Navigating the seas of university with disability

By Noa Zulman, 6 June 2016 , Comments

“Students with disabilities are often forgotten by the lifeguards of our academic institutions because we are perceived as being unable to swim, when in fact, many of us are drowning in our attempts to brave the waters.”

Unlike the familiar comfort of curling up by the fire with a good book, the thought of diving into the bubble of academia that is Sydney University, or into the entirely foreign waters of student life, washed over like a shower of half- fear and half- excitement.

Confronting the inevitable shove off the plank of introversion that was once secured by a healthy of dose of Netflix and social anxiety, I stood, rooted on the precipice of my degree, with fear.

In a bid to conceal my past of self-induced isolation, I dove into the murky waters of O-Week with my social swimming skills at next to nil.

As a student with a disability, receiving the Wendy Hall Scholarship does not so much erase my fear of drowning, so much as it serves as a flotation device. It endowed me with the confidence to embrace university life wholeheartedly; confidence that was founded in the knowledge that whilst I might not be able to see what was coming next- literally or figuratively- there would always be the financial support to buoy my studies.

Reluctant to reveal any outward sign of my physical impairments to those relative strangers who were fast becoming friends, coupled with a stubborn determination to keep up with the crowd, it’s fair to say that I’ve waded through the first semester of my university studies with resounding success.

Two theatrical productions, a trip to Melbourne intervarsity competition, and countless half-written essays later, it’s high time that I reminded myself that Wendy Hall was the facilitator of these opportunities; opportunities that are largely inaccessible to thousands of other disabled students.

Be it eschewing parties for physiotherapy, tutorials for treks to the hospital, or drinks for doctors’ appointments; students with disabilities are often forgotten by the lifeguards of our academic institutions because we are perceived as being unable to swim, when in fact, many of us are drowning in our attempts to brave the waters.

Wendy Hall, in her bequest of a scholarship, has bestowed upon me the security of a firmly fastened life jacket- one that has allowed me to participate fully in every facet of the university experience, without the knot of guilt that the money spent on an Uber after late-night lectures, performances or debates, could otherwise have been better spent on hefty medical bills.

There is no longer a fear of drowning. Rather, I am learning, with the aid of an incredibly supportive network of family and friends, how to swim against the stream in a world that was never designed for the disabled. Another wave of assessments has come and gone, exams loom ominously on the horizon, and I can almost taste the freedom on my tongue.

I have survived. No, more than that. I have thrived. And so can you.

  • Noa Zulman is one of two inaugural recipients of the Wendy Hall Scholarship, awarded in honour of former Northcott staff member Wendy Hall. Noa is in her first year of completing a Bachelor of International and Global Studies.

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