When Gabija Švedaitė arrived in the UK at 19 to pursue her ambition of studying abroad, she was setting foot in the country for the first time. She had also never seen the university where she would be spending the next few years. On top of that, as a wheelchair user, she was not entirely sure of what to expect, despite much careful research.
But Gabi said the University of Worcester made the transition to her new life so much easier than she had expected. In fact, she was left surprised by the quality of the accommodation and provision made for wheelchair users.
“I was excited about the University, I’d done all the research I could,” she said. “It was scary because you don’t know what you’re going into and if you are going to blend in and connect with people.
“I imagined having a disability was going to be a bigger barrier when I moved here than it actually was. Having a disability didn’t change my studies or my social life at Worcester at all. In terms of the experience, Worcester has all the resources and opportunities; it’s just a case of going for them.”
This support began from the moment that the Digital Media Production student’s plane touched down, with the University’s International team having organised for someone to greet her at the airport so she didn’t have to negotiate accessing public transport straightaway. And she said that the University’s style of support throughout her studies had allowed her to retain her independence.
“It’s really important to have that support because it’s there if you need it, but it’s also important to be recognised as a person and then as a person with a disability,” she said.
Gabi, who has cerebral palsy, comes from southern Lithuania and had offers from a number of UK universities, but it was the University of Worcester that drew her attention with its record on inclusion.
“The first thing that came up when I looked was the University of Worcester Arena,” she said. “It was quite new then and was marketed as wheelchair accessible and this was a big thing. That got me thinking of what accessibility might look like outside of wheelchair basketball. I looked into how accessible the city was, the public transport, and it seemed quite good. I spoke to a few people on social media that had lived in halls to talk about accessibility and the University’s outlook and how the University handles accessibility overall, and the social life, night life for students in a wheelchair.”
But it was also the personal touch throughout that really drew Gabi.
“The accommodation team was really good in terms of communicating on what the rooms were like and what I would need,” she said.
“All the other universities I got in touch with before and after applying, their responses were basically general links or directions to what you could find on their website, nothing too personal. Whereas, at Worcester, it was direct communication and direct answers from a person and I really liked that.”
On arrival at the University, Gabi found the overall campus, including her halls, proved very accessible, such as lowered worktops and facilities in the kitchen.
“For me, the first and main focus was accessibility, so my focus was the accommodation,” she added.
"When I was looking at universities, accessibility was key, so my focus was the accommodation. The accommodation team were really helpful. They answered all my questions and made sure I had everything I needed. The rooms are designed to be accessible and if you need anything extra they’ll work with you to adapt it"
The University’s International team also helped her to settle in, giving tours around the City with student ambassadors who showed her the most accessible routes to get back.
Lecturers on her course always considered Gabi’s needs in any activities or trips, along with the needs of other students. “In terms of my course, I was really surprised at the level of inclusivity that they offered,” she added. Now doing a Master’s in Business Psychology at Worcester, she hopes to use both degrees to set up her own business one day.
In her final undergraduate year, Gabi lived in Mary Seacole House, the University’s latest accommodation. Two rooms are adapted for wheelchair use, and have an associated carers room adjacent, allowing a carer to live in if necessary. She praised it as a facility and said, overall, she found the University very disability friendly. “There’s lots of support if you want support, there are opportunities to have carers if you need them. There’s always some sort of support on hand on campus 24/7. In terms of accommodation there are no issues. All disabilities are different, but, if you know what you need and you know what you want, I’d say it’s a very accessible place to be in.”
Throughout her studies, Gabi has taken on roles at the University, in particular working within the Student Residential Life Team. This provides a student point of liaison for a range of issues. She said this had been a huge part of her university experience and independence journey.
For Gabi, having independence despite her disability is hugely important.
“The University opens up many opportunities, not only academically but in all other areas or ways of improvement and independence,” she said. “It is one of the best places to start the independence journey if you have never done that before. There’s lots of support and people that can help you and also, among the students, you’ll find someone who is or was in a similar position to you now.”
Find out more about studying at Worcester