick it up and no one would be around for a few hours and I wouldn’t even be able to call for help if something more serious happens. 

I have spoken to Social Services many times before and it seems to be the same conversation every time, I have to repeat myself over and over again before I am listened too.

Every phone call I have to breakdown my disablility and my daily living to actually prove and verify I have Cerebral Palsy and need 24/7 support.

Birmingham Social Services are arguing that my budget needs to be cut. They are proposing to section off my life through employing a carer connected to one of their affiliated agencies.

The new plan would mean that instead of my current care (which is 24/7), I would have to accept intermittent care, limited to two or three times a day. I would not even know who the carer would be as they change depending on shift patterns.

Moreover, I would have my daily routine dictated to me, including the times I get up, go to the bathroom, eat and go to bed.

This is distressing because it means I would not even be able to do something as simple as have a walk down to the shops, and thus would practically leave me house-bound. 

I shouldn’t have to be govened by someone else, being told when to get up, when to go to bed and when I can be toileted, its basic human rights!  

The members of the social services team I speak to constantly contradict themselves by stating that living with my dad shouldn’t factor in to my care budget decsion as he is not expected to do any of my care but my care budget should be cut anyway. 

It seems social services do not understand my level of support and that it will not change regardless of where I am living.

But then, whilst suggesting such a drastic cut of care which would leave me housebound, they then tell me that I should also be able to live a life any other 24 year-old should be. All their ways of thinking, don’t make the slightest sense.     

I want to live my life to the fullest regardless of my disability. I am increasingly becoming more and more mentally and emotionally drained and frustrated.

I seem to have shout louder and louder  to educate them in order for them  to listen to what I need.  For a system that is meant to enable me and people like me it seems that all Social Services want to do is disable us further.

Coronavirus Concerns

I was so anxious to be studying Professional Creative Writing at Coventry University in September, but also excited. It is going to be a big step with many challenges, but I had thought about the possibility of completing a postgraduate degree thoroughly and decided this is what I wanted to do.

Having been to various open days, looking at a number of universities and everything that was involved in each, I felt prepared for what was to come. Then Covid-19 came into existence and threw a spanner to the works.

I was very lucky to have viewed all the universities and creative writing courses that I wanted to before Covid-19 officially hit, but now things had changed. The pandemic has caused a worldwide state of uncertainty.

I won’t go too much into detail about how much Covid-19 has frightened me, but what I will say is I do have concerns about what’s going to happen with my postgraduate study. 

Of course, everyone needs to put the correct measures and precautions into place to ensure the health and safety of people, particularly in public spaces. This important factor has left me with various uncertainties and unanswered questions.

Coventry University have been very good in keeping students updated via email and phone calls. This meant, however, there have been a lot of emails and rumours circulating about what was going to happen come September.

Is the University going to be closed for the foreseeable future? Is it going to be solely online based? Is it going to be half half? Will the whole year be delayed? 

Regardless of what decision was going to be, I had to think very carefully about my options depending whatever conclusions were drawn. I had already studied at undergraduate level so I did have a student life at De Montfort University and wouldn’t entirely miss the chance for student life experience this time round.

It would be nice to have a postgraduate student life because I hadn’t experienced one at Coventry University before. I also didn’t know how workshops would operate effectively for us to show our creative work to our fellow classmates, in order to edit and give constructive feedback.

We would also miss out on the human interaction of it all, whether this is due to being off campus or in in classrooms with a restricted number of people. I know the safety of individuals is most important, but I do like spending time with different people face to face as opposed to always online.

 If I was to get news that all classes were to be online, I am not sure what I would decided to do. On one hand, it is a great alternative and fantastic that they are able to do. They seem well prepared in case this becomes the probability and I can study in my pyjamas depending whether or not classes involve video chat.

However, on the other hand, as much as I would like to say that that I would be focused on my studies at home, I would be lying. I can try and fool myself to thinking I can do it but there is a risk of me procrastinating and putting off work and a chance of falling behind if this happens. I cannot afford to to fall behind, especially when it comes to postgraduate study.

