Support Workers Needed For UK Disabled Students: Do You Have What It Takes?

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“One of the great sources of satisfaction in work is the feeling that we are making a difference to people’s lives,” says philosopher, Alain de Botton, in the foreword of a new report on work fulfilment in the UK.

If his theory is correct – and there are plenty of studies that draw the same conclusion – the field of student support work could be just the place to find a fulfilling career right now.

Recent research by Muscular Distrophy’s Trailblazers revealed that more help is urgently needed when it comes to making further and higher education accessible to disabled students.

In the survey of 100 UK universities, only half confirmed that all teaching rooms, study rooms and libraries were fully accessible for students with mobility difficulties while only a quarter said they had considered disabled students when planning freshers' week information and only a third had a society representing disabled students in the student union.

This lack of accessibility to colleges, universities and students’ unions was a major driver behind the NUS Disabled Students’ campaign – along with the alarming statistic that disabled people are twice as likely as non-disabled people to have no qualifications.

Starting at a new college can be a daunting time for anyone – meeting new people, demanding work loads, even just finding your way around campus.

So imagine how challenging the experience would be for a student with mobility issues, impaired hearing or sight, or learning difficulties.

Accessing the student union, hearing a lecture or reading course handouts are simple needs most students would take for granted. But without the right measures in place disabled students can be – and in many cases, are being – denied these basic requirements.

This is where the key role of the support worker comes in. As a conduit between universities and disabled students, support workers are integral in overcoming these everyday prohibitive challenges.

From dyslexia tuition and note-taking to mobility support, mental health mentoring and study skills tuition, support workers offer a holistic support to students throughout their education.

Specialist support workers are trained in particular disabilities from Autism and Asperger’s, specific learning difficulties and visual, auditory and vocal impairments to mental health impairments and physical disabilities.

Nikki Morette Philips a Student Support Worker for Randstad, the UK’s leading provider of support to students with disabilities, is passionate about the accessibility of higher education for students with specific learning difficulties.

“The importance and relevance of student worker support for universities means that more and more students with specific learning difficulties can have an enriching learning experience.”

As an Open University student with mental and physical health needs, Sophie Moss works with a student mentor provided by Randstad, which she sees as a vital step in the right direction for her time as a Psychology student.

“With Anna as a mentor, we have been able to get me through a module that was very challenging academically,” she says.

Sophie explains the qualities she believes are essential in a mentor: “You have to be empathic and have compassion and an understanding of where that student is coming from.

“You also need to be patient and you need to be quite focused with the goals your student wants and needs to achieve. And you might need to be quite firm with them because empathy isn’t sympathy.”

Morette adds that “open-mindedness, flexibility and a commitment to providing educational opportunities to all” are also essential traits for a student support worker.

If you think you have what it takes but need a little further convincing that this could offer you the career fulfilment you’re looking for, here are just some of the ways in which Student Support Workers make a difference to the lives of others.