Many people with RSI find that they cannot continue in their pre-injury job and they may need to study or retrain for a new job which will not aggravate their condition. Others find that their previous occupation no longer holds any interest for them. This can be a confusing time. Where you once had the direction and security of a job, you may now feel scared and unsure about your future. Furthering your education can provide you with direction and security. You will have a goal to work towards and know that you are enhancing your skills and knowledge. This is especially important if you have felt bored or depressed about your work situation.
“I wanted some intellectual stimulation. My work had become extremely boring. They didn’t have any work that didn’t involve high-pressure keying… my brain was screaming out for some food.”
Studying gives you a feeling that you are doing something worthwhile for yourself. In effect, you are taking control of your future. By choosing a course, even a short community-based course, you are making a decision for yourself based on your needs. Further, studying gives you independence, boosts your confidence, and gives you a sense of achievement. These are qualities you often lose when you have RSI.
“[Going to university] was a non-judgemental activity done among people that were being nice to me and making me feel that I was a worthwhile person.”
Options for study
There are a number of options to consider. You can try a course at a community centre or enrol in a correspondence course to get you started. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself by jumping into university or TAFE if you don’t want to. But you might find that you get swept along with learning!
“I did a couple of correspondence courses before I made the decision to go to Uni. I was really enjoying the challenge and found that I wanted to learn more and more.”
It is important that you find a course that interests you. It should be something you are passionate about or something that you have always wanted to do. Don’t worry about what you think you should be doing, think about what you want to do.
“If you don’t like what you are studying, you’re not going to like working at it.”
The Education Network of Australia website is a gateway to information about studying in Australia. It provides useful information for people thinking about going back to study including lists of education centres.
The website address is: www.edna.edu.au
Note that this site can be confusing. You may have to explore the site a little to see how it is all set out.
The following is an outline of each of the study options. There are some website addresses included for further information. Otherwise, contact phone numbers and website addresses can be found on the EDNA website or in the phone book.
University offers a wide range of courses and options. You can attend full time, part time, or even complete a course by correspondence (see correspondence courses section).
The thought of going to university can be daunting especially if you haven’t studied for some time. However, universities offer a lot of help to new students. For example, the University of Canberra has an Academic Skills Program which runs short courses on topics such as essay writing and time management.
Universities also have an obligation to assist students with disabilities or injuries. There will be a disabilities officer on campus. Their purpose is to provide an injured or disabled person with the same options that a person without an injury or disability would have, and this includes people with RSI.
You do not have to register with the disabilities officer if you do not want to. However, they can be very useful. They can provide, among other things:
- note takers for lectures
- tape recorders
- extra time in exams to allow for rest period
- help negotiating extended deadlines; and
- help typing up essays from tape (please note this option is often dependent on funding)
- funding for voice-operated computing software and free training.
Any information you provide to a disabilities officer is totally confidential. They cannot speak to anyone about your injury unless cleared by you. Likewise, you do not have to tell your lecturers or tutors about your injury.
It can, however, be very helpful to speak to lecturers, tutors or heads of department. Most of the time they are more than willing to help. They can often provide you with copies of lecture notes to save you writing your own during the lecture.
“I was amazed at how helpful the Disabilities Officer was and how sympathetic my lecturers were. They were prepared to supply notes for the lectures and give me extended deadlines for essays.”
Speaking to lecturers or heads of department before a course begins can also be very helpful. They can give you an idea of the workload and how suitable it would be for you. It also helps you to get an idea of their attitude towards RSI. Many are very sympathetic and will negotiate alternative options for assignments. You may be able to give a presentation instead of writing an essay, for example.
Universities also offer student counselling services. Counselling services can help with a range of issues from indecision about courses to getting over obstacles such as fear and lack of self-confidence.
If you do decide to go to university, don’t be afraid to contact the disabilities office, heads of department and counsellors to find out what they have to offer. They are there to help you.
TAFE also provides help for people with disabilities. However, TAFE generally offers more technical or hands-on courses that aren’t always practical for people with RSI.