My options are wait and see what Coventry University decide on their approach to dealing with Covid-19 in September and then go from there, decide to defer for a year and hope that this time next year is better or just fully accept that this is how things are going to work and see the studies through.

 I thought very seriously about deferring my studies for a year to see what was going to happen, but then came to the conclusion that the next year could be the same as this year.

My concern was that I have already had a year since graduating De Montfort University, Leicester in 2019 and really didn’t want a another year off. At the moment I’ve decided to see things through and wait to hear back and then to see what I am going to do.

Coventry University Webinar 

Another online resource Coventry University provided due to Covid-19 was a Webinar chat via Microsoft Teams. The idea to give students in each faculty an oppitunity to gain further information ahead of starting in September. 

Compared to the virtual open day earlier in the year, the registering process for the Arts and Humanities webinar chat was much simpler, clear, and easy.

To register my interest they needed my name, email, level of study and course, all of which I saw in the appropriate scroll down menus provided.

Since lockdown, I have used Zoom a number of times to video chat friends and different groups of people, but Coventry University’s webinar chat required Microsoft Teams. Therefore, I had to set up an account with Microsoft Teams.

I found it very complex. I had to download it from the Google Play Store and link it to my Hotmail account. Following the link given to me through an email from Coventry University’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, I was able to join the chat ready for it to start.

I looked forward to meeting faculty members as well as having my questions and queries answered about the course and University.

On the day of the webinar, I struggled to find the link to the chat, as I was away from my computer and had to use my tablet for Microsoft Teams.

Once I found and clicked on it I hurried to join it. The meeting itself was late starting and, panicked thinking I had not connected, people started to talk and join the chat.

Voices rather than videos came through and they informed us that students couldn’t be seen they would only be able to hear what has been said and the presentation provided in the session. All questions, therefore,would have to go on the message boards on a different area of the chat. 

Videos and live feed would be shown of the tutors from the faculty during the presentation to give more details. This was a good feature but it did cut out due to technical issues and every time I went to message boards to put fourth my queries I was unable to hear what was being said. This was rather off-putting.

Students were also unable to converse with each other, just the tutors from the faculty. I was disappointed as I was looking forward to finding my fellow classmates. 

My course seemed to be mentioned on the presentation, but there wasn’t a tutor on the live feed or avaliable on the message board to answer queries. Despite this, I was able to find out more about the University, student life and the opportunities around campus.

Following the webinar chat, I contacted my course director via his email and as always got a quick response. He was able to inform me at present (subject to change due to Covid-19) the course intended to provide five hours of face-to-face contact time in block periods on a Tuesday or Wednesday with additional online classes.

The virtual learning would be through asynchronous lectures, Zoom and Microsoft Teams webinars, along with all the resources from face-to-face classes included.

In regards to the face-to-face classes themselves, the 5 hour block period will be split between two modules with a break in the middle. Three hours dedicated to one module and then a break followed by two hours which focuses on one of the other modules.

I like the fact that we could get all five hours completed at once, so I would only be needed to go in one day, with the exception of aiming to do all of my studies within the campus area or library. I’m glad that they’re providing a mixture of face-to-face and online learning to accommodate everyone. The online classes may actually be more interactive as we won’t need to worry about social distancing in the face-to-face classes. 

Another good aspect of how the classes were broken down, would allow me time to have a sufficient break, be able to use a suitable bathroom with a hoist, get something to eat and some fresh air before I have to be back in class. I have always struggled to find time to do all three on my class breaks, so this sounds really positive.

Nevertheless, I will have to see what comes of it and how I will balance it when it comes to me starting in September.

Overall, The Faculty of Arts and Humanities wasn’t a complete waste of time as I did learn some important things. Firstly, I think it could have been organised better and more resources could have been provided.

