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Studying Law with a Disability

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I love law school, but I don’t always love being at law school with a disability. I have two serious heart conditions that make my journey to the finish line a brutal battle. It can be disappointing and dejecting, and you might look at your marks on a test after suffering two weeks of episodic attacks and think that nobody is ever going to hire you.

You’re studying law with a challenge, and in my book that makes you a rock star to rival Slash. As we all know law is no walk in the park for anybody. So if you’re getting through (be it just scraping over the line, cruising in the middle, or flat out HDs all round), HIGH FIVE. I think that even if you have a fail (or a few) on your transcript there should be no judgment from anybody, and especially not yourself. You’re out there and you’re trying, despite the not-so-great health or disability that can hold you back. That is hard-core dedication.

So give yourself some credit. Don’t put yourself down or try to compare yourself and your performance to your learned colleague who is as fit as a fiddle. Try and imagine how they would cope in your shoes (they probably wouldn’t). Acknowledge your weaknesses and work around them. Play to your strengths and do the best you can.

A double degree is generally 5 years of full-time study. Your health may not support you studying full-time every semester (or ever). Don’t beat yourself up for not graduating at 22 or 23 like all the other students in your cohort straight out of Year 12. Listen to your body, know your situation and plan out law school accordingly. If it takes you 10 years, it takes 10 years – at the end of the day you’re still going to be a lawyer.

So what help is available to help you win the law degree marathon when you’re struck down with a temporary illness or your life involves a permanent disability or health condition?

Start by checking around on campus to see if your university has a health or disability service. Typically, the health services at uni include a great team of trained doctors, counsellors, psychologists, social workers and disability support advisors who are available to help you manage your health alongside your studies. The aim of these programs is to even out the playing field and to prevent you from being further disadvantaged by something that’s outside of your control. It’s inclusive, incredibly helpful and free.

These teams can offer temporary or permanent support, including organising flexibility, rearranging due dates for assessments, exam provisions (like extra time or being able to take food in), note takers and accessible rooms. This is far from an exhaustive list. My provisions are all tailor-made for my health and circumstances. That is one of the really important things about disability and health services. They aren’t a one size fits all approach. My team has also offered counselling when the stress has been too much to cope with. The services and facilities that universities can offer students with disabilities are absolutely AMAZING!

If you aren’t after long-term help my suggestion is to approach your lecturer as early as you can and explain your situation. Most lecturers will do what they can to help you succeed and can offer tips, tricks and other more substantive measures to help get you back on your feet.

So don’t delay another moment and make an appointment with your uni’s health or disability service, or speak to a friendly lecturer. You’re human, and you’re toughing it out in one of the most challenging and time consuming courses universities offer – there’s no shame in saying that you need some extra help.

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