7 Jul 2018

Disabled student unable to finish degree without support

2:15 pm on 7 July 2018

A Masterton woman training to be a social worker fears she may have to quit because the funding for her academic support worker has run out.

Generic Library / Students

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

Beauche McGregor has cerebral palsy.

She has limited use of her right hand - she uses a hand-held mouse to write using a keyboard on her laptop screen - and controls her wheelchair with her head.

She has completed half of her bachelor of social work degree through The Open Polytechnic in the past two years with the help of a reader-writer, mainly funded by the disability support agency Workbridge.

However, that money ran out at the beginning of the year.

"Workbridge's policy is they will grant $15,000 for an individual per lifetime for training support - I exceeded that earlier this year," she said.

"There is no further financial support available for me to have an academic support worker through any government or community agencies. Without this support I am unable to complete my degree."

The Open Polytechnic increased its funding to provide four hours of academic support per week for each paper, but realistically this was less than half what she needed, she said.

Her current support person was also doing extra work "out of the kindness of her heart".

The reader-writer's work ranges from reading texts aloud, note-taking and assisting with research, to basic physical help like setting up Ms McGregor's computer and putting on her glasses.

"I feel they [staff at the Polytech] have really gone out of their way for me, I don't find fault with them - it's the system."

There should be ongoing funding for disability support at tertiary level, like there was for primary and high school students, she said.

Scholarships and grants were all very well - but they were "one-off".

"Funding is different, it's ongoing and for a specific purpose.

"I wouldn't want another disabled individual to have to go through this just to have the right to study and secure their future."

Ms McGregor has set up a Givealittle page to try and raise the money needed.

Wairarapa UCOL supports students doing the online Open Polytech degree by providing a space to meet and access to the library as well as a support tutor.

Ms McGregor's tutor at the UCOL campus, Joanne Waitoa, said Ms McGregor just wanted to pursue her career goals and help people and it was "unfair she's being held back from doing that".

"She doesn't like to be called 'inspirational' but there are so many people who aren't doing much at all, and she's giving it everything she's got," she said.

"She's still going, but it's tedious and the person helping her can only do so much within eight hours a week."

Ms Waitoa said UCOL and the Open Polytech were doing what they could but it was time for policy makers to step up.