I ARRIVED AT Maynooth University last year to study computer science. I had always wanted to study computer science, ever since I first attended the computer science club CoderDojo at Maynooth University when I was 13.
My path was different from a lot of other students who started college at the same time, though. I had been diagnosed at the end of fifth year with a long term illness that would affect my ability to read, write, and walk, plus I also had to worry about how I could afford to come to college.
With my illness, I was in a lot of pain. I was unable to walk and I’m blind in my right eye. I barely made it through my final year of secondary school because of the severity of the pain and I didn’t believe I would be able to cope in university.
I had applied to both the HEAR and DARE schemes, but still didn’t believe they could do enough to help. I didn’t know what I was going to do instead of university; I had lost all motivation to do anything. I knew I couldn’t just sit around feeling sorry for myself but I couldn’t do much more than that at the time. This was devastating to me because I had always been a very academic person and it had always been expected that I would go on to college.
When I received an email from the Maynooth University Access Programme (MAP) on the day my offer came through for Computer Science and Software Engineering, I was sure I wasn’t going to take my place. I didn’t think university was a place for people like me. My belief was that college was a “survival of the fittest” type of environment so not being able to read or write because of my illness, I felt I would never keep up.
I was also afraid I wouldn’t be able to get to college. The only way for me to get in from where I live in Meath was by bus, which just wasn’t an option due to my illness. Even if I could, €10 a day for the bus was going to be a struggle on top of buying textbooks that were €60-70 each (minimum) together with so many other college expenses. Add in actually eating and the expenses were piling up fast.
The email I got was an invitation to Launchpad, the orientation programme for students who come to Maynooth through the Access programme, and to a meeting with one of the MAP staff.
I went into the meeting thinking I would just outline my circumstances and why I wasn’t going to take my place in the course. When I did meet with one of the MAP team however, I was given a list of solutions or directions to a solution for every problem. The MAP team helped me every step of the way.
For my financial worries, I was told about the Student Budgeting Advisor who informed me of all the assistance available and helped me to work through my finances to see what could be done to accommodate the huge list of college expenses. I felt so much more prepared for coming into university after a meeting with her.
In regards to my disability, I was given all the supports I could ask for. Because I couldn’t read or write at the time, I was provided with a note-taker for some lectures and a laptop for recording other lectures. For my exams, I received extra time and rest breaks to relax and work on pain management. I was also given the option for each exam to type it out or to work with a scribe.
My family were also such a great help and were so supportive throughout everything. I knew that if I ever needed help getting anywhere, my mam would always make sure I got there. My whole family would keep me going on my bad pain days and were always the ones to convince me I could do more.
‘Tough but worth it’
With all of this and with some much-needed encouragement from my family, I decided I would at least try to attend college and it was definitely the right decision for me. I found a course I loved and made friends right from the start. These friends were amazing in helping me get settled and making sure I was coping well. The workload was tough but I really enjoy my course so I worked my way through it. This turned out to be great for me because it gave me back the motivation I’d lost over the last few years. My family and friends were also amazing at keeping me motivated to just keep going, both with college and with my physio trying to get me to walk again. The university has been so accommodating to this struggle and made sure I could keep attending even on my bad pain days, by arranging transport when necessary.
My health started to improve, enabling me to try and take part in some more extra-curricular activities. I found a few clubs and societies that really suited me and the other students in those helped me so much, from general tips and tricks to helping me get my stuff around campus.
Now I’m a MAP Ambassador welcoming new students to the university and I’m impatient to get into second year and get right back into it.
The year has been tough but worth it. I’ll always remember holding my first year results in my hand after telling my parents I’d passed everything and seeing the look of pride on their faces when my dad said to me, “You actually did it. I don’t know how but you did it.” This was only weeks after I had taken my first steps walking independently in over 2 years. And I was so proud too.
Ryan Lynch is a student at Maynooth University.