Tips for making the most of university life with Finley Tonner
From accessible accommodation to public transport, Finley shares his top tips for having a blast at university
Hello!! My name is Finley Tonner, I’m 21, a manual wheelchair user and have just graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in economics.
I’ve been at university for three years and they have been definitely, without doubt, the best three years of my life.
Whizz‐Kidz have asked me to give some advice based on my time at uni and I have learnt a couple of things over the years that some of you reading this may find useful.
I am by no means an expert, but I have lived experience that has worked for me.
There is a lot I would like to talk about, and I am going to be doing a video about more general financial issues but some of it is relevant here too.
Disability support teams
It goes without saying first and foremost that there are larger costs for disabled people in day‐to‐day life; travel, living costs etc. These costs can be either time or money.
Relating to university, I would advise that you always leave slightly earlier than you think you need to at the start of your uni life.
You won’t know where the lecture halls and seminar rooms are or how you specifically need to get there in terms of accessible entrances and ramps for example, but the university should be good at accommodating for this and planning your timetable accordingly.
And don’t worry, everyone else will be in the same boat at the start anyway.
If your lectures are too far for you to walk and you need public transport, then city councils will be able to provide you with a disabled pass for Metrolinks/trams (in certain places) and/or buses.
Make sure you apply for these as they can come in handy.
In my experience the university will have a disability support team and they will know the area better and what can be provided for you (if not they should be able to point you in the right direction).
Make sure that you register with them as they can help with important things such as exam
arrangements (extra time, support).
They will also be available to help with accommodation.
Your first‐year accommodation is where you will meet the most people and university halls are generally good at providing accessible rooms where required.
But as accessible rooms tend to be in the more modern buildings they can be more expensive. This should not worry you though.
If you are applying for student finance, make sure that you also apply for Disabled Students’ Allowance and then send off the required evidence.
I would emphasise to make sure you do this at is very easy to miss – as I did in my second year – and gives you a grant (meaning it does not have to be repaid like your student and maintenance loan) to help with the extra costs faced by being disabled.
When it comes to moving out of halls into private accommodation this can be more difficult.
Unlike halls, private housing does not necessarily cater to everyone, they are just there to make money.
It may take a reasonable amount of searching and make sure to ask the university what they would suggest as well as using websites like Unipol.
It is always helpful to have someone who knows you and your condition well (parent/carer/guardian) looking as it cuts the job in half.
If you are living with friends make sure you inform them of what you would need in terms of accessibility in the most general terms (I have looked at more than 15 houses each year but finding an accessible one makes it all worth it).
But if not, do not worry, halls are a lovely place to be, and you get to meet loads more people whilst also still seeing your old friends.
My main piece of advice would be about your attitude. I’m asking you, as someone who is going to miss it a lot, to go and enjoy university as much as you can.
Best years of your life
It can be the best years of your life and do not let the fact you may be disabled or in a wheelchair stop you.
Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it, both at university and more generally.
Socially, some night clubs may not appear to be the most accessible but the staff I have come across have always been more than willing to help (one bouncer walked me home one night to make sure I was safe, and another once carried me up some stairs to a toilet).
Do not worry about making friends or finding stuff to do, the majority of universities are big enough and have enough people at them that you will 100% find people that you like and like you and stuff that you can do and societies you can join.
Go in with an open mind and the right attitude and you will have a blast, just like I did.
University can be scary – moving out of your family house and living in a new place – but if
you stick with it and try and integrate yourself, you will not regret it.