BADD – Disabilism in Higher Education

BADD - with a sneaked in deaf symbol

BADD – with a sneaked in deaf symbol. thought it was about time I did this.

As I said earlier, today is Blogging against Disabilism Day, and I have yet to offer up my sacrifice to the gods of the day (no, the one earlier doesn’t count). I’m meant to be doing my final essay of the year, but seeing as I’m done reading through all the research material, and my brain has now all the power of an almost empty whoopiee cushion …. I’m turning to BADD. And since I don’t want to read anyone else’s till I’ve done my offering (if I do that, I’ll just throw up my hands in despair) … I’d best crack on.

I wanted, here, to give a kind of overview of my experiences to date, in terms of disabilism – or encouragement – in education. To give a short description of my educational career so far: I returned to education, via a further education college and a diploma in 2010. In 2011 I started my undergrad degree, graduating last year, and am now doing a Masters degree. So far, so good. So what have been my experiences so far?

The university as a whole has been fantastic. I’ve talked with some of my interpreters about my time there and they have confirmed that largely, the university has been pretty good, in comparison to some of the other educational establishments that they’ve worked in. The disabled support unit for students has been supportive as well, after a rocky start. They initially seemed incapable of understanding the importance of full and comprehensive notes, as comprehensive as they could be, and I got through a few notetakers in my first year before I found people that did the job that I needed and then I simply requested them throughout. I sorted out interpreters myself; mostly because, again, I knew who I wanted and would work to achieve that. I also wanted and strived to maintain continuity for a module in my support team: that’s important. Again, initially, I think there was a bit of mistrust on their side: largely because they’d never had anyone like me before coming in with very clear ideas about what they needed and wanted and was prepared to take on extra admin in order to get it. [I think to a certain extent, my time at the Further Education college had spoiled me, as I’d been given VERY high quality provision there].

From my lecturers, I’ve largely had nothing but support, with one exception (more about that in a minute). My current lecturers, (two of whom I know well and the third is working on getting to know me!), take their time to talk to me (even when there’s an interpreter present, unless its in a class setting, and then they talk to me about as much as they do everyone else). Some handle it better than others – I’d say about as well as the average social cohort of hearing people might, some better, some worse. I think it helps that in every case throughout my undergraduate degree, at the beginning of a module, I would email the lecturer or seminar leader, introduce myself, explain my capabilities, what I would be showing up with (an interpreter and notetaker) and what my requirements were from them. Later in my degree that worked very well: I encountered the most problems in my second year when we were being spoken to by a different lecturer every week in that lecture series – I simply did not have time to email every single one, and most of the time I had no idea who it would be beforehand anyway.

The exception is a lecturer I have had ongoing problems with – and I have since learned seems to have problems with specific individuals (he regards people like marmite – he either loves you or hates you). In my case, we were going through an oral assessment and the rules of the assessment conflicted, hugely, with my requirements as a disabled person. Said lecturer stuck to his guns, being fairly rude in the process, and we had no real choice but to continue the assessment regardless (because of the presence of other students). What was even more stunning was the fact that the lecturer was meant to be the representative of the school when it came to disability issues – which and they displayed an astounding lack of knowledge about on that day. To the university’s credit, the lecturer was hauled over the coals and they put measures in place to ensure it would never happen again.

In terms of my fellow students: I’ve had a few comments. Most people have been friendly enough in class, but don’t seem to have wanted to socialise with me outside of class. The trouble is, I don’t know whether that’s because I’m deaf, or that I’m a mature student. I really can understand that a lot of them don’t want an old fart hanging around when they’re being sick outside nightclubs [what they may not get is that that’s mutual!]. But as a mature student, I have my own friends and life outside of university which means that having a university social life isn’t quite as important. There are people who are becoming friends, who look past the deafness and the bit of plastic on the back of my ear to see ME – and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Just wish more people could get past the awkwardness and just talk to me.

Outside of the University, I’ve struggled with disabilism from Student Finance England, who oversee DSA (Disabled Student’s Allowance, that pays for technical or personal help for disabled students). At postgrad level there are a whole range of seminars that are available to go to, done on a voluntary basis, and as part of various societies. These seminars are presented by people who are experts in their fields and its a really nice way to get outside of your own narrow focus and to widen your perspective for an hour, to keep your knowledge of other parts of your general field current. Attendance at a few of these throughout the academic year is advised, especially if you want to progress to PhD level (as I do).

Will SFE pay for it as part of DSA? No.

I understand their reasoning: if they cover this, then they could get into a situation where they have to cover support for people wanting to go on a cookery society, or a pub crawl, something that, really, doing this is not going to affect your degree grade. But this is very much a grey area. Some of the seminars are more critical to the acid test of whether attendance/non-attendance would affect my final degree grade, and although all my lecturers wrote (bless ’em) supporting letters saying that attendance at these seminars was critical to a fuller understanding and development of my wider knowledge of the field, SFE wouldn’t budge. In the end the university paid for them, but only those ones. Their budget is finite, and there are other seminars that I would love to go to, ones that are run by fellow postgraduates, (and that I blogged about in my second post, Networking) and that are really important for developing good working relationships with people that ultimately, I may be working with in my career. I get really angry at SFE, at their inflexibility to cover things like this, even a two part course that I went on to learn how to use some computer software that would be incredibly useful for the module I did before Christmas … they would not cover. Its not compulsory. And again, the university covered that.

