After you finish school, or if you are thinking about a career change, you might consider some further study or training. Trying to fit in studies while managing your arthritis and the rest of your life may be a daunting prospect, but with the right support and approach you can successfully ‘hit the books’.
Universities, TAFE and other educational organisations are not allowed to discriminate against students with a disability. In fact, there are national standards that require these organisations to take steps to help students with a disability to study and use facilities on the same basis as a student without a disability. This may include making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to teaching or assessment practices. This means that organisations take into account your situation and make appropriate changes to help you overcome barriers to studying successfully. For example, your arthritis may make it difficult to write for long periods, so a ‘reasonable adjustment’ could be to provide you with an extended period of time to finish an exam, to allow regular rest periods while you write.
Some things to consider
Depending on what you choose to study, there may be some options that make it easier for you to manage:
- Workload – If you find fatigue or tiredness a problem, you could consider studying part-time. Although it will take you longer to finish your course, it may be a wiser option than taking on too much and not making it to the finish line.
- Mode of study – Many universities and educational organisations offer online courses and other options to study without having to always go to the campus. This mode of studying is not available or suitable for all types of courses, but it may be a good option if you find it easier to study from home.
- On-campus accommodation – If you are facing long days of classes and/or a lengthy commute, you may want to consider the option of living on campus. Most larger campuses have some form of accommodation available onsite which may make things easier for you.
Ask for help
When you enrol, your first step should be to contact the disability services (liaison) unit at your university or TAFE – all Australian universities and TAFE have staff responsible for disability services, although they may have different titles. Perhaps you do not think of yourself as ‘disabled’, so it may not have crossed your mind to seek out help from this type of service. However, these services aim to ensure that people with any chronic medical condition, like arthritis, are able to actively participate in all aspects of university or TAFE life. You may not need or choose to use these services all the time, but if you have them in place you can access extra support when needed such as if your arthritis flares.
How can they help?
You should talk to a disability officer at the university or TAFE you are attending about the services you are likely to need. Usually this will be the only person you will need to explain your condition and its impacts to. He or she will advise the faculty or department what recommendations are needed and the information will then be passed on to the lecturers and tutors, etc. You will not have to explain each time, but refer the asker to the Faculty office or your disability officer. If possible, contact the officer before you begin your course; preferably even in the year before you start. This will give you and your disability officer plenty of time to make any necessary arrangements. If you have concerns about managing study, you can discuss them with the officer – he or she may be able to tell you about the experiences of other students with your condition, and how they overcame challenges. The disability officer will also be able to refer you to academic staff who can advise you about your particular course.
Support services at universities and TAFE usually include:
- educational support (such as peer note-takers, whereby a colleague in your class provides copies of their notes if you find it difficult to take notes during lectures)
- modified assessments (such as longer periods for exams)
- assistive equipment
- improved access to buildings (for example, relocating your class to a room without stairs)
- parking arrangements
- library assistance
- personal orientation to help you get to know the campus before you start.
When you have arthritis, work can sometimes feel a lot like hard work – especially if your physical symptoms are affecting your ability to get your job done. You might be finding it challenging to stay in your current job, or are worried about finding new work because of your condition. The good news is that treatments for arthritis have significantly improved and, nowadays, many more people with arthritis can keep working despite their condition. In fact, more than 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis continue to work for twenty years after their diagnosis. Staying in the workforce may require anything from a little support to a complete change of roles, but there are many services available to help you.