The Student Consultant team of Access2Learn; who are we? What is our purpose? What on Earth am I talking about when I introduce myself as a Student Consultant, dear reader? Usually, when people hear that job title, they give me a blank look, as if I’d just said, “world’s leading expert of being unable to think of a good joke” … which incidentally, I am.
Awful jokes aside, I for one think it’s very important for disabled students at university, especially ones who apply for Disabled Students Allowances, and their universities as well, to know what a Student Consultant is and what we have to offer. Now true, I could be just a tad biased, seeing as I am one – but since Access2Learn was founded nearly a year and a half ago, the Student Consultant role has been majorly important to the company itself and the students we worked for.
So to answer question one – what is a Student Consultant? Well, the role itself was the brainchild of our founder Hayley who has worked in the DSA industry for many years and seen it go from strength to strength. In a chance conversation that led to my employment with Access2Learn, Hayley and I both agreed that more needed to be done to help students before, during and long after the DSA process. What do I mean? In my own days as a student claiming DSA, I found myself wasting what could have been one of my greatest DSA provisions – reimbursement for printer paper and ink. Why? I, like many other students as I have discovered doing my job, overwhelmed with all the emails and information, managed to lose the email/letter that instructed me on claiming the promised reimbursement. Unfortunately, I had no Student Consultant offering me advice and support in those days, so I didn’t know where to turn to and who to contact for help. So, the reimbursement ended up going to waste.
During my year and a half approximately as the first Student Consultant, I had students come to me with all sorts of woes; difficulty navigating the DSA process, misunderstandings with a university that could have resulted in failure of the course, issues of mental health flaring to the point where a student was unable to bear attending exams, confusion or anxiety over how to claim equipment or reimbursement, applying to Student Finance for Compelling Personal Reasons … I could go on forever. Countless times I have offered advice on how to cope with the studying aspect of university, or whom to turn to for a specific need. A few times I have contacted their university’s Disability Team on their behalf. I have offered a sympathetic ear and an offer of intervention to students going through a difficult time. I once even supported a student with the designing a spreadsheet to help them organise their studies.
For the students I work with, it has had varying degrees of success. Sometimes I just get a small ‘thank you’. Some begin to think of me as a mentor, much like I thought of my own specialist mentors given to me by DSA. Some even begin to think of me as a friend (within professional boundaries of course). At least one was left in tears of joy after my intervention brought about a resolution to a misunderstanding with their university over severe depression that had threatened their place on their course
Don’t get me wrong, DSA Assessors do their utmost to address student concerns, but they face the enormous task of assessing hundreds of students per month and writing all those reports, which leaves them little time to spare. The office managers are also readily available to answer any questions, but they are concerned with the endless demands of administration, booking assessments, payroll … you get the idea. Sadly, this for many years meant that students were left in the dark about the progress of their support arrangements, how to claim it and how to resolve any problems, which is sad because DSA is supposed to be all about the needs of the student.
As a result of our conversation, Hayley and I both understood that this problem needed a solution – thus, Hayley offered me the first ever job as a Student Consultant! It was the answer to the long-overlooked problem with student interaction in DSA. We do for the student what the assessors and office managers cannot; we reach out to each and every student, to make them aware that help is available whenever needed. Help with what? It doesn’t matter, so long as it is related to needs of disability, mental health, study or the general needs of being a student.
But the true source of our abilities to go above and beyond come from our personal experiences of being a disabled student. In order to qualify for the position of Student Consultant, you are required to be or have been a student with a disability/mental health condition that has also claimed DSA. Why? No one knows more about the hardships that disabled students face than disabled students themselves – and no one can relate better to someone currently going through a difficult time than someone who has been through the same thing. This is the philosophy behind my job – using my personal experiences of being a disabled student to help others going through what I went through.
In conclusion, Access2Learn introduced the Student Consultant role for the purpose I have been rambling about in the last two paragraphs; to go above and beyond for the students we support. The Student Consultant role came into existence to take the existing support for students claiming DSA to the next level by bridging the gap in student participation.
Access2Learn’s slogan, “Make Learning Yours” … it’s more than just a gimmick, dear reader. It’s a commitment. It’s our mission. We believe that no two students are alike; that everyone has individual needs to cater to. The Student Consultants are here for that reason; to reach out to the students, find out their individual needs and to help the students to the utmost of our abilities and experience. To truly make learning theirs, each and every student that books an assessment with A2L needs individual consideration. Our founders understood this, thus the Student Consultant team is here, ready to help our students Make Learning Theirs!