One phone call changed everything for Mali Boller and Ann-Christin Egeberg.
Mali, a Disability Liaison Officer at Charles Sturt, checked in on Ann earlier this year to see how she was coping with her studies.
Ann, a 53-year-old leukaemia survivor, is studying Social Welfare with support from Disability Services who help her work through side-effects of cancer treatment, like sight and memory difficulties.
There have been moments in this challenging year when Ann felt down and isolated, wondering whether she should abandon her studies.
“I rang Ann up just to check in and she had been having some struggles,” Mali remembers.
“I guess it was a turning point for both of us. For me, I realised we needed to chat like this a little bit more.
“And for her, that was when she just turned herself around. It was amazing to see that. She had an attitude of ‘Yep, I can do this. Here we go’.”
Ann now uses a device to listen to her academic readings, and can work through her assessments at her own pace using a Study Access Plan.
Today is International Day of People with Disability, which is held on December 3 each year to increase visibility, awareness, and acceptance of disabilities.
The Charles Sturt Disability Services team helps students with physical or sensory impairments, learning disabilities, injuries, and mental health or medical conditions.
Mali says Ann’s determination to seek support and finish her degree brings to life the message of International Day of People with Disability.
“I feel so privileged to work with someone like Ann because she’s just constantly amazing in what she’s doing, she’s had quite a hard time,” Mali says.
“And she’s been able to battle through and give herself all the best opportunities that she can.
“It’s given me a bit of insight into just how much somebody can deal with, and still be so passionate about what they’re doing. She’s so remarkable.”
The theme of this year’s International Day of People with Disability is “Building Back Better: toward a disability-inclusive, accessible and sustainable post COVID-19 World”.
Mali says the pandemic has been particularly difficult for students grappling with mental illness.
The majority of students who contact Disability Services have a mental health condition, a disability that can often be overlooked.
“There is quite a lot of anxiety happening at the moment. COVID has increased the number of students registering with us. Their anxiety and depression has increased having been locked at home.
“I’ve spoken to some students in Victoria, where they haven’t been outside.
“There are students who have conditions that impact on their immune system. They’re not venturing outside … because if they were to contract COVID it would be fatal.
“For some people, it has had such a massive impact.”
Mali says it’s important to break down barriers and encourage people to seek help.
Charles Sturt Disability Service can put together a personalised plan to overcome some of the challenges students face.
Mali says it’s all about looking at what each person can achieve.
“Often students are coming to us and they are focussing on what they can’t do, but they often need to be reminded of all that they are capable of doing.
“Everyone comes with a strength of some sort. Sometimes it’s really hard to find it, but strength is always there.”