Disabled, yes I am

A strange title you might be thinking, it isn’t as random as it appears. I had an appointment with the University’s disability team, and during it we were discussing my time at Leeds University. I recalled that at that time I had not come to recognise myself as disabled yet, I was still learning about the full extent of my hypermobility syndrome and being diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The use of the term ‘disabled’ has been widely criticised as it makes people feel as though they are being told they are unable to do the same as an ‘able’ person. I personally don’t feel that way as my situation does mean I am unable to do the same things everyone else can do. Walking and standing for long periods of times have always been an issue, however, after breaking my wrist last winter, it has become exceedingly painful and uncomfortable to write. I was fortunate to be able to use money from my birthday to purchase a net book, so that has helped a lot in lectures and seminars. I now don’t have to sit and just listen when my right wrist is acting up.

 

It isn’t an easy thing to admit during one’s early to mid twenties that you have a disability, and I’m sure it’s likewise not comfortable for those around me to think of it. I did consider not writing this entry, however, there were several compelling arguments against that course of action. Namely that it would not leave my thoughts, and that I have never been one who felt that I should be ashamed of my health. I think almost everyone I have spoken to for more than 10 minutes at University knows about at least one of my conditions. Some probably think I am seeking sympathy or to be seen as ‘special’. I hope that most recognise that it is just such a major part of my everyday life that it is impossible for me not to mention it. As I write this I am overhearing a gamer discussing his own sleep disorder and apologising for letting others know about it in his you tube video. That to me is just wrong, most chronic health conditions are not someone’s fault and we should not be made to feel like we are boring, upsetting or burdening people about our problems, nor that we only mention them to garner attention. Attention isn’t the aim; understanding and support is, so I hope that at least one person reading this will take that thought away with them.

 

I never really considered just how many provisions a University could make for a disabled student. It seems that only at a University level that the education system is prepared to handle people like me who are never feeling well, who miss lectures and classes, and who have trouble doing simple activities like gathering books from the library. All through my school life I was ‘in trouble’ for missing school not because I was skipping school but because I was ill. I never met the ‘standards’ set by the government, and if I have one aim as a teacher for the future it is to get some support for students like myself. A parent should not have to argue with a school teacher about their child being absent from school because they were in hospital! At Glasgow University this problem has a very simple solution; the disability team just ticks a box on a piece of paper that says ‘flexible attendance’. This doesn’t mean I can skip classes whenever the mood strikes; it means that I won’t be interrogated or have to constantly provide medical evidence. I should point out that medical evidence from your doctor is a requirement, so they do have measures in place to stop the average lazy student from abusing the system.

 

I almost wept with relief when I found this out. Attendance has always been a problem for me throughout education, and University is stressful enough without having to worry about something you cannot control. I knew that I could get extra time for exams, I did not realise that I would be able to use a computer for exams. The University library has a special computer section dedicated for students with disabilities to be able to take their exams. As Julia, the lady I spoke with said; they want us to be as relaxed as possible when we do our exams, not worrying about hands cramping up and being in pain. It helped immensely that she actually knew about hypermobility syndrome, and apparently there are several other sufferers of it at Glasgow University. So she had the knowledge there to help me in the best possible ways. The other ‘service’ provided was one for the library where I can contact the library in advance and ask them to collect books for me to pick up. So on days I’m having a really bad pain day, or I’m too tired to trek around the library which is 12 floors tall, I can use that.

 

All these solutions are so very simple. All it took was for people to speak and others to listen.

I will leave this entry here and follow up with an update about my academics over the next few days.

 

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