"Although acceptance can be scary and difficult, it’s much easier than painfully muddling through life in denial of your disabilities"Rosie Bradbury

When I sat down to fill out my UCAS form in 2016, I did not expect to be confronted with a question which would take me two years to answer. You might be thinking, what question could possibly be so difficult for me to answer? After all, all the form asks for is your personal details and information, right? Well, kind of. Nestled in the middle of the form is a somewhat inconspicuous question: “Do you have a disability?” Answering it seems quite simple. You click either “yes” or “no,” and then select your disability from a drop-down list. 

But for me, it wasn’t that simple. I have a relatively rare condition not included in UCAS’s neat little parametres: Hypermobility Syndrome (also known as Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, although the lines of their synonymy are a bit blurry). So, I sit there for a bit and think: sure, at least one of my arms doesn’t work properly, and yes, I’m currently relearning to walk after reconstructive ankle surgery, but am I disabled? In the end I’m forced to tick the “yes” box because I’ve been given access arrangements for my exams, but as I sit there and stare at that little box confirming my “disability,” I think to myself, but I’m just like everyone else.

I arrive at Cambridge a year later fresh, excited, and ready for my next great adventure. I get emails from the Disability Resource Centre (DRC) telling me to fill out forms, attend meetings, sort out exam arrangements, and apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA). Once I’ve confirmed my exam arrangements, I stop reading their emails. I needed the extra-time and rest breaks for my exams, but apart from that, I told myself, I am just like everyone else. I don’t feel disabled. Besides, someone else probably needs the government’s DSA funding way more than I do. To claim it would be wrong, right?

I finish my first year exhausted, full of shame, and riddled with self-doubt

As the term goes on, I start to realise that maybe my less-than-optimally-functioning arms present a bit of an issue. I'm slower at typing than most others, and I have to work longer hours to compensate. I’m exhausted, but I’m succeeding academically. From the outside, I’m doing okay. My essays are in on time, I rarely miss lectures, and I can just about pull a smile out of the bag at the end of a tough supervision. But I’m hiding a massive secret: to complete essays, I’m pulling frequent all-nighters and only getting three to five hours of sleep when I do finally go to bed. I’m constantly tired, my joints ache, and my body is starting to deteriorate as my condition is exacerbated by my poor self-care. And yet, I’m still determined to prove to myself that I’m just like everyone else.

I finish my first year exhausted, full of shame, and riddled with self-doubt. I begin to question whether I should even be at Cambridge. As I start to contemplate dropping out, I finally begin to consider whether I'm not like everyone else. Maybe I’m different. Maybe I’m less than. 

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The next year rolls around. Something has to give, and it does. Three weeks into Michaelmas Term, my previously manageable finger dislocations become constant. My hands have well and truly betrayed me. I can no longer move them without some random bone falling out of its socket. I realise that maybe, just maybe, I need help. I talk to my Director of Studies, meet with my Tutor, and visit my GP. They all point me in the same direction: the DRC. 

Finally, after a year’s resistance, and out of pure desperation, I get in touch with the DRC — that dreaded reminder of my fears about the ‘otherness’ of disability. With their help, I apply for the DSA and, eventually, after some appointments and a bit of paperwork, the government grants me funding for the equipment I need to live a hands-free life at university. 

Although acceptance can be scary and difficult, it’s much easier than painfully muddling through life in denial

Did this mean that I wasn’t just like everyone else? Could I be like everyone else if I needed to use voice-to-text software to write, record all my lectures, and give in the occasional oral essay? Surely that made me different

But being different didn’t feel bad. In fact, it felt great. I could finish the same amount of work in a fraction of the time, sleep at least eight hours a night, and start socialising and engaging in extracurriculars. I had been so scared that accepting help would make me less-than that I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it would improve my university experience so hugely. Instead of holding me back, it allowed me to do everything that everyone else could without having to work for longer hours just to keep up.

Up until this point, I had been failing miserably at self-compassion. I needed to change. I began to let go of the mantra I had long held, wrapped up in internalised ableism and fears of otherness, that I needed to be just like everyone else. I had to accept that I was disabled. 


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Accepting my disability was among the hardest things I’ve done at Cambridge so far, but it was more than worth it. It allowed me to come to terms with the fact that I have to be able to adapt if I want to live like everyone else. Now, I control my computer using a PlayStation controller, talk to my laptop more than I speak to my flatmates, and have to make sure everyone around me is aware that whenever there’s a computer involved, they need to install in it the software I need to be able to use it. Although acceptance can be scary and difficult, it’s much easier than painfully muddling through life in denial of your disabilities. 

Today, I will happily shout from the rooftops that I am disabled. But in many more ways than not, I am still just like everyone else: I am worthy of respect, I am not less than, and yes, I may be different, but aren’t we all?