International Day of Persons with Disabilities
In this post from our Disability Equality Officer, we discuss the importance of this day and why we should put the ability back into disability
My name is Charlotte Louise, and I serve on the Student Representative Council as the Disability Equality Officer. I grew up in the North East of England (Sunderland not Newcastle) and was diagnosed with both Dyspraxia and Asperger’s when I was 11 years old. Life as a disabled person is difficult but so very worth it.
As well as myself, various members of my family have disabilities. One is blind, another confined to a wheelchair and a third has mental health problems. Due to this, I have a good grounding which helps me to understand the complexities of a wide variety of disabilities. I have also volunteered with mental health organisations which have given me a deeper understanding of how having a disability affects the person mentally and physically enabling me to sympathise with everyone who has a limitation on campus.
As an elected council member I am currently working on several issues which include: Improving access to services for those with mobility and wheelchair access especially within the library and Fraser building, Increasing availability and accessibility of disabled facilities, working to remove or reword any language within written media that may be misinterpreted by those with a range of disabilities.
There is much we can learn from those with disabilities. On the 3rd of December, people across the world will come together to celebrate the annual International Day of People with Disabilities (IDPD). This day, set up by the United Nations in 1992, aims to promote and support the dignity, rights and well-being of persons with disabilities, and provides an opportunity for people to come together and celebrate the fantastic individuals with disabilities in their communities.
Far too often we neglect or don’t see the great work being done by people with disabilities or the challenges they overcome day-in-day-out. IDPD provides us with an opportunity to highlight their achievements and celebrate the accomplishments of individuals both locally and across the world.
At the University of Glasgow, we have some fantastic resources to assist those with disabilities on and around campus. The support that is the most amazing and can be of great benefit is that of the Disabled Student Network Facebook group. The group is a meeting place for those with any disability and their allies to get together share ideas and assist one another. We also have each month a Luncheon or coffee morning to get together and share some time away from the problems we face with the general student body and get some free food
We also have a fantastic group of people who work in the Student Representative Council Advice Centre housed in the McIntyre building. They are excellent at getting things done if you have any issues relating to your time on or off campus so pop in and ask to speak to them. While they may not have all the answers, they have the contacts who do. As well as these services you also have me, your very own member of Student Council who is there is represent you in any way I can to get the issues you have brought to the eyes of the right people, I work closely with the Advice Centre as they have the ability to put you in the right place with the right people at the right time. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University also has its own Disability Service for more information – you can contact them directly.
Attitudes to disability are changing. Prior to the twentieth century, social attitudes reflected the view that persons with disabilities were unhealthy, defective and deviant. For centuries, society as a whole treated these people as objects of fear and pity. The prevailing attitude was that such individuals were incapable of participating in or contributing to society and that they must rely on welfare or charitable organizations. Even with the vast changes since the 1960’s we still have a long way to go before disabled people are recognised for the great impact they can have. As well as many negatives there are many positives to having disability. Below are some of my thoughts:
- People with disabilities can be massively influential. We go through every day with determination and strength, which many people are bowled over by, with many secretly wondering if they could do the same thing. Having a disability is difficult, but it’s also one of the most productive learning environments that a human can experience
- Most non-disabled people can’t imagine being happy if their body was ever permanently broken. However, the truth is that the human brain is very adept at transitioning into someone with a disability, if you let it, that is.
- When you have a disability, the patience required is at a whole new level. Very often we have to wait longer for all types of things, and over time we become masters at honing in on it.
- Since having a disability can be somewhat stressful, we learn early on not to let our stress levels get too high. If we did, none of us would make it past 40. We are confronted with crazy things all the time, so we learn to prioritise what is worth freaking out over.
- Most people don’t like being different or standing out. However, it’s not as bad as you’d think. When you live the life as someone who’s different, you learn right away it has it’s cool moments. You get to meet amazing people and get in on unique opportunities.
- When you have a disability, you pretty much have a free-for-all card to be exactly who you want to be since fitting in with the “in” crowd is impossible anyway and embracing this can be one of the most freeing feelings ever. You don’t need to fit in to feel good about yourself or to think you “belong.” You belong to yourself.
- Don’t ever think a disability is equitable to someone who is not impressive or successful. You never know what someone with a disability is capable of. Examples of this are Stephen Hawking, a man in a wheelchair who can’t speak and is one of the smartest people in the world to Francesco Clark, a quadriplegic and CEO of a vast beauty product company.
- Life is short. Embrace everything.. Some people with disabilities may have a limited lifespan but do not let this discourage them to enjoy each day as if it were their last, – from enjoying the sun rays to a warm cup of coffee, we know how hard life can be so we know how to embrace the good things when they present themselves.
- Weakness isn’t always a negative. Just like the notion “it takes a village,” being weak or disabled isn’t necessarily a negative thing. When living with a disability, you learn to be OK with receiving help, and over time, many of us realise that we all need help in our way,). It’s unavoidable and part of the human experience.
There’s no getting around it, having a disability is undoubtedly a problematic ticket in life, but the life lessons to be had without question make it a near VIP experience.
It is time for us to put ABILITY back into DISABILITY.