Disabled? I’m not. So what?

Let me start by saying the title of this blog in no way represents my feelings towards disability. I simply used it as a cheap and tawdry device to draw attention to an issue which is often overlooked.

I attended a fantastic training session last week called Dis-ability Confident facilitated by Clare Mclaughlin. I must confess to some reticence about attending this workshop. There is an innate fear of “putting your foot in it” when you attend sessions on such sensitive topics or that you will leave with a glossary of terms that you should or should not say. I had no need to fear. Clare was a superb facilitator and the session was all about empowerment.

“They are not broken, they are who they are.” – Clare Mclaughlin

So why should I care?

It’s the law.

It is very difficult to understand or empathise with disability if you have no direct experience of it. If you look purely at the numbers, there are approximately 9.8 million disabled people in the UK, that’s about 6% of the UK population. It’s easy to think 6% is a small number and question whether reasonable adjustments are necessary or time and cost effective. The 9.8 million figure is purely an estimate, not all who have conditions recognised as a disability identify themselves as disabled.

“It is not what I can’t do that disables me, it’s how society treats me.” – Clare Mclaughlin

There’s no alternative

As an institution we are legally obliged to ensure that all reasonable adjustments are made to ensure that noone is disadvantaged due to a disability. With the removal of the Disable Students Allowance, along with other support for disabled people, there is nothing in place to do the hard work for us. We are out of excuses.

Assumptions

It’s easy to forget that disability covers a wide ranging number of conditions. From those you can see to mental illness and terminal illnesses. As Clare said, because there’s a figure in a wheelchair on the toilet door we all assume that being disabled is purely physical. We assume that people using a wheelchair do so because they cannot stand or walk. This isn’t necessarily true, many use a wheelchair for stamina and strength issues. As Claire said, if we see someone standing up from their wheelchair they haven’t suddenly been cured nor are they defrauding anyone.

 “Put the person first, not the disability.” – Clare Mclaughlin

How someone identifies with disability can be diverse due to cultural, generational or personal experiences. For example, Clare explained that some countries she travels to can assume that the company she works for have not sent their ‘top’ staff due to her hearing aids.

 The Disabled Student

We tend to homogenise the student. There’s the international student, the undergraduate student, the part time student, the postgraduate student, the mature student et al. I have always had a problem with “the student” who we talk a lot about but never see or hear from. (It’s all very Upstairs Downstairs.)

Clare’s point was simple, remove the word disabled and just talk about support that is available to all students. Students are more likely to seek out and identify with support that does not label them as disabled. Many do not wish to be labelled as mentally ill, diabetic, dyslexic etc.

After all, disabled or not, they are all students.

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