Graduation tales: “Don’t let any disability deter you from study”

Elaine Phillips graduated this week from the University of South Wales (USW) with top marks, despite being diagnosed with dyslexia and a life-changing brain condition.. Neil Gibson

Elaine Phillips 


Inspirational student Elaine Phillips graduated this week from the University of South Wales (USW) with top marks, despite being diagnosed with dyslexia and a life-changing brain condition.

Elaine, 53, from Whitchurch, Cardiff, has succeeded in gaining a first class honours in BSc (Hons) Health & Social Care Management, even though she suffered from debilitating symptoms for the majority of her studies.

Elaine worked in a care home for 28 years, but after she was made redundant when she was 46, made the decision to go back into education.

“When I left school at 16, I couldn’t read or write. Whilst I worked at the care home I taught myself, with some help from colleagues, and worked my way up to Care Officer,” she said.

“When the home closed, I studied a ‘Return to Learn’ course at Coleg Glan Afan [now Cardiff & Vale College], then a level-two applied science course, followed by a two-year Access course. I was there for four years.

“Whilst at college I was diagnosed with dyslexia, which was re-assessed when I came to university.

“I owe a lot to Kerry Roberts, who worked at Cardiff and Vale College. She first diagnosed me with dyslexia, and coached me through my time at college. Kerry knew that I could and would achieve my goals, and we are still friends to this day.

“University was daunting at first. I didn’t believe I should be there. I don’t think I would have progressed as well as I did, without the support from the University’s Disability and Dyslexia Service, the faculty and my tutors.”

During the second year of her degree, Elaine started to suffer unbearable headaches, nausea and dizziness. When these dramatically worsened, she was sent for an emergency brain scan and finally diagnosed with chiari malformation, a condition where the lower part of the brain pushes down into the spinal canal. Since then, Elaine has suffered with slurred speech, severe pain, difficulty walking and a complete lack of energy.

“While this was going on, I had two modules to finish but I was determined not to defer my studies, I wanted to graduate this year. It meant that I was able to work for one day, then I would have to rest for three days,” she said.

Elaine feels passionately that no-one should be deterred from further education because of a disability or learning difficulty.

“Young people should not be ashamed of being dyslexic. You are not stupid and you can’t help having the condition,” she said.

“We want to learn and better ourselves. Do not let anything deter you from study. I wish I had done it when I was younger but I didn’t have the confidence.”

Madhulata Patel, course leader and senior lecturer at USW, said: “Elaine is a truly inspirational student because she had so many challenges, but she dealt with them with a gritted determination to achieve both academically and professionally.

“She is a great role model for other students who think they will not succeed. She is absolute proof that if you want something badly enough, you can get there.”

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