My fresher’s week was not dissimilar to anyone else’s. I drank too much, nearly set the kitchen on fire, met a million people (half of whom I couldn’t tell you the name of now), entered my student overdraft and lived on takeaway pizza.

In most respects it lived up to expectations as one of the best weeks of my life despite the fact my entry to university was hardly what one would describe as ‘normal’.

I am deafblind. I wear two hearing aids and rely upon a Guide Dog. When it came to applying for university I was adamant that my impairments would not define where I go or the experience I had.

That’s not to say, however, that I wasn’t extremely nervous.

Any questions were purely inquisitive and I never felt any sense of judgement.

I was the first student ever to have an assistance dog living in halls. How would people respond? What if people didn’t like her?

Moreover, I’d lived my entire life with friends who knew all about my difficulties and how to accommodate them. What if people felt uncomfortable? Would they be happy to guide me? Without some support from my friends I wouldn’t be able to go out – what if I became isolated?

Of course, it turned out that I had literally nothing to worry about. Everybody loved my dog – to the point where I couldn’t walk to the Village Shop without at least 10 people stopping for a fuss.

I had moved in a couple of days before my flatmates and was there when they arrived with an open door and food supplies. Within hours of knowing each other we’d hit the Union and they guided me, made sure I was safe, and never made me feel like a burden.

They learnt to laugh with me when I fell into a bin, or face planted a bus stop, or try to convince security that I’m not too drunk, just ‘a bit blind’. I felt so lucky; any questions were purely inquisitive and I never felt any sense of judgement. Why should I? I was just an 18 year old trying to have a good time like anyone else.

And as for my dog, she took to the student life like a fish to water – a lover of early nights and lazy mornings. She was tucked up in bed by the time we were leaving. Overall it was perfect and, bar the horrific hangovers, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Words by Ellen Watson
Image credit: Hiroyuki Takeda

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