Like universities, they have disabilities officers to help you through the course. They also provide counselling services if you are having difficulties in any aspect of your studying.
Have a look at these websites for more information:
There are correspondence courses in just about everything. Correspondence courses can be a great way to get back into studying. They are open to everyone and generally do not have any pre-requisites for studying.
An advantage of correspondence courses is that they often don’t have strict time limits (except for university study). This means that you can complete the course at a comfortable pace.
These types of courses generally have a lot of reading. However, this can be a good option – you can take breaks whenever you need to without feeling self-conscious in the company of others.
Correspondence courses can be a stepping stone to further education. If you have been off work for some time or are considering university study, these courses can help you gain some confidence in your abilities or simply get you into the right frame of mind.
One drawback of correspondence courses is staying motivated. If you don’t have strict guidelines or other students around to provide encouragement, it can be difficult to get the work done. So it is especially important that you pick subject matter you are going to enjoy.
These are a couple of contacts:
Open Learning Australia (OLA)
OLA offer university study to anyone, regardless of age and tertiary qualifications. They have many courses from universities across Australia. You can complete a whole degree or just a couple of units.
Open Training and Education Network (OTEN)
OTEN offers similar courses to TAFE. The courses offered have been pulled together from a range of learning institutions with the advantage of completing the course by correspondence. These courses are more vocationally oriented than university degrees.
Some universities offer studying by correspondence also. Take a look at individual university websites for more information.
Adult/education learning centres
Adult and community education centres offer a range of short courses for only a couple of hours a week. Often they have courses that are useful before you start TAFE or university study, such as time management.
These courses can be a stepping stone into further study or it may be as far as you want to go. They offer courses in a wide range of subjects and the workload is generally quite light. These education centres often focus on courses for enjoyment rather than academic learning.
The Education Network of Australia has the names and locations of community education centres in all states.
There are a number of considerations you need to think about before going back to study. It is a step that will affect you and your family and requires some careful consideration
Don’t rush into it. Think about the course you might like to do, seek out information, and ask for assistance.
There is a lot of organisation involved in studying, especially for university or TAFE. You might have to think about simplifying your life before you start, eg time management, work, money issues.
“It’s like taking on another part-time job.”
Study because you want to, not because you think you have to.
“I think that it’s important you go into it with a really positive frame of mind. If you go into it thinking ‘Oh I have to find a new career, this is deadly serious’ then you might end up hating it.”
You may have high expectations that are unsustainable with RSI. Consider what you expect to do and if it is really achievable. If not, you may have to expand your time frame or decrease the workload. You should be able to work at a comfortable pace and cope with the stress and lifestyle changes at the same time. Just completing a course or a unit will give you a sense of achievement – you don’t have to stress yourself by working beyond your limitations.
Remember, many students develop overuse injuries. Find out about introductory courses offered by the institution you have chosen to go to – many offer essay writing, time management and library courses to help you prepare. Speak to counsellors, student administration offices, heads of department and disability officers – they can all offer invaluable advice.
It might be helpful to read up on time management – remember, you have to fit in all your work plus your rest periods.
How well you do in a course is up to you. There are many people to help you but you have to put in the time and effort.
“You have to be prepared to put regular time into it. You are really only getting a little bit of assistance. You are not going to pass without doing the work yourself.”
Think about relaxation options such as yoga – studying is not necessarily stress- free!
Making study work for you
This section provides some practical advice for make the study process work more effectively.
Before you undertake a course of study, contact the Disabilities Adviser at the institution where you plan to study; they have a lot of valuable advice and practical help to give.
You will receive a subject outline of each course during the first week. Compare your assignments and examinations timetables for each subject. You may need to contact lecturers and negotiate assignments times with them. If you are not comfortable doing this or find the lecturer unhelpful, contact the disabilities officer and they will be able to negotiate with the lecturer for you.
Lectures and note taking
Lectures can be difficult for people with overuse injuries. Sitting and writing for long periods of time may be painful. The disabilities officer may be able to provide you with a note-taker to attend your lectures with you. However, this does provide a problem with concentration for many people. If you don’t have to take notes, your mind may wander!
