What uni is like for a mature student with disabilities

As a mature student starting university can be challenging but as a mature student with disabilities, Matthew LeDoux-Deakin felt extra pressures. Here, he shares his journey of taking a risk, challenging stereotypes and learning to re-programme himself.

As many mature students do, I had spent years, if not decades, wondering what it would be like to go to university. Life had a habit of getting in the way, children, financial security and the question of whether you can you teach an old dog new tricks?

The price of leaving a secure life and going to university was so much more than tuition fees and living costs. As if the decision to become a mature student wasn’t complicated enough, I also had to consider the fact that I had both visible and hidden disabilities. In December 2018, my work life had become so pressured that I suffered from stress, anxiety and depression, this was not a good mix for someone who also has Lupus and Crohn’s disease.

In May 2019, six months before I started at the University of Derby, this combination of symptoms caused me to suffer a stroke which temporarily took my speech, my short-term memory and use of my right-hand side.

Doctors told me to stop working for three years and to stay at home and recover. However, because I couldn’t face the thought of not doing anything, I decided to look at the possibility of doing a degree as my health was beginning to improve.

Making my decision

I made the decision to attend a University of Derby open day, I’d seen this advertised on Facebook. When the day arrived, apprehension settled in as I entered the building expecting to receive a negative response under my circumstances. After spending a couple of hours chatting to different departments including the well-being team, my viewpoint was turned upon its head.

Everybody was so supportive and made me feel that my experience and disabilities were not a hurdle, instead, they were a head-start. They encouraged me to see that I could achieve my dream of becoming a graduate. After looking at my strengths and experience, I decided that the BA (Hons) degree in Business Management, specialising in Human Resource Management, was the course for me.

I made a call to the Programme Leader, part of me still believe that I would not be able to make it but after a candid discussion about my stroke, my physical limitations and my life experience, everything became realisable. We discussed the support available and she told me that she believed I would bring even more to the course than I would take from it. That night I applied and just two days later I received an unconditional offer.

Making a start

The staff at university, in the weeks before starting, were very supportive. They spent time helping me to arrange practical things such as my parking pass, applying for extra support for disabled students (available through Student Finance England) and making sure I knew what to expect on my university journey.

On the first day, I was so nervous! Promptly met by a ‘welcome hero’ upon arrival, they took the time to show me where the disabled access lifts were, the toilets (Crohn’s disease sufferers will know that this is a vital piece of information) and of course where to get the best coffee. A sea of faces swam before me, people who didn’t see my disabilities but just saw me as another student. So here I am, one month in and settling into university life, it truly couldn’t have been easier.

With the support of students and staff alike, I’ve been able to share my illnesses and needs, alongside photos of my grandchildren. Where I need help, I get it and where I can share my knowledge, my new friends are happy to listen.

Part of the Furniture

When I walk around the University of Derby, although there are lots of young people starting out in their journeys into adulthood, I am encouraged that there are also lots of mature students too, whether undergraduates or postgraduates.

In the lectures, I have the freedom to be me and never feel that I am the old, disabled guy slowing people down. I may only have been here a little time, but I already feel a part of their future. So, if you are reading this and wondering whether to study at the University of Derby, do not let the gremlin on your shoulder tell you “No! You won’t manage and you won’t cope!” because you can. Here you will find a community that supports you for who you are, not for your age or disability. The best thing I can say is that I would definitely do the same again and would encourage you to follow your dream too.

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