However, they did do very well with the resources they had and as it was done from their homes as oppose to the University. The strong presentation with a working message board was definitely useful to student.

I now have my own Microsoft Teams account which will benefit me in September, when it comes to webinars and other online forums to help with my studies.

Applying to Student Finance England (SFE)

As part of my masters preparation, I had to apply for a new application under Student Finance England (SFE). I needed to have access to my original reference number and password, as well as my secret answer that I created when applying originally for my undergraduate degree student finance.

Once logged in I needed to to select the option to create a new application and from there the process seemed straight forward enough, although time consuming and repetitive. 

I initially applied for my student finance back in 2014, so it has been a while since I’ve done so and I forgot the process and what was needed.

When filling out the application I had to retrieve my National Insurance number, passport and bank details to provide as part of the form. I also needed to give the details of the course I am studying and pay attention to exactly the options given.

There was an opportunity for me to select, first, if I wanted a Disability Student Allowance (DSA) but I had already applied so I just had to select that option and was sure to keep track of my DSA application alongside it. 

Having submitted my SFE application, I recieved a confirmation email and a reminder to check my ’To Do List’ to see if they needed any further details for my application.  

At this stage they did not need anymore information, so I just had to wait until I heard back from them.   

Applying For Disabled Student Allowance (DSA)

Alongside applying to Student Finance England (SFE), I also made sure I applied to Disabled Student Allowance (DSA). Due to how my disability affects me, I have benefited from the extra funds and support the DSA provides me with.

My University journey dates back to 2014, when I first applied for DSA and started studying at Southampton Solent University. Now six years on, after an eventful time and successfully graduating from De Montfort University and with my masters approaching, I got back in touch with the DSA team.

Upon hearing that I was going to pursue further study, the DSA sent forms for me to fill out and send back to them to be processed. This included the usual repetitive information and details of my SFE application, as well as my previous DSA details.

I filled out all of the information I could remember from my original DSA application back in 2014. It was quite easy to do and I received my assessment report package for the coming year.

Though my disability has not changed and the support I need would still be the same, everything seemed to make sense on the package. However, it had been a long time since I spoke to DSA and I had heard news of some things in DSA changing. I just wanted to verify this for myself and update my assessment report accordingly. 

I got in touch with them via email and due to coronavirus, we arranged a reassessment over the phone. The man was very nice and supportive as he briefed me on the entitlements of DSA. As suspected, DSA entitlements had changed since my first assessment and therefore my current assessment report would be different.

As it stands, I will have study support but not a note taker. A note taker would be provided through Coventry University rather than DSA. He would confirm this for me eventually, but for the time being, notetakers would not be directly provided by the DSA. 

There was also chance that a high-low desk would be provided to me for my studies which I would be grateful for. I really did find it useful at Southampton Solent University and De Montfort University and it will decrease the amount of times I get shoulder and back pain from learning or straining too much while working.

Transport costs to and from Coventry University would now be covered through my DSA and this was great to know as this was not an option back when I first applied in 2014. I think this will prove to be beneficial because I will be on campus and commuting regularly during the week. 

Other than this, not many other things would change from my original assessment report. I would be able to use the same software I have from 2014, but my dictation equipment and software will be updated as the one I currently have doesn’t work with my Mac anymore. 

There would also be chance of some retraining on this software could be organised. If this is not possible an online portal with videos of how to use software will be passed on.

After the phone call ended I felt upbeat and though some elements of my new assessment report were awaiting  confirmation, I am glad I took time to speak to DSA and get it updated.

Final Preparation 

Despite Covid-19 and the uncertainty that the pandemic has caused, I attempted to organise another trip to Coventry University. I had corresponded with the disability team and my course director via email, but I wanted to go visit to refresh my memory and see if my requirements would be met. 

Together with my dad and my two PA’s, we arranged to meet a member of the disability team and have a tour around the campus, while getting to see the teaching buildings I would likely be in, if any face to face classes go ahead.

