How Lancaster “opened doors” for a graduate with disabilities

Ciara Parkinson-Jones © Paul Turner
Ciara Parkinson-Jones

A graduate diagnosed with autism and epilepsy says support from Lancaster University has transformed her life.

Ciara Parkinson-Jones, who has gained a degree in Psychology, said: “Lancaster University has one of the best support systems in place I’ve ever seen and I wouldn’t have been able to complete my degree if I hadn’t come here.”

She has overcome both her diagnoses to play a full part in university life, with a role as a Student Ambassador visiting local schools where she encourages other pupils with disabilities to apply to university.

Despite her autism, she performs with her guitar at live events and has joined the University’s Gospel Choir as well as working part-time in a pub in Lancaster.

After graduation, she plans to train as primary school teacher before moving into educational psychology.

“Lancaster University has opened doors and helped me to discover myself. I’ve learned to work on my strengths and learn to get along with other people. It wasn’t easy for me to join the university choir for example, but I’m so glad I did.”

Ciara was diagnosed with both autism and epilepsy while at university but the support she has received has enabled her to cope.

“I’ve got a good network of friends who would come with me to make sure I was safe so I could go anywhere without worrying. I haven’t even missed any lectures!”

Her first year was the most difficult as she adjusted to life on campus.

“It was a culture shock at first because it was a whole new environment and I suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but then I was diagnosed with autism. I was offered counselling which was a big help.”

In addition to her academic tutor, Ciara was also assigned a Student Support Worker who met her every week to check she was on track with her course work.

“I wouldn’t have made it through without her support. I have hypersensitive hearing so she helped me get a hearing aid which reduced background noise so I can hear the lecturer’s voice better without distractions.”

She will miss Lancaster University after three years.

“It’s definitely opened doors I didn’t even know were there.” 

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