Disabilities and Cambridge

This is a page about disability support at Cambridge made by Rensa Gaunt (CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign)


In this post I’ll talk about how to pick a college if you are chronically ill or disabled, how the application process might be different for you, and explain what help is available for you once you get to Cambridge! Feel free to skip to the section that is relevant to you, and thanks for reading!

Written by Rensa Gaunt, CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign

1. Choosing a college

Proximity to faculty
There are 31 colleges to choose from, and their proximity to your classes could be a key factor. There are different kinds of ‘classes’: lectures and seminars will be in faculty buildings, and smaller classes (supervisions) may be either at the faculty or in college. You can find a map with the location of colleges and faculties 🔗, which you could use to shortlist some potential colleges based on location. You might prioritise being close to your faculty, close to the city centre, or close to green areas outside of the busy centre - it’s up to you!

Individual access needs
The nature of your condition(s) will inform the questions you need to ask about specific colleges on your list. Some example questions you might have are:

  • Physical disabilities: How much of college is level access? Is there an appropriate bedroom available for me? Will I be able to be independent in college? Is college near a bus route?

  • Mental illness: Is college quiet and does it feel safe to me? How close by are food shops (Sainsbury’s, Aldi)? Can I cook for myself if I can’t go to the canteen? Is the college isolated from social opportunities?

It’s important to ask these questions, since many colleges do not have level access to all public areas, and cooking facilities vary wildly, from just a microwave and kettle, to an oven, hob and fridge-freezer. There is a convenient list of colleges with collated accessibility information 🔗 available, and the details given are nuanced, so you can find out if for example there is always level access to the dining hall, or whether you have to arrange a ramp in advance. This should help you to narrow down your list of choices according to your specific needs.

Proximity to shops
You can also use Google Maps 🔗 to see what is available in which parts of town. For example, if you search ‘supermarket’, you can see that the south-west of the city centre has no supermarkets, whereas the hill colleges (north-west of the city) have access to an Aldi. Conversely, the city centre has a market and lots of clothes shops, which the hill colleges do not have. Cambridge is quite a small city and it is feasible to walk or cycle to most places, but if you have reduced mobility or energy, location might be an especially important factor for you.

Can't find answers to these questions?
If you have a question about a college and can’t easily find the answer, you can contact either the college staff, or student reps. The former is easy to do via the ‘contact’ form on the college’s website, and the latter can be done by searching ‘X college JCR’ online, where JCR means undergraduate student reps. Contacting to ask questions about accommodation, catering etc will have no bearing whatsoever on your application, so don’t be afraid to shop around!

If they can’t answer your question, you can contact the Disability Resource Centre 🔗 or the Student Union’s Disabled Students’ Campaign 🔗.

2. Will the application process be any different for me?

The application process is essentially the same for everyone, regardless of (dis)ability. It is nuanced, and takes into account difficulties that students have faced, for example their schooling and home background. None of this counts against the student; it simply provides context for different parts of the application. It is the same with disabilities and health problems; the university is obliged by law to treat you fairly and to put in place adjustments that you may need, to give you equal access to the application process, and that is the only thing disability disclosures are used for. So there is no need to worry that your college will be ‘judging’ you for your health - they want to help you succeed!

The Disability Resource Centre has some great resources on how to tackle the application process 🔗, including assisting you with college choice if you have complex needs. You can find more frequently asked questions 🔗 about whether your condition ‘counts’ as a disability, whether you can get adjustments in entrance exams, and whether you should disclose your disability in your application (spoiler alert: yes!).

3. Worrying about how you’ll get on?

There is lots of support in place once you start at Cambridge, to make sure you have the same opportunities that everyone else has. Here is an example of the support you can expect from:

Student finance: tuition fee loan, maintenance loan, Disabled Students’ Allowance (money and furniture/ equipment)

The University: University Counselling Service (free counselling), Disability Resource Centre (makes recommendations about your needs to your faculty, offers advice and mentoring), Cambridge bursary (if low income), Crane’s Fund (funding for private treatment)

Faculty: puts in place your DRC recommendations so you can access your education, may offer course-related funding

College: maintenance grants, hardship funding, grants for study or travel costs, taxi funds for medical appointments, college nurse and counsellor, tutorial (pastoral) support, help with physical access in college, exam arrangements

College common rooms: peer-to-peer support, socialising and advice

Student union (CUSU) Disabled Students’ Campaign: disability-specific peer-to-peer support, socialising and advice. They also have introductory resources 🔗, including the Uni 101 Guide 🔗 and University of Cambridge AccessAble 🔗.

Hopefully this information helps to make your application a little less daunting - and good luck with whatever you decide to do!

Useful resources mentioned in this article

Cambridge SU Access website 🔗 has a college selection page which allows you to filter for the colleges which have good accessible accommodation, and can be found here 🔗.
Cambridge Accessibility and Disability Services website 🔗
Disability Resource Centre ‘Building access guide’ 🔗
Disability Resource Centre ‘Contact us’ 🔗
CUSU Disabled Students’ Campaign 🔗 has lots of great resources, including the Disabled 101 guide 🔗 🌟

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