I would also get the chance to see any appropriate changing places facilities equipped with a hoist would be available for me to use, come September. 

On the day of the visit, I was able to book assisted travel from Birmingham New Street to Coventry train station which felt bizarre after going so long without travelling by train, especially to a new station.

Birmingham New Street seemed prepared when I told them of my arrival. We arrived promptly at 9am for the 9.30am train to Coventry and we were also able to get an idea of what the station would be like if I was to catch the same train to Coventry in September.

We were able to get on the train and settled in our seats quite easily, as there was nobody in our carriage. The train journey itself took 20 minutes and was quicker than I anticipated, as this train was terminating at London Euston and travelling at peak hours.

Assisted Travel were waiting for us and had the ramp ready to get me off the train. Compared to Birimingham New Street, Coventry station was quite small and deserted due to Covid-19. None of the food and drink outlets seemed to be open, which added to the strangeness of the Covid situation.

Outside we found a wide taxi rank, containing a number of vehicles, including taxis from different companies. As expected, the taxi drivers were not very welcoming and on seeing my wheelchair, hesistated to offer me a ride.

They continued to usher me to the other taxi drivers for them to take my fare. After persisting for my fare to be accepted, we finally got a taxi driver who helped us into one of the larger taxis and drove us to the University.

Upon visiting the University earlier this year, I was rather disappointed at the appearance of the campus because of the ongoing constructions. However, this visit showed that some of the construction work had cleared and it was much easier to get on campus.

We still had to go the long way round to find the most accessible route, but overall I was relieved to find that accessiblity in September would be straightforward. The member of the disability team met us on time and showed us into the main teaching building for my course.

There were two lifts in the building, both very small and were able to fit me and one other person. To access the sixth floor of building where my classes would be situated, a key card was required to operate the lift.

My student key card would be programmed to do the same once I was a student. Once we had gone up in the lift, we had to wait for two more members of staff to open shutters which prohibited access to a lot of the sixth floor. This all seemed very long-winded, but I understood that campus had been in lockdown since March and had only started to reopen. 

The doorway into the classroom was big enough for me to get me wheelchair in, without much problem. I expected it to be a big lecture theatre or seminar room with just one long desk in the middle of the room, but instead it had the long desk and desks with computers around the walls. I tried to line up to one of these desks, but could not fit underneath.

I requested a high-low desk to be put into place so I would be able to fit underneath and work without straining my shoulders or back.

The disability team said this would be no issue. They did have access to high-low desks in the library and could get one more fitted in the classroom. 

On the way out, we found one of the lifts out of order and I raised this to the Health and Safety manager and a member of the disability team, as I would be using this building a lot in September and I needed the reassurance that the situation would be monitored, so I would be able to access all of my face-to-face classes.

Moving across campus, I was able to get more of a picture of what it would be like to study at this University and the whole campus seemed more open. The building where the changing places facility was is situated five to ten minutes away from my teaching building. It was a nice walk over and I was introduced more staff along the way.

It also gave us an idea of how long it would take me to get there and back. I would have to factor in the duration of my classes and the time it would take me to get to this building and use the facility within, so it was good to get a clearer picture. 

We were directed to where the changing places facility was and it did have an appropriate hoist as well as all of the equipment I am familiar with. However, when we used the facility, we found that the ceiling hoist was not working.

The staff of the building were shocked to find that it was not working, as it was in use a couple of months ago, but clearly had been switched off due to the University going into lockdown.

I told them for this time it was fine, but when I do need to be here in September it needs to be working as this was the only appropriate facility I would be able to use and needed to be monitored closely.

After this was completed, the five of us rounded everything off by talking about all my requirements and queries to make sure that there were no grey areas and everything was all set for me to study in September.

The member of the disability team provided me with a number for an accessibility taxi company and we had no problems getting back to Birmingham. After a long day, I am feeling relatively confident with what is awaiting me in my new venture. 

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