Deciding what to do after you’ve completed compulsory education is a tough time for lots of young people. If you have ataxia, you may feel extra anxious about where you can go, what you can do and how you can do it. Lots of young people with ataxia choose to continue their education; whether that is college, university, an apprenticeship or further training.

Further education

Further education is done outside of school after the age of sixteen and higher education is the step after this, such as university or college, where you can get a degree or a higher education diploma.

There are many sources of financial support for further education, depending on the type of course you’re doing (for example, an apprenticeship) and your personal circumstances. For more information about funding and access to further education, a really useful resource is Disability Rights UK page on further studies. here you can find a lot of very detailed information and answers to lots of frequently asked questions. 

Read more here about adjustments that must be made for disabled students.

Higher education 

Higher education is slightly different to further education; you are obligated to pay for tuition fees, which in England and Wales can be up to £9,000 per year for university courses. However, you can still receive extra financial support on top of any loans or grants you may be entitled to. For example, Special Access Grants are for people with disabilities who already receive some kind of financial aid such as DLA – this can contribute to your living expenses while you study. Read here about funding higher education.

You can also apply for Disabled Students Allowance.

Other options

If you don’t want to study a three-year full-time course at college or university, there are plenty of more flexible options. Many courses, including foundation degrees, can be taken part-time. Modular courses allow students to work at their own pace, stopping for a while if necessary or switching to part-time. Distance-learning, through organisations such as The Open University is another option with a lot more flexibility and currently has over 13,000 disabled students enrolled.

Having a disability should never be a barrier to pursuing further or higher education. Universities and higher education colleges must make provisions for students with disabilities. Each university or college should publish a Disability Statement setting out how it provides support. You can ask to see a copy of this statement, as well as looking on their website to see details of their policies. You can also take a look at this video about widening participation in higher education.

Disability Rights UK have published a comprehensive booklet about accessing education as a young person with a disability. It is certainly worth a look if you have any questions or want to hear first-hand about the experiences of people with disabilities in accessing and succeeding in further and higher education.

Here Charlotte Case shares her experience on education

The transition from Primary school to Comprehensive school is quite a big change but to someone living with ataxia it can be even harder. It was for me, suddenly you have all these new rules, lots of work and general teenage drama. I don't think anyone can fully realise the importance of secondary education until your older. In my opinion, secondary education and the times in life between 12-16 years old are a vital point in order to gain a footing later in life. I think education and personal life should have an equal balance though, to which I found quite difficult. I concentrated a lot on essays etc. and neglected my social life, which having ataxia can cause depression, loneliness which really is a vicious circle. Don't go down that route! Secondary school is majorily where strong friendships are formed and it is worth remebering that other people will accept you if you accept yourself.  A tip that helped me in school and really continued through my education is know your learning style.  Mine is kinesethic, meaning I learned best by seeing and doing things.

After secondary school, there is the option of further education. This was the route I chose, I mean freedom and no school uniform! At this stage in life, using a wheelchair might be essential. The campus can be quite large, so probably beneficial! I am not going to lie, the work load is heavier than school so it's important to take regular breaks. I think tutors at college have more of a understanding of ataxia and your struggles. For example providing you with handouts instead of copying off a whiteboard, knowing that you are a slow writer so more time is given in exams, larger font etc. Speaking of writing (we all have this problem!) computers are used a lot more at college. These were the happiest two years of my life. Everyone seemed far more understanding, positive and supportive. This put me on a good path for higher education.

I completed a BA in Business and a Masters of Sciene in Business management and marketing. I am a firm believer in keeping your mind active if you have ataxia.

Some tips about how to manage education that you might not be aware of:

DSA - It is so important to speak to a disability officer before enrolling in college/university so you are able to express your concerns, needs and support you may need. They can then carry out a needs assesment as part of Disabled Students Allowance, for example if you need help with writing, they can provide you with a new laptop, printer, dictaphone, scribe etc. Or maybe you need help across campus, someone can be employed to help you.

Equipment - a laptop/computer is essentinal!

Transport - DSA can also help contribute to transport costs to and from college/university.

Balance - balance is key, rushing and overdoing things can increase ataxic symptoms. Regular breaks from studying are important to allow your brain to relax, likewise rejuvinating your energy levels.

Support - Student loans/grants can really help lift the burden of worrying about tuition fees.