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‘My disabled body isn’t why I’m disabled’ – SU Election 2021

By Tiegan-Leigh Everitt - What if disability was less physical, and more of a social issue? We can currently view disability as a problem within someone’s body, and their disadvantages only exist within the scope...

By Tiegan-Leigh EverittDisability Representative Candidate (Cambridge Campus)

Disclaimer: This article has not been edited by The Ruskin Journal. The Journal will publish similar submissions from other election candidates that want to get involved. These posts show no bias – the opportunity to post a manifesto with us is open, and has been advertised too, all candidates.

What if disability was less physical, and more of a social issue?

We can currently view disability as a problem within someone’s body, and their disadvantages only exist within the scope of themselves, therefore they must seek treatment to get as close as they can to function like the average person (however defining what this is, is a conversation within itself). This puts a huge weight on the shoulders of disabled people – we are constantly trying to fit the standards of people who are able bodied and neurotypical, and go against the natural functions of our bodies and minds. 

This is somewhat depressing and seems like life will always be an ever increasing uphill climb (hopefully one with wheelchair access) for people with disabilities, the end goal being to emulate something unnatural to us. The good news is, by simply switching the way we perceive disability, life as a disabled person becomes a lot more hopeful.

Disability does not exist in a vacuum. It is directly impacted by the society around us. For example, the ability to function