Alumni stories – anonymous

In 2000, I graduated from my Bachelor of Arts in Leeds and thought my life had just begun. However, towards the end of the year I started experiencing severe headaches and was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which was genetic as my late sister suffered from the same condition. The genetic condition is called Von Hippel Lindau syndrome (VHL) and affects the brain, eyes and kidneys, and means regular screenings, hospital appointments and treatments, all of which impact daily life.  

I had my first surgery in 2000, with further subsequent surgeries and treatments related to the genetic condition taking place. It stems from my father’s side; his mother (my grandmother) was the gene carrier, therefore sadly all members of his side of the family have passed away due to VHL. It is a very sad situation, but also a learning experience as being registered partially sighted alters your perspective on life. The loss of my sister was like losing a twin. She was a guru and a mentor, as she had the same condition, she guided me on how to live with the illness and study with meaning, as you can create happiness by design. Creative thinking is my therapy.

The operation in 2000 left me very disabled and I thought my life was over. I was bed bound, learning how to walk, talk, and feed myself again from the beginning. The right side of my body was affected, which meant I had to use my left side even though I’m right-handed, and this was the challenge.

Seven years later, I saw the MA Design Innovation course advertised at De Montfort University (DMU), so I went along to the Open Evening. The tutor Dr Robert Chen was really encouraging and stated that I would be able to apply as I had a BA degree and he said: ‘You’ve got nothing to lose’.

My studies commenced in September 2007, part-time over two years. It was certainly daunting going back into study as a mature disabled student, however with ups and downs, I finally got my masters degree. DMU and my tutors Dr Chen and Dr Baines were supportive and inclusive and did not treat me differently to other students. The DMU disability team were always on hand if needed, and they introduced me to Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB), which in turn benefitted my studies. Volunteering for the RNIB has given me knowledge, courage and some amazing opportunities, from talking to MPs in the Houses of Parliament, to being a Games Maker at the London 2012 Paralympics.   

Whilst studying at DMU with a disability, I used my disability as an advantage by understanding the barriers people face. Turning a negative into a positive and using both negative and positive feedback to improve. As a disabled person you experience mental health issues from day one of your disability, but I learned to adapt to situations, and changing the way that I thought in order to better myself.  The resilience becomes stronger as disability affects both mental and physical.

Being disabled I deal with adversity on a daily basis, but going back into study I felt that DMU judged me on my abilities and not my disabilities, and that inclusivity helped me to build my confidence. DMU changed my perspective, I achieved goals, progressed and grew as a person and realised that image is nothing but mental attitude is everything. As an Indian female there is a cultural stigma associated with disability, disadvantaged, under-achieving but DMU saw past this and treated me as an equal. It would be fantastic to study further, DMU being the natural choice for me but as with all things timing is crucial. 

I hope reading this article inspires others to consider study or other things as summarising, the quote by John Barrow,

‘If you never try, you'll never know what you are capable of.’

–By a DMU alumnus