At Compass Youth, we are always looking for new ways of bringing our campaigns closer to the community. The ideas we try out, the campaigns we work on, the relationships we build together.
Having been inspired by the "talking wall" of a community group in South Africa, I want youth activists to tell their narrative. I'm constantly amazed by the energy and passion of the people I meet - whether they're our members, supporters or from other campaigning groups - and the talents they bring to making change happen.
I wanted to share those stories with you. I hope you enjoy them.
Do you want to share your experience of being involved in campaigning, your thoughts on an issue that matters to you? Get in touch with me now at email@example.com
This month, Rupy Kaur, founder of ABLE and member of the NUS Disabled Committee tells us her story. Over to you Rupy!
"Like every student considering going to university, I wanted to ‘fly the nest’ to move as far away as possible from home. How very exciting!? I was looking at all sorts of universities to begin my journey of development and the independence that comes with it. I was ordering prospectuses, looking at different courses and choosing places to live. That’s when it hit me - the fact that I have a disability meant that going through the UCAS process wouldn’t be as easy for me as it was for my peers.
Basically I have Cerebral Palsy (CP). CP can affect people in varying degrees. It is not a life threatening condition and it can happen at time of birth or early childhood. The common cause of CP is a lack of oxygen supplied to the baby’s brain whilst the mother is in labour. Due to the brain not receiving that oxygen, parts of it become damaged and consequentially can cause a ‘wide’ range of disabilities – which can include both learning and/or physical disabilities. As you can see it’s not very easy to put all types of disabilities in one box. My CP has affected me in such a way where I have reduced mobility and therefore use an electric wheelchair (which is in need of pimping! Hehe – I think I may need Xzibit on the case rather than Westwood).
I, like many other students with varying degrees of disability, have struggled through the educational process and in life generally. I’m not complaining though – and in some sort of ironic way, I am glad to have battled through the system as if I had an easy ‘ride’, I’d probably wouldn’t be campaigning today.
Going back to university - to make life a little simple, I decided to remain in Manchester – I liked the look of The University of Manchester and decided to read Psychology. Now I needed to get some support in ‘getting there’ not in terms of my A level grades but accessibility wise.
I contacted the Disability Support Office (DSO) at the university who advised me to speak to social services with regards to personal care. The DSO would handle all the educational side of things (e.g. organising note-takers, equipment, lecture handouts etc).
Every disabled person has a social worker who assesses what needs each individual has and if funding is necessary for a particular reason, it is their duty to report those needs to a panel of ‘judge’ type people who either agree with what is being requested or not. The sad story is that often students are ‘put off’ the idea of going to university due to the sheer amount of effort it takes in getting there in the first place and social services don’t really encourage students to go either.
Some of the types of questions I received from my social worker were ‘Why do you want to go to university?’ Why don’t you study from home…you know, do a Learn Direct course or something along those lines?’ ‘So what are you going to do if the fire alarm goes off in your halls of residence, then you try to get out of the building and as you get to the door your chair breaks, then you would block everybody in? (Serious, not a joke!). My favourite one so far is ‘how many times do you go to the loo a day, would you benefit from a catheter?’ Hmm….HELL NO! So as you can see going through social services was a mission in itself.
So if students actually make it to university they not only have the same worries as non disabled students but extra worries such as how to organise personal care, study support, equipment etc. Some decide to drop out during the first few weeks of uni – this obviously isn’t a good thing.
Finally succeeding I moved into Richmond Park bringing suitcases and even a portable hoist, which helps me, transfer from my wheelchair. I meet my Personal Assistants (PAs) and my flat mates. Everything was going well for about a week then I realised that things were not going to turn out as bright as I thought they would. The PAs had inadequate training, were young and had difficult communication skills. In spite of this I tried to immerse myself with my flatmates but they would go to places that I couldn’t go to due to not having wheelchair access and whenever I tried to invite myself along there would be that awkward silence as they knew the places that they were going to would not have decent access for me.
However, I still had the fighting spirit in me maybe I’d make friends on my course? This wasn’t so easy either. Due to the lecture theatres, I had to sit at the front and of course students like to fall asleep in lectures so the further away they are from the front the better. So I couldn’t really mix with the people from my course either. What was I to do? I was surrounded by lots of people but felt really alone. After 4 weeks of staying in halls I decided to move back home but commuted everyday to my lectures.
As you can see it is pretty tough making that transition from school/college to university especially those with disabilities. When I started uni I was a typical fresher in the sense I wanted to join any society that encouraged drinking! I thought by socialising with new students it would take the pressure off everything else. So I went to fresher’s week and there were no societies really accessible for disabled students.
I was determined to go out and socialise and even though maybe for the wrong reasons initially I, and some other excellent students, set up a student society called ABLED which any student, disabled or not, could join. In turn most of our members were either disabled, or had a disabled friend or had a disabled sibling. Consequentially, by its own very nature the society became political and started to campaign on disabled issues.
However, it was political in the sense of making the ‘world’ better accessible to all rather than aligning to any political group/party.
From ABLED I was elected to be on the Disabled Committee for the National Union of Students.
To cut the long story short, I think it’s hard for disabled people to get involved with politics. We have all these parties and it’s difficult to know who to vote for when disability issues are side swept. Disability issues are side swept as I believe there’s not enough representation in society for disabled people to push for things to be sorted. The reason as to why disabled people probably don’t vote as much is because policies do not seem to be representative and there tends to be this one whole vicious cycle.
However, there are disabled pressure groups but nobody seems to be communicating with each other and therefore not know what is going on.
I personally believe the student movement can assist with the situation. Disabled students who have been through the process need to go out to spread the word as to how things can be achieved. There needs to be a perceptual change in society too which focuses not on what disabled people cannot do but how society can help in order to achieve their full potential.
Young people need to be at the forefront of this and within political young groups I believe disabled issues need to be highlighted. This will then eventually encourage disabled people to become more politically active as they know that they actually have a voice.
To demonstrate different disabilities people may have – here is a list of some – I think it’s important for people to realise that there are a wide range of disabilities rather than the typical ‘wheelchair user’ that people envisage."
by Rupy Kaur
* Clubfoot * Paralysis * Amputation * Multiple sclerosis * Parkinson's disease * Cerebral Palsy * Muscular dystrophy * Arthritis * Rheumatoid arthritis * Osteoarthritis * Stroke * Spina Bifida * Visual impairments * Blindness * Low vision * Colour blindness * Cataract * Hearing impairments * Cancer * Autoimmune disease * AIDS * Multiple sclerosis * Renal failure * Cystic fibrosis * Tuberculosis * Diabetes * Hypoglycemia * Chronic fatigue syndrome * Spinal cord injuries * Traumatic brain injuries * Mental health issues * Anorexia * Alzheimer's disease * Phobias * Agoraphobia * Acrophobia * Aleurophobia * Anxiety disorder * Depression * Bipolar disorder * Obsessive compulsive disorder * Schizophrenia * Neurosis * Dyslexia * Down syndrome * Attention deficit disorder and ADHD * Hyperactivity * Autism/Aspergers