I know that I’m a conscientious student: I work hard, I get good marks, I show up to almost every class, without fail (in fact, one of my current lecturers said something to this effect in my second year; that they love me because they know in me, they have at least one attentive student to teach at the end of term!). That makes it very easy to support me – sort of, the deserving disabled. I do wonder, sometimes, if the university would be as supportive if I wasn’t bringing in such high marks, if I had struggled even to pass and had graduated with a third class degree (instead of the first I actually got). It brings to mind the discussions that have been held over the last 400 years or so. How do you seperate the deserving from the undeserving? In the past, it was the deserving poor, not the deserving disabled – although the disabled was definitely seen as a subsection of the deserving poor. Do you treat them all as equal? Difficult questions – and ones that are particularly pertinent to society today, still, and especially pertinent given the upcoming election and the fact that next week is deaf awareness week.

I think I want to round this off on a positive note. What would I like to see for the future? Funding for those grey areas would be a good start. SFE needs to recognise that a university education is about more than just the compulsory classes; it’s about the whole expansion of the mind, of experiences, of learning who you are. Cut that short and you turn out a half-assed graduate. I’d like to see universities themselves being given bigger budgets for communication support of all kinds. I’d like disability awareness training to be a compulsory part of fresher’s week – hell, I’d like disability awareness training to be a compulsory part of schooling, period, delivered in age-appropriate ways at various points through school – this could easily be delivered as part of a wider civil skills module, perhaps, so that they learn about racism, gender politics, local politics, national politics, and critical thinking. That last is the key: to question the papers, what they read, and to think for themselves. I am a big believer in education. You might have heard the old saying: Give a man a tin of beans, and he’s fed for a day. Give him a bag of beans (seeds), he’d be fed for a lifetime. Or something similar. It varies. For me, education is the bag of beans.

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I’m deaf, I’m not disabled! Why should I do this?

Blogging Against Disabilism Day

Blogging Against Disabilism Day

Today is May 1st – known to many around the world as Blogging against Disabilism Day. A day where people, who are affected by disability and experience prejudice because of it, write about it. That’s all – a very simple idea, the brainchild of Goldfish and who is now ably supported by her husband, Mr. Goldfish. It’s a fantastic day, with tons of really moving, really well written blogs that are posted, worldwide, throughout the day – and in the days after, since some people are not always well enough to take part on the day.

But here’s the thing. This blog is aimed at deaf people. And I know many deaf people really have a problem with disability, with being seen as disabled – and as a result, will totally reject any idea of joining in with BADD.

‘Why should I do this? Great for them, but I’m deaf, not disabled!!!’

Here’s why: because you are.

I’m sorry, but to the world at large, to the world that mostly doesn’t care, you are deaf. Your ears don’t work properly. That lumps you squarely in the same category as all the other people that have bits of them that don’t work properly – eyes, legs, spines, nerves, arms, lungs … and so on. Dis-abled – meaning not abled. Your ears don’t work. Therefore you are disabled.

Oh, I understand why there has been a wholesale rejection of the idea that as deaf people are disabled. Deaf people have had to fight long and hard for the idea that just because they are deaf, doesn’t mean that they can’t do anything (in fact, they most decidedly can). There’s also been a wholesale rejection of the disability model, because for many deaf people, they feel that they are a cultural minority, with a different language and culture, just as, say, Jewish people or Scottish Gaelics, and they have fought long and hard to be accepted as such, and more importantly, to qualify for government funding as such.

Believe me, I get all that.

But here’s the thing: the world out there doesn’t care whether you, as a deaf person, can still be a doctor. They may well be very admiring, in that inspiration porn kinda way, and wish in their minds that more disabled people would be like that. The world out there largely doesn’t care if you’re a cultural minority, about the incredible beauty of sign language, of the hilariously funny jokes of John Smith, the stunning poetry of Dorothy Miles – and so many other wonderfully creative, active, hard working, high achieving, deaf people.

We – your fellow deaf people – are not the ones that need to be convinced of all this.

The world out there thinks you’re disabled. It treats you as a disabled person. Subjects you to the same prejudice that disabled people have been suffering for a long time. [To give one example: you think only deaf people are affected by the recent changes to Access to Work? Hell, no.] The fact is, the last five years have been hellishly bad for disabled people. Actually, scratch that, the last ten years. There’s been a systematic programme on the part of the goverment – all government – to demonise the disabled. To call them scroungers, refer to them in degrogatory terms. This has been well documented and the changes to funding systems and benefit systems over the last five years has been the culmination of that.

And that’s why days like BADD are so terribly important for deaf people as well as disabled people. Because deaf people are disabled, and its important that deaf people’s voice is heard. Heard as part of the rising clamour of voices that are making the world out there, the voting public, realise the damage that has been done in the last ten years to the silent minority. It is often said that the measure of a society, of a government, is how it treats it’s weakest members. Churchill said it, Truman said it, Hubert Humphreys said it, Pope John Paul II said it – or variations on it. Right now, with an election looming, society is beginning to wake up and realise what has been done in its name, the people who have died in the cold, alone, in terror, because of the ‘pointless cruelty’. Right now, a tipping point is fast approaching, in the cultural hegemony of the disabled person as a scrounger, living off the state – and the disabled are aware of this, and working to maximise it.

You want to know why, as a deaf person, you should be joining BADD?

Because of this. Because you are disabled. Because your voice needs to be heard. Because on a day like this, what needs to happen is joining, support, not division, not rejection, to make sure that in the next five years, society doesn’t treat the disabled – i.e. YOU – as they have been doing for so long.

Take to your Keyboards. The time is now for you to write, to sign, to do VLogs about it. Show them how powerful deaf activism can be.

Take part in BADD.