Hi, I’m Raphaella Ward and I work as the Student Engagement Coordinator here at Huddersfield Students’ Union. I support the four Liberation Campaign Networks and the work that they do.
Our Disabled Students Campaign Network wanted to bring you an insight into life as a disabled student at University. The aim of the Campaign Network is to make student life better for students with disabilities. We know that there are issues with accessibility, both in the physical and digital sense for many of our students. That’s why Huddersfield Students’ Union are currently trying to make our own activities more inclusive by working with Wellbeing and Disability to organise an Inclusion Fair during ReFreshers’. We want to offer all students the full Union experience, so come down and tell us what you'd like to see - or if you've got your eye on an existing Sports Club or Society we can help make it happen. This free event will include activities and opportunities to feedback - tell us more of what you'd like to see at your Union. If you have any accessibility needs for the fair itself, don't hesitate to get in touch and we'll make the necessary arrangements, firstname.lastname@example.org
To get more of an understanding of the barriers that students with disabilities face, here’s two personal stories from some members of our Disabled Students Campaign Network:
To be or not to be - ‘becoming’ disabled.
“Disability doesn’t start and end with a diagnosis - a diagnosis is just a name you can equate to your pain. Disability is not being able to put your socks on in the morning, disability is planning your day around pain medication, disability is missing on Christmas fun because you’re not allowed to ice skate - also run, jump, queue, sit a long time, stand a long time, walk any distance etc.
I was diagnosed at 19 with bilateral hip dysplasia with hip retroversion - please don’t google it, all that comes up is dogs and babies. Adult hip dysplasia is much rarer and much more awkward to manage - there are surgeries but they are placeholders before hip replacements, which no surgeons want to touch before you’re 45; even if you’re in extreme pain. The placeholder surgery was called a Peri-Ascetabular Osteotomy (PAO) it consists of having your hip broken in two places to address the socket angle and screwed back together - sexy, right? The recovery period for this surgery can be up to 6 months, with 5+ days in hospital, 6 weeks’ non-weight bearing (aka wheelchair), self-administered blood thinning injections, a whole pharmacy of painkillers and 6 weeks of compression stockings - while you were enjoying the long hot summer, I was sweating away with knee-high, tight stockings on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
My experience of the shift between having an undiagnosed and diagnosed condition is intense - in the space of 2 minutes, I went from being a ‘healthy’ 19-year-old, to a 19-year-old with a long term, chronic mobility problem which would need a number of surgeries. My new knowledge of my condition affected my friendships, relationships, mental health, physical health, emotional health and my whole body image - people saw me as a totally different person with this label attached. There was ABD and AAD - Abbi before diagnosis and Abbi after diagnosis and I could see the difference in photos and friends. The way I held myself, the way I dressed, the stuff I did before diagnosis where a world apart from the Abbi I saw later and it’s taken a long time, and some counselling, for me to get back to that.
My diagnosis did not make me disabled, I was disabled long before that - I just had no reason to acknowledge it. My diagnosis gave me a name, it gave me a blue badge and accessibility and a right to ask for a priority seat on public transport. But it also introduced me to issues disabled people face every day: benefit cuts, the media image of disability, privatisation and underfunding of the NHS - not to mention that disabled people struggle to find employment and find life significantly more expensive than their able-bodied counterparts.
Disability History Month each December reminds me of the struggles disabled people have overcome in the last five, ten, fifty years - but also what struggles lie ahead. In 2019, I implore you to stand by disabled friends, families and strangers - fight with them for access and fight with them for the support they need. Disabled people want so little, but need so much - and it’s a responsibility of all of us to enable this to happen.
One day, this could be you - an accident, an appointment or an illness could change your life. Don’t wait till then to be forced to miss out because of a world which isn’t set up for you to join in. Don’t wait till then to realise how many music venues, cinemas, museums, galleries, lecture halls and libraries are, now, inaccessible to you. Don’t wait till then.
Let’s make 2019 the year disabled people don’t miss out anymore.”
“Coming to University meant I got a second chance in life, never would I have believed that I would be doing a degree in something I love. Spending a full year working hard, I couldn't wait for the next to start!
Then out of nowhere came the blow. I had twisted my ankle earlier in the month so I was being careful. Going down the stairs I had excruciating pain in my lower spine. I shrugged it off as sleeping wrong. I went to University but gradually as the week went on the pain got worse. I would never have thought that the events over the following weeks would be a part of the life I had planned. Several scans later, I was diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis and deteriorating disc disease. Why me? I never asked for this! I’m in my 40s, not my 70s!
My whole life has turned upside down. I was grieving for the dream I had and angry that my body was letting me down. I am frustrated with myself because I want to do things and can't. Being in chronic pain 24/7 with no let-up; grinds you down and exhausts you.
I am a textile artist and weaver but now I’m limited to what I can do. It’s hard doing what I love but University is harder. As a disabled person, accessibility takes twice as long to go to lectures which means I miss half of it. I don’t have enough time between classes. People don't know what to say or how to treat me. What I want to say is:
Instead of isolating me, include me as best you can, don't forget about me, my body might be failing me, but I’m still me.”
Want to join the Disabled Students Campaign Network to provide feedback, represent the views of disabled students and create change? Sign up here.
If you want more information or to talk about the campaign networks then drop me an email.