Sumegha from India, BA in Graphic Design
Sumegha Ginodia, from India, is in her final year as a BA (Hons) Graphic Design student at the University for the Creative Arts in Surrey, England.
Sumegha has spina bifida – a rare condition which affects her nerves and means she has been mostly immobile from the waist down since childhood. She explains how the support on offer for disabled students attracted her to the UK – and how it gave her the chance to fulfil her dream of studying graphic design.
‘I was always used to being helped around by family and friends, so doing everything by myself looked scary in the beginning. Three years later, I am living independently in the UK, travelling alone, partying majorly and doing things like skydiving – things I wouldn’t have dreamt I’d be able to do in India!’
Having spent most of her childhood in a wheelchair, Sumegha was used to facing difficulties. In spite of having a customised chair, she did not always find it easy to move around in India.
‘I have found mall ramps dotted with potted plants and mostly very steep,’ she says. ‘Airports have asked us to remove wheelchair batteries and even thrown the wheelchair like any other luggage.’
Life in the UK: Sumegha and a classmate winning awards for their graphic design work (left), and visiting London's Royal Albert Hall (right). All photos ©Sumegha Ginodia
Sumegha admits that these access limitations left her feeling discouraged – even when it came to pursuing her ambition of becoming a graphic designer.
But a chance encounter with the Director of the British Council in East India, Sujata Sen, changed the course of Sumegha’s career.
Sujata suggested that Sumegha find out about studying in the UK from institution representatives at one of the British Council’s Education UK exhibitions. Sumegha visited the fair with her father (himself a Chevening scholar and top lawyer) and met delegates from the University of the Creative Arts (UCA), who encouraged her to apply.
‘Prior to that I had visited London on a holiday and had seen how disability friendly the country was,’ Sumegha says.
‘So I was reassured that I could perhaps manage there instead of being constantly chaperoned by family or taking help from friends.’
Sumegha applied and to her delight, she was offered a place on UCA’s three-year undergraduate course for graphic design.
Sumegha and her parents were still nervous about her studying all by herself in the UK. It was such a big step that Sumegha’s mother came with her for the first three months, to help her settle in.
But her fears were quickly put to rest. UCA faculty showed her around the campus to introduce her to its disabled access facilities. They also asked whether she wanted any more equipment or adjustments to help her get around – and Sumegha is full of praise for how the university acted on her suggestions.
‘Thanks to my pointing it out, push doors on certain buildings were changed to button doors, ramps were made gradient friendly and kitchen counters were lowered to allow sitting and cooking, among other changes,’ she says.
Defying gravity – and expectations: Sumegha on a tandem skydive (left), and on a boat tour in London (right)
Sumegha was also impressed with public disability access in the UK in general – for example, some tour buses have facilities such as power seats and accessible toilets for wheelchairs and disabled passengers.
Three months after arriving, Sumegha had packed her mother off to return to India.
Now, three years on and a month away from receiving her undergraduate degree, Sumegha is more certain than ever that she made the right decision in coming to the UK.
‘I wouldn’t like to be put on a pedestal because I am wheelchair-bound,’ she says. ‘And I would really like to see things change for the better in India, be it in accessibility or becoming more sensitive towards disabled people.
‘For now, though, I’m looking forward to graduating from UCA and continuing to pursue my passion for design in the UK.’
The essential guide for students with disabilities