ENIL congratulates Dilyana Deneva, ENIL Youth Coordinator, for her recent graduation from The Open University in the UK. Dilyana obtained her bachelor’s degree in psychology. Open University is the largest British university offering distance learning and is renowned for its large number of disabled students. Dilyana’s personal experience of studying distantly is given below.
“I got my spinal cord injury during the summer vacation, just before my last year in high school. Because I was in too poor condition the first couple of years AND because my school was (and unfortunately still is) totally inaccessible, I studied my last high school year away from my peers – at home, where my kind teachers were visiting me, doing their best to teach me despite the awkward situation of isolation.
This was far away from ideal, but it didn’t put off my desire to proceed my education in a higher academic institution. When I felt ready to do this big step in my life, I started a process of exploration the possibilities ahead of me. Since I am Bulgarian, living in Bulgaria, used to the situation of disabled people everywhere in the country, I wanted to be officially reassured that if I start studying in a particular university, this would not mean that my parents would need to lift my wheelchair every day, carrying me like a heavy suitcase from one floor to another in order to be present at class – a common practice of some of my friends, wheelchair users, who experience studying in Bulgaria. I didn’t want that for myself, so when I did not receive an appropriate (if any) response from the universities that I had contacted, I started browsing the internet for distance learning possibilities. This search soon brought me to the UK’s Open University which I immediately emailed with numerous questions regarding whether it is possible at all to study with them being quadriplegic. This is how my mind worked at that time – approaching every new stage in my life with an anxious doubt whether my physical condition would allow me to be successful in it.
Luckily, it turned out that not only was it possible, but it could be (and in my case it was) a delightful experience. The first years of my study trip I successfully combined intensive rehabilitation with studying, this way allowing myself to distract my mind from the hard work on my body with not less hard work on my brain cells! Developing in two directions gave me satisfaction and self-confidence – invaluable prerequisites for a life lived with dignity. Later on I started work with CIL Sofia and ENIL and kept on studying – again not easy but a good preparation for my future life. My assessment during the year was based on online submitted assignments and my end-of-year exams took place at home, using my personal laptop as requested, and at the presence of an invigilator. I became a representative of the students from Southern Europe and attended different committee meetings of the university’s student association. These were all taking place at different locations in the UK, giving me the chance to visit the country for the first time and see through my eyes what real street and building accessibility is. Of course, as every other place, the UK has its issues in the disability field, but in comparison to my home country, everything was far better – in terms of physical accessibility and attitude towards disabled people among the general public. This opened my eyes and gradually sew the idea in my mind that situation can and needs to be different where I live and elsewhere too!
Nowadays I am grateful that I found the Open University, that I learned so much throughout the years of hard studying and that my academic path (so far!) ended with a glorious ceremony in one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever visited – the Ely Cathedral (where the picture of this article is taken at). However, my dream is disabled people to have the same range of choice and control in their lives and to opt for what suits their needs and interests best, and not to be ‘forced’ to choose anything just because this is the only possible option for them. This story is about university adventures, so my previous comment would refer to all universities being fully accessible, encouraging every young person, eager to gain knowledge, to get it wherever s/he chooses. But it is also relevant for every aspect of human life – disabled people should be provided with the same opportunities through careful planning how to make a building, open space or service fully accessible. It is up to us to fight for this dream, a dream with one name – Independent Living.
So, please, dare dreaming, thinking and living ‘big’!
Photo: Dilyana at Ely Cathedral