Growing up, my identity as a disabled woman was not something that I connected with. I always knew that I was different. But I’d never quite aligned with the idea of myself as disabled. This was not because I didn’t think disabled people existed. It was because I felt that I wasn’t disabled enough or that I could pray my disability away. I felt that if I could assimilate with my non-disabled peers then maybe just maybe, my disability would disappear.
Plot twist. It did not disappear.
I would never have identified as a disabled individual until I had to turn away from relying on my mum to advocate for me within and school setting and advocate for myself. University was the turning point for me.
The day I stepped into the oh so inviting assessment centre for my Needs Assessment to get Disabled Students Allowance, it really clicked.
But lets go back in time, and think about the journey towards my acceptance of my identity as a disabled woman.
One of my earliest experiences of ableism at school was with a teacher in year 4. You see, my visual impairment meant I could never see the whiteboard even from at the front of the classroom. This meant I needed to use a camera that attached to the table and pointed towards the whiteboard that I could zoom in and out through my laptop. My year 4 teacher was not a fan of this. I remember her firmly asserting to myself and later my mother that I did not need any equipment in her classroom and would be just fine. Imagine telling a blind person about their own needs are. Needless to say, my mum was not having it and the teacher did not prevail.
Fast forward years of bullying and I reached secondary school. I could not shake the feeling of feeling or being different to my peers. Bullying did not end and a lot of it was down to the fact that my peers had never experienced or encountered disability before and did not know how to interact with me in a way that wasn’t cruel. They didn’t understand why I carried 3 bags at any given time to school. One was my actual school bag, the other my laptop bag and the last bag was what we called my CCTV camera, as it allowed me to see the whiteboard. My parents had luckily bought me this one so it was way less clunky than the one I had been given by the government during Primary school.
Another stand out memory during Secondary school was the fact that with all students in uniform, I could only identify my classmates by the shoes that they wore, which meant that I would often not see a classmate and be perceived as rude. It meant that It was a real struggle to make friends.
I also faced the battle of dealing with SENCO’s that thought they knew best for me but didn’t and barely allowed me to make known what I needed for myself. It was a struggle academically for sure as I found my feet and navigated inaccessible textbooks. The RNIB were of great help in supplying enlarged reading books when available!
At this point in my life, I would never had considered myself disabled because I thought of disability as a weakness or somebody else’s problem. I also didn’t have the same outlook that disability was a spectrum that varied from individual to individual. The real turning point would come as I started to apply for university and realised that it would be a transition. I could no longer rely on my mum to advocate for me, on Joseph Clarke, who acted as my case worker. I significant turning point that cemented my experience as a disabled person came when one day., I was told by someone close to me at the time that I only got an interview for a university the day after I applied as the institution wanted to ‘see how disabled I was’. Now that, was a turning point.