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Navigating Oxford With A Chronic Illness - Part One

By Annie M/@annwins.adventures

If you are a student with a chronic illness or disability, the idea of going to one of the most academically rigorous universities in the world may seem incredibly daunting. How do you keep up? What if issues arise? Are there sufficient support systems? In this guide, I'll show you how to make the most of Oxford's disability services and other tips, ensuring you have an enriching experience that is hopefully a little more manageable.

These tips were written with chronic illnesses, disabilities, mental health difficulties and neurodivergence in mind, but they can also be helpful for everybody, even those who simply know another is suffering.

This blog is in two parts, the second will be linked here when published.

1. Consider Taking A Gap Year.

This may come across as a little shocking, but if you haven’t submitted your UCAS application yet, perhaps consider taking a gap year or deferring your entry.

During A-levels, I was too busy to go to all the doctors and hospital appointments and in the end, neglected my health horribly. I dropped out of sixth form twice due to severe mental health difficulties and my chronic illnesses at the time were left undiagnosed, but still affecting me. It was only in my gap year that I had the time to truly give myself a full MOT and to get tested, referred to all sorts of places and finally get diagnosed with my health issues. What this also allowed me to do was to learn how to deal with my illnesses, find resources to cope, get on the right medications, adapt my lifestyle around these issues and finally, give me space to fully recharge from the years before - which I think really helped.

If taking a gap year or deferring entry is possible and you believe it could help with obtaining a diagnosis, securing necessary resources, adjusting existing plans, or simply taking a break, it can be a brilliant idea!

2. Make A “First-Aid Kit”

No, I don’t mean a literal first-aid kit with bandages and butterfly stitches (although it’s still good to have) but a first-aid kit specifically for the issues you face. It doesn’t have to take the form of a first-aid kit at all by the way - mine is in a JD sports bag! Think of the issues you face and think about what may help you, and try to keep it in an easily accessible place for yourself. It may be hard to imagine what to put in, so I have given what’s in mine as an example, but it doesn’t have to be similar at all!

· Medications and pill boxes

· TENS machine

· Cooling/warming packs

· CBD oil and balm

· Knee supports

· Ear plugs

· Noise-cancelling headphones

· Sunglasses

· Colour overlays

· Mental health crisis plan

· Phone apps e.g. Headspace

· Books and fact sheets about my conditions

· Fidget toys

· Migraine stick

· Supplements

· Painkillers

DISCLAIMER: This is inspiration to give you an idea of what one could look like, NOT medical advice. Consult with your doctor about what you think could be best for your body and mind.

3. Apply To Disabled Student’s Allowance.

When you apply for student finance, you can also apply to get Disabled Student’s Allowance. According to the government website “Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) is support to cover the study-related costs you have because of a mental health problem, long-term illness or any other disability”, and it doesn’t need to be paid back.

In my experience, the process starts with gathering evidence of your disability, mental health condition, or chronic illness. Following this, a study needs assessment is conducted over the phone, and you'll receive a letter outlining your entitlements a few weeks later. The assessors aim to understand your specific challenges and suggest appropriate support. In my case, this included access to on-site counselling, a study-skills mentor, free printing (up to £180 per year), complimentary laptop insurance, and access to assistive technology programs. Outcomes vary depending on individual needs, potentially encompassing items like a new computer, specialized equipment, note-takers, travel cost coverage, assistive technologies, mental health support, and more! DSA is not means-tested meaning that absolutely anybody eligible can apply, regardless of parental income.

Useful Resources:

· Headspace – has meditations for concentration, chronic pain, sleeping issues and mental health.

If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to read part two!


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