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Deciding whether to pursue a Masters degree with a learning difficulty, disability, or chronic illness can be a difficult task.
However, there are many students who take on this challenge and have as much of a successful and rewarding postgraduate study experience as their peers.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether to inform your university about a disability or illness. But it’s important to note that many institutions have excellent support networks for chronically ill or disabled students.
This page highlights the benefits of informing your university about your personal needs, the ways in which they are able to support you, and ways in which you yourself can manage a chronic illness, learning difficulty, or disability.
When considering moving on to a Masters degree, it is important to consider how your disability, learning difficulty, or illness may affect your studies. Below are a few of the things you may wish to think through.
When researching different places to study, you should think about how the location, area, and university itself can accommodate your needs. For example, you may want to consider:
As of the UK Equality Act (2010), all buildings should be accessible through providing lifts, escalators, or other means of mobility for those less able.
However, you may still want to ensure that buildings for different modules are a manageable distance from each other, and notify the university of any issues.
You do not have to disclose any disability or illness when applying for a Masters degree.
Do note, however, that a university cannot discriminate against you for anything you do disclose.
Making your disability clear on your application can also be beneficial if you suffer with a physical disability such as visual impairment, or a hidden disability such as dyslexia.
For example, minor grammatical errors or spelling mistakes may be forgiven - but your application will have to fulfil all the relevant criteria just like any other student.
When deciding whether or not to inform your university about your disability or illness, it is worth considering some important factors:
Disclosing any issues to the university’s disability services also means that a report of your condition can be sent to your tutors discreetly. This avoids any possible embarrassment you may feel about disclosing it outright.
Do bear in mind, however, that the more your tutors understand about how your condition may affect your studies, the better they can support you. Being open and honest about your disability or illness will help yourself and your tutors come to a mutual agreement as to how to manage your academic work effectively.
It isn’t always the case that students know of their disability or learning difficulty prior to starting university.
This is because some disabilities affect individuals in ways which would not obviously signpost them to any specific impairment.
For example, dyspraxia is a hidden learning difficulty which can effect mood, concentration, and co-ordination – things which you may put down to other factors such as tiredness or general clumsiness.
However, your university can assist in diagnosing learning difficulties and hidden disabilities.
QuickScan is used by many universities to assess whether a student may have a possible learning difficulty or ‘hidden’ disability such as dyspraxia. It is an online test which asks you to answer a few simple questions, taking roughly 15 minutes to complete. The software is accessed via your university’s online services.
If the software suspects you may have a disability, you will receive a summary which you can present to your university’s student services, who will then provide you with a voucher to be fully assessed by a psychologist without charge to yourself. The psychological assessment usually takes 2-3 weeks to arrange, and lasts around two hours.
Once a psychologist has assessed you, you should receive a full report within two weeks.
If you opt to notify your university of an illness or disability, you certainly won’t have to face any possible challenges alone.
As well as being able to access support from your university, there are steps you can take to successfully manage postgraduate study on your own terms.
Depending on the severity of your condition, you can be provided with different kinds of specialist support and equipment.
Your university can provide you with:
You can manage material by:
For many disabled students, reading documents and comprehending them efficiently can be difficult, especially in different formats and under limited time. Accessing materials and resources may also be more challenging as a result of your disability or illness.
Your university can help you get around this by:
Some of the services mentioned above, such as installing software on your home computer, are not always free. However, you may be able to cover the costs through Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and other sources of funding.
Drafting your work a couple of times before you submit it is always advisable, regardless of whether you have an illness or disability.
To ensure your work is free from spelling mistakes and grammatical errors that may naturally occur through disability or learning difficulties, a proof-reader can be allocated to check over your work.
Again, this service can be funded through DSA.
It is important to note that if you decide to use a proof-reading service, pieces of work will have to be submitted to them well before your deadlines.
This allows time for you to edit your work sufficiently and avoid being turned away if the service is busy.
To manage your workload:
There are many services available to help students prepare and undertake examinations and assessments. Though the precise services vary in different universities, you may generally be eligible for:
Managing your own preparation:
An independent project or final thesis is one of the most important parts of the dissertation. It is the part of your Masters degree where you will have to do the most independent work. As a result, you will need to be self-sufficient, and set out what you plan to do during each stage carefully.
There are several ways in which you can do this:
If you would like some more tips on writing your dissertation, you can consult our guide.
Accessing support through your students’ union is an excellent way of meeting those in a similar situation to yourself. Unions often have societies specifically for disabled students, so accessing them is a great means of balancing your academic and social pursuits.
Many unions also run mentoring schemes, where you can chat with somebody either online or in person. It’s a fantastic way of talking to somebody about any possible struggles, if visiting a councillor or staff member seems too daunting.
When managing your Masters study alongside part-time work, it’s important not to take on too much.
Most universities recommend that the average full-time student works no more than 16 hours per week. If you have a disability or illness, it might be best to reduce this to around 12 hours per week to better manage your coursework and other academic commitments.
If you are searching for work, you can be confident in applying to employers that are part of the Two Ticks Scheme. Under the scheme, employers cannot discriminate against you for a disability or chronic illness. You are guaranteed an interview so long as your experience fulfils the job criteria.
All universities and students’ unions are Two Ticks employers, so it’s definitely worth looking into possible positions with them.
If you feel your illness or disability does not hinder your work, you may be comfortable applying to most jobs.
You do not have to disclose information about a disability or illness if you do not wish to. However, if your condition impacts your work for any reason, it is only fair on your employer to be honest with them.
A disability or chronic illness, or learning difficulty can make postgraduate study more expensive. You may need to purchase specialist equipment, pay for additional help, or cover other costs associated with transport and accommodation.
Thankfully, there is funding available to support Masters students with disabilities, learning difficulties, or illnesses.
Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) is the largest funding source for disabled and chronically ill students. Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for a grant of up to £10,362.
The funding can be used to cover the costs of accessing services, printing, and any assistance you may need.
Looking for more information on Disabled Students' Allowances for Masters students? Our guide provides you with information on whether you are eligible, and how to apply.
The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t alone when it comes to managing a learning difficulty, disability, or illness during your studies.
As well as support from your university, there are lots of online forums and external organisations which you can access support through.
Our sister site, Postgrad Forum, brings together students of all levels to post about and discuss potential problems, as well as successes stories and advice.
Disability Rights UK is a charity which also provides support, advocacy, and resources to disabled students.
NadineMuller.org.uk is an academic blog by Dr Nadine Muller, with information on managing postgraduate study with chronic illness and disability. The blog contains many contributions from individuals with a variety of illnesses and disabilities, so it makes for an excellent resource.
Last updated - 15/11/2016