Opinion

The forgotten, disabled student and a new defiance

Young woman shopping. You can't always tell who is a forgotten, disabled student.
Photo by Arturo Rey from unsplash

It’s 23 June 2020. Three months of lockdown had me nervous yet excited about the potential future that I could build for myself at university. The first year had been quite boring at times. Having to focus on recovering from an epilepsy diagnosis meant that I very much couldn’t do half the things I wanted to do.

So now I started up a society, where I could meet like-minded people interested in similar things to myself. When the magazine society got approved, I was ecstatic. I may or may not have screamed the house down. If there was a major upside to the opportunities that the pandemic robbed me of, it was that I could build new ones up for myself. This was irrespective of my health conditions.

Post lockdown, I visit Eldon Square occasionally. Whenever I’ve gone, it hasn’t been jam-packed in the same way it would’ve been pre-Covid-19. Sure, it’s naturally been getting a lot busier since lockdown. However, it’s still manageable and there’s still plenty of social distancing measures in place. That got me thinking about who the lifting of lockdown restrictions will affect the most. That’s those such as myself with disabilities. Social distancing restrictions implemented during the Covid-19 pandemic have benefited the disability community in multiple ways.

A twisted equaliser for the forgotten, disabled student

People that were once told that they couldn’t work from home due to IT systems not accommodating them were able to once the pandemic hit. This is quite possibly ableism in it’s purest form. Adaptations that ‘couldn’t’ be made prior to the pandemic suddenly could be made when it protected and supported able-bodied neurotypicals. It should not have taken a virus to make these accommodations. In this way Covid-19 has become a twisted equaliser of sorts. This is what makes everyone’s desperation to return to the ‘old normal’ quite curious and in some ways short-sighted.

More opportunities and becoming outspoken

The next great thing happened to me in October was when I became programme rep for my course. You see, the pandemic did (and still does) rob us of the best educational experience possible. Engaging in-person lectures and seminars turned virtual, the real-life people I was able to interact with from across the table became icons on a computer screen. I talked about how we’ve been screwed over in The Forgotten Student Experience. However, a result of that was that some of us became outspoken about the causes that matter to us.

For me, I was able to channel the defiant anger I had at the system into something productive. The cherry on the top of that cake came in January, as I put the building blocks in place for a new charity that I set up, called Schools Matter UK, dedicated to raising awareness of issues within the compulsory education system, including sexual assault and economic disadvantages.

You see, I was never the outspoken kid growing up; far from it. I always made the effort to be apolitical. Nobody wants the opinions of an autistic queer, and I would be branded a self-obsessed spoilt brat no matter what position I took. However, watching how the pandemic robbed my younger brother and sister of months of primary school, made a few of my friends become anxious about their GCSE/A-Level results and downgraded the quality of my education significantly brought something new out in me.

Positive defiance for the forgotten, disabled student

That positive defiance has resulted in a few deadline extensions and changes to teaching styles, but I wish I could have done more. I know I’m not the only one. At the end of 2020, the National Union of Students found that over half of the student population surveyed believed that the pandemic made them more political. We’ve achieved so many victories this year, from the large-scale achievements to the more personal. I never thought that I would overcome my doubters and prove myself to the critics who thought that I would never amount to anything when it came to taking a lead.

However, it isn’t enough for us to simply pat ourselves on the back now that the academic year is over. We must get ready for war; the battle is starting. Universities are going to continue to cut corners, the government is going to continue with their brand of U-Turns and cheap skating, and we must all be ready to resist and stand up for our values and individual missions. Are you ready? I know I am.

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