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Am I formally disabled? Degree study affected

Hi all,

Hope you are all having a good day.

I am having a sh**e couple of days with new MS symptoms. Arm weakness (worst its been to date), blurred vision, dizziness and mental fog. Thats not why I’m here though.

I have just started the second year of a degree, I am already struggling with typing and concentrating. Even though I got diagnosed with MS back in July, I decided to plough on with the degree as I want to keep my brain active. I am currently funding the degree through a student loan, if I am formally disabled I may be entitled to some financial help and additional course support.

When you get diagnosed with MS are you formally labelled as disabled?

All the best

Nikki

Hi Nikki. With your MS diagnosis you would be able to apply for DSA disabled student allowance. You would have an assessment regarding what is needed to help you.

Support can be for example a laptop if you don’t have one or the one you have is too old, dictaphone (good for recording lectures), a printer, special software such as Dragon which as speech recognition, 1 to 1 training in the software. Also there is an allowance per year available to cover things such as printer paper, ink, photocopying, some extra travel expenses related to your course.

Hi,

It’s not really a question of being “formally labelled”. Some people with MS consider themselves disabled, others don’t.

As far as the workplace is concerned, yes, it is formally recognised as a disability right from diagnosis - whether or not the person is severely affected (this is partly to stop employers quickly getting rid of employees they consider are “bound” to get worse, and cause a lot of problems). But again, it’s up to the employee whether they declare things, and so claim that protection.

Studying, of course, is not quite “the workplace”, so the same legislation does not apply. However, most (All?) universities ask whether you consider yourself disabled. If you have a formal diagnosis of MS, I don’t think there’s any issue at all with answering “yes” to that question.

I certainly did a couple of years ago, when I did a short unit with the OU. They were very nice about it, and falling over themselves to help me, but none of the “special help” that might have been available was really relevant to me. Because I was doing it from home by distance learning, and there were no face-to-face sessions or exams, I didn’t have any transport or access issues, and they could potentially have provided things like speech recognition (if I’d lost ability to type), or course materials in audio format, if I had vision problems. But none of these really applied. My problems are of a more general nature, such as fatigue and pain. There was nothing practical they could offer, to help with those specifically. The one thing that might have been useful, which was extra time to complete assignments, was the one thing they couldn’t/wouldn’t do; I had the same submission deadlines as anyone else, and if I missed them, I’d have missed them, regardless of reasons. (In the event, I didn’t).

So it all depends, really, on how you are affected, and the nature of the support available. “Coming out” as disabled doesn’t necessarily mean they can magic up something that will help. If you have trouble writing, you may be entitled to the services of a scribe in lectures, or extra time in exams, and that sort of thing. But if the basic problem is: “I feel pants”, there’s not really an adjustment to deal with that.

Tina

I have been given Dragon I am currently enrolled in a research masters course. I can type fine, it has been given to me as I suffer from fatigue and it can save me some energy. It takes a bit of getting use to.

Hi,

Thanks for the information, all very useful stuff to know! My course is with the OU so I will ring them to inform them and see if they can support my studies in any way. The module has only just started and I’m already behind schedule due to symptoms.

Thanks again

Nikki

Hi Nikki I did a degree with the OU as well and they couldn’t have been any more helpful. They offered every kind of support and assistance. I even had a home exam one year as I was relapsing at the time. Give them a call, it will be worth it. Best of luck with the course.

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The OU were extremely eager to help - a nice man phoned me, and I almost felt guilty I couldn’t think of anything to ask for that would really make a difference.

He seemed quite well-versed about MS, and understood that it can change really quickly, and that even if I didn’t need anything right now, I should get in touch straight away if anything changed, as they could respond quickly too - such as delivering the audio materials if my sight changed.

As I say, the one thing they didn’t really offer any concessions on was module deadlines, which for me would have been the most useful. Like you, I was getting behind because of feeling ill, but none of it was the sort of thing they could just stick a parcel in the post, and problem solved. It wasn’t a specific problem, such as being unable to see the course material properly, or unable to type. I just had motivation problems because of always feeling knackered, but unfortunately, as helpful as they were, they hadn’t come up with a gadget they could send me, that would take care of that. I did finish and pass the course, but it was only a little one - not a degree. I did register for a degree, just to keep my options open, so I could add more modules later if I ever felt like it. But I don’t have any serious intention of doing it - not least because I can’t afford it. Most modules have approximately tripled in price since the short one I did. It’s too expensive just as a hobby, and I’m not eligible for any student loans, because I already have post grad qualifications. You can’t get a loan for any study at a lower level than you’ve already done - even if it’s a completely different subject. So unfortunately, I can’t do it.

Tina

x

So in essence Nikki, the question is firstly do you consider yourself to be disabled? Many people with newly diagnosed MS do not, it depends on your symptoms and how you feel. The label of ‘disabled’ is not predetermined by a diagnosis.

The second thing is whether you can get any help from a disabled students allowance. Have a look at https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas/overview That might help although as Tina said, it won’t necessarily help with deadlines etc.

Also, you can try your colleges’ welfare services. Is there anyone you can get help and/or advice from? Or of course the Students Union.

It’s really tough coming to terms with a diagnosis of MS, especially if you are young and away from home and your usual support systems (ie parents, siblings and old friends) and trying to study at the same time as getting used to health problems can be hard. Keep coming on here for support and help. We’ll all try our best.

Sue

Hi all, thanks for the info. I spoke with Student Finance England today, I have printed off the DSA forms, just need to fill them in. and send them back and wait ten days for a response.

Coming to terms with MS is not easy, at all. Thought I handle on it at first, but no, I do not. Its a bastard, I have more shit days than good days recently. My relationship is causing me massive stress that I can’t cope with on top of the MS. Anyway. sorting my life out for the best for me.

Nikki