I remember sitting in a school assembly when I was about 14 and my old head teacher, Mr Kapur, got on stage and started reiterating Tony Blair’s famous mantra – ‘education, education, education.’ Mr Kapur spoke about how privileged we were in getting an education and how none of us should take school for granted. I certainly took his message on board. My family have always focussed on the importance of education and how ‘education is one’s ticket to freedom.’
I come from a very ambitious family. This was demonstrated by my grandfather who began life in the UK as ragman who had to fight prejudice and racism on his way to becoming a successful businessman.
This ambition and willingness to break down barriers manifested itself in my uncle becoming the first Sikh to be admitted into a grammar school in Birmingham, in 1964.
My uncle and auntie are my heroes as they have brought me up since the age of 4 and have always encouraged me to be my best. I admire their kindness in doing such a thing - bringing up somebody else’s child is hard enough, but it can be even harder when they have a disability.
I was born with Cerebral Palsy and use an electric wheelchair due to my limited mobility. I started off in a special needs school but my uncle fought for me to go to a mainstream school and we finally succeeded at the age of 10. Since then, I went from strength to strength in terms of education and finally graduated from The University of Manchester with my 2:1 Psychology (BSc) degree in 2008 – education was, and still is, my ticket to freedom and without it I don’t think my future career would seem as bright.
I must admit I have never really struggled academically in terms of understanding ideas, but I have in terms of my access needs being met. During high school I was always catching up on making notes as I did not have a note taker in lessons. At 6th form I was considered to be a ‘health and safety hazard’ and could not stay on site without a support worker. This meant that I had to go home during my free periods whilst my other peers could sit in the library at school. However, I have adopted my uncle’s stubbornness and ambition and eventually got my 3 As at A-levels.
You would think that achieving such results would make it easy to choose what university I wanted to go to…it was far from easy. Social services made it immensely difficult and even advised me to stay at home to do a ‘Learn Direct’ course because funding my care package was going to be extremely complicated and very difficult. My uncle’s daughter helped me battle with them in order for me to study at Manchester.
My educational support at university was fantastic. It was funded through the Local Educational Authority and my needs were met. I still had a lot of problems with my personal support care package which made things difficult especially in my 3rd year.
I did it though! I succeeded. I was extremely lucky to have support from all my family and friends when the time came.
Unfortunately my story is far from unique. A lot of disabled people have to struggle with getting what they need in order to carry out simple every day tasks. Disability cannot be mistaken as that only belonging to the elderly, it is across the board. There are many types of disabilities some being physical, but a majority being hidden – mental health issues being a prime example – it is widely known that 1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue over the course of their lifetime. It saddens me to think that some disabled people may give up their hopes and aspirations as the ‘system’ can just be too much of a hurdle to overcome both physically and mentally.
The exciting news is that disabled people are beginning to come together in the political arena to challenge the issues faced by them. I myself am heavily involved with the Disabled Students Campaign within the National Union of Students’. I have also been elected on Compass Youth’s committee – which I am very excited about. Like Gandhi once said, I believe ‘we are the change that we seek in the world’ and one day I do believe that the world will be more accessible for all. If disabled people want to see a change and can get involved with politics and the law in anyway, shape, or form, they should grab the opportunity to do so.
This leads me to my final message. I’ve already made it clear that disabled people struggle in receiving adequate personal care support. In fact, when social services come to assess what personal care support is needed the normal threshold is decided at 21 hours per week, this breaks down to 3 hours per day. For a majority of physically disabled people a good 2 hours of personal care is needed in the morning and a good 1 hour at night, leaving disabled people struggling during the day. If that disabled person cannot rely on friends and family then this is certainly ‘a recipe for disaster.’ You can of course get more than 21 hours, but ‘proving’ your need and fighting for it is extremely difficult. Often care staff are inadequately trained to meet specific needs which in turn can make disabled people extremely vulnerable – physically and mentally.
AA & DLA Threat
On the 14th July the Future of Care Green paper was published by the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions – it will aim to remove Attendance Allowance from the individual and possibly their Disability Living Allowance depending how the public respond to it. The benefits would go straight to social services and it will be up to them as to how to spend the money. The consultation period will finish on the 13th November.
If this happens I believe it would certainly impact a disabled person’s liberty. Disabled people would lose the personal choice as to how they want to spend their benefits and I do not think that this liberty should be taken away. Often these benefits are used on things like funding a suitable carer/Personal Assistant, or transport (taxis if people can’t use buses) and many other things. If this is to be taken away from the individual and given to agencies such as social services, it would truly be a sad day.
The below campaign provides further information about the proposal and if this article has made you think about disability issues then please take action here.
Finally, the time has come where disabled people are working together politically to change the world. It has taken us too long to gain this control, and it must not be threatened by such backward looking measures.