The journey through university hasn't always been the easiest for Taupō local Nikita Van Dijk.
Between Ehlers-Danlos syndrome and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), Nikita is often in pain, with dislocated joints, and has difficulty walking.
However, the student has just completed her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, even being able to apply for honours.
Her positive outlook and determination have been crucial to her success- but so, she says, was the funding assistance from BayTrust Disability Scholarship.
Nikita uses a wheelchair almost full-time, but even that hasn't always been easy. Some of the money from the scholarship helped buy her wheelchair, so she can still get around on difficult days.
The money has alleviated stress around paying for medications and transport for frequent hospital trips to Auckland and Hamilton, both planned and emergencies.
Nikita's experience is typical of many students with disabilities, who often face issues with accessing the same facilities and experiences as their peers.
She could be forgiven for wanting to put these problems behind her, but Nikita is determined to use what she's learned to improve conditions for other students with disabilities.
This includes founding the Disabled Students' Association at the University of Waikato, to help students make friends, share advice and advocate as a team. That group is now part of the National Disabled Students' Association, allowing them to connect with others on a national level.
The drive to set up the Disabled Students' Association, Nikita says, stemmed from her own experiences. "When I started at the University of Waikato, I felt very alone. I didn't have any other disabled friends who understood, I didn't have anyone to talk to about struggles."
She has also guest lectured to postgraduate education groups, on how to better support students with disabilities- a topic that also formed the research area for her degree.
The BayTrust scholarship has been instrumental in giving her the breathing room needed to pursue opportunities to make life better for others.
"It's allowed me to take opportunities I didn't think I'd be able to do, that just wouldn't be possible if I had to focus on finding a job that I would struggle to work in, with my health."
She's also keen that current and future students are aware of resources that might help them, such as the scholarship.
"I wouldn't have found out about it if somebody else hadn't told me."
The application was quick and simple, taking about 20 minutes to complete.
Applications are open now to students from the Bay of Plenty and Taupō areas studying in the 2023 academic year.
There are no age restrictions, and students can apply for up to five years. To find out more about eligibility, or to apply, visit https://www.baytrust.org.nz/Apply-scholarship.
Graduating is just the beginning for Nikita, though. She plans to continue working in disability advocacy and counselling others with chronic pain and disability.
Being provided with opportunities to help her at university means that she can look forward to the future and "seeing what doors open".