By Diana Isajeva, Students’ with Disabilities Campaign Officer.
November 22nd marks the start of disability history month and, the lovely NUS Wales disabled students officer Diana Isajeva, told me why disability history month is such an important month for disabled students.
‘You can judge a nation by the way it treats its most vulnerable citizens’
Any disability is tough to live with, but in combination with the stresses and strains of university degree, it can be completely overwhelming. A university degree greatly increases the chances of getting a well-paid job, and baring that in mind the under representation of disabled students in the higher education underlines a massive social injustice that still exists in today’s education system.
For disabled people, having a higher education qualification means a much lower risk of unemployment, a brighter future as well as allowing them to contribute to the society. However, it is still a form of taboo for the disabled to speak about the barriers they overcome every day and as a result their quiet struggles are rarely noticed.
One of the many issues that a disabled student might come across while at university is usually the poor quality of advice, information and training given to academic staff, especially in relation to invisible illnesses. Also many ancient university buildings hardly meet the access needs, if at all. The Disabled Students’ Allowance only covers the costs of the specialist equipment and non- medical help, disregarding the sky high care costs. While living away from home, the accommodation for carers can become a massive financial burden, as students may have to pay for an extra room. Many disabled students will face a hurdle of trying to secure a funding to cover care costs, due to the enormous cuts to local authority budgets and the closure of Independent Living Fund.
In the most unfortunate circumstances, if a student becomes disabled in the middle of getting a university degree, there is hardly any financial help, as the social security benefits are not available in such situation. Since the Disability Living Allowance was replaced by the Personal Independent Payment, it will usually take up to a year to receive a decision, putting on hold any kind of financial support. Therefore, a student who is suddenly struck down with a debilitating condition will face a rather cruel choice of either dropping out of university or suffering without the daily essentials.
Some of those issues can be easily dealt with by educating our community and therefore the disability history month is very important as it will help the disabled students to understand their civil rights, which will improve their sense of identity, while learning about many historical characters who faced hardships, but continued to strive for their goals. This can help to locate the role models, whose experiences and great achievements can support in overcoming personal obstacles. Learning and sharing disability history will help to build a relationship with people from other marginalized communities as well as educating those without disabilities, which will lead to better understanding and therefore less prejudice.
Carefully examining the mistakes of the past, where disabled had no rights and were greatly oppressed will guide us through re-evaluation of today’s societal norms, where unfortunately disabled are still marginalized, stigmatized and misunderstood.