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Meet Melanie - our disabled student advisor

melaniethorleymelaniethorley Volunteer community adviser Posts: 116 Pioneering

Hello everybody. My Name is Melanie Thorley and I am the ask a disabled student advisor for the Scope community. I volunteer for this role at Scope as I am very aware of how patchy/non-existent advice there is regarding disability and university. Disability in universities includes physical disabilities; long term health conditions; the autistic and dyslexia spectrums; and/or mental health difficulties. Personally, I have had clinical depression and fibromyalgia all of my adult life and I am now 52!

I work as a disability outreach officer at the University of Greenwich (UK) and have done so for the past 11 years. Navigating university can be very daunting, but this can be exaggerated for disabled students. 

woman smiling to camera in graduation robes

My work has two main aspects: *AccessAbility Ambassadors and our STAART initiative.

*AccessAbility Ambassadors (*AAAs) are current disabled students at the University of Greenwich who have been through a rigorous (but gentle) application and interview process. If you do not have at least one disability, you cannot join our team. *AAAs generally apply to become *AAAs as they received little, or no sensible advice themselves when they applied for their university place. This is often as a result of being given the wrong advice – the main one being told not to tick the disability or learning difficulty’ box on their UCAS applications. Prospective students are continually told they will not get an interview and/or place if they tick the box. This is a blatant lie. In reality, admission officers have no idea about gender, race, disability, etc. of the applicants. We know that this situation is still happening as the *AAAs attend our Open Days and hear this bad practice is still ongoing.

The benefits of being an *AAA are numerous. They have the support of myself and each other; they can work around their studies; they get paid; and have opportunities they would never have experienced otherwise, such as representing STAART at conferences and welcoming disabled students from Zayed University in Dubai. I would say the biggest advantage is of the *AAAs who graduate, 85% of them achieve a First Class or 2:1 degree – the highest possible classifications.

The STAART initiative was launched in summer 2016 but is the accumulation of ten years experience of supporting disabled students with their transition into university. As I am an outreach officer, rather than a recruitment officer, my role is to support disabled students going to any university. STAART provides workshops; external events; drop-ins; specialist transition days; and social media. Whilst we have only been in existence for 2.5 years, we would definitely say the initiative has been a success.  Below is a photo taken at our STAART Transition Day in September 2018.

group of students

My personal journey through university has not been easy and I am very honest with prospective students. I nearly had to leave my BA Sociology due to my mental health having a bit of a breakdown and I had to interrupt my doctorate for two years when I was put on morphine patches. Aside from work, I love travelling, Dr. Martens, our cats, Scrabble and wildlife.

If you are considering university, myself and my team may be able to support you. Here is our webpage which has much more information.

https://www.gre.ac.uk/for-schools/activities/accessibility-project

If you would like to join us on Facebook, here is the link:

 https://www.facebook.com/groups/295392264140831/

If you have a question for Melanie then you can ask her in the Ask a Disabled Student Advisor category here.

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