Many lecturers now put lecture notes on the internet. It may be possible to print these out before the lecture and simply highlight important points or make small notes in the margins. Similarly, you may be able to get a copy of the lecturer’s notes or an outline of the lecture and use them in the same way. Another option is to arrange with other students to copy their notes.
You could also try making very brief notes during the lecture, even one-word notes, to spark your memory. Then, as soon as possible after the lecture make longer notes onto a tape recorder or voice-activated computer. This can be an effective way of recalling the material covered.
Actually, many students take more notes than are necessary during lectures – you really only need to record down the key points. In a way, RSI can help you with this. You can only write a limited amount so what you do take down has to be to the point!
Many universities now also have an automatic recording system so that you can listen to the lecture at home. This gives you the option to pause and rewind at any stage so that you can take your notes at your own pace. However, try not to skip the lecture altogether and wait for the recording as the recording may fail and lecturers will not re-record. As a precaution, you can take your own recording device to record lectures yourself; but you’ll need to get the lecturer’s permission first.
Library work and services
Find out from the information desk at the library what facilities are available to help students with writing difficulties. This might include an area where voice recorders can be used, desk slopes, ergonomic chairs and assistance lifting books from high shelves. Access may be available to a voice-activated computer linked to the internet. This can be a useful aid to study and articles can be printed from it.
Writing assignments presents a problem. Voice-activated software is a good option if you can obtain access to it. It can be difficult to use at first but does have significant advantages. You can see what you are writing as you write, and can independently produce a document similar to that of other students.
Voice-activated software does require some effort, especially in the beginning. Find out if you can get a couple of hours training from someone so that you can use it more effectively. If not, the manual will provide tips for use. Also be aware of voice strain, and read up on how to prevent this.
Another option is recording an essay. Some lecturers may be prepared to accept assignments on a voice recorder or presented orally. But working orally is quite different to working on paper. It can be difficult to gain a clear understanding of your thoughts if they are not written down in front of you.
If you do decide to try this method – try using two recorders. Use one for your outline and listen to it as you record your assignment into the other.
Another option is to have your assignment typed up. This can be expensive if you have to hire a typist to do it for you. However, the university or TAFE may be able to offer this service, or you may be able to ask a friend or family member to help you.
Arrangements for exams and tests
You may need to make special arrangements for exams and tests, for example, extended writing time, rest breaks or an oral presentation. There will be formal arrangements that need to be followed. Contact the disabilities officer and they will advise you of the correct procedures and help with arrangements where necessary.
Some of the special exam procedures that have been successful in the past include: the use of ergonomic furniture and a computer; longer time for writing; regular breaks to move around; the use of a scribe; or speaking from notes into a tape recorder. In all these procedures, careful preparation is required to ensure that the arrangements will work smoothly on the day of the exam. For example, if you are using a tape recorder will you have to supply it? Will there be a power connection or will you have to use batteries?
Laboratories and field trips
These can present special difficulties. It is essential that you discuss with your lecturer (and/or disabilities officer) how you can handle these activities. You may require some help from the lecturer, demonstrators and fellow students.
It can be difficult to ask for help, but it can also be the first step towards independence. Disabilities officers and student counselling services are there to help you get through your degree with as much ease as possible. They will not put you in an advantageous situation over other students, just give you the tools to be in a position of equal standing.
Don’t panic if you are feeling uncertain or have had your confidence shaken. It is a natural reaction to what you are going through. Even students without injuries or disabilities can feel unsure when entering into study. Use the resources that are offered and you will find it much easier and feel much more confident getting through your studies.
Further information and help
Contact the RSI Association for detailed information on studying with an overuse injury. Contact the Disabilities or EEO Coordinator at the institutions you are considering attending.
While you’re here…
While you’re here, how about helping us out with a donation?
We’re a really small organisation doing a really big job. We give people with RSI across Australia the info they need to get the right treatments, navigate the worker’s compensation system and better manage daily life.
Every little bit helps – so make a donation here to help us as Australia’s only RSI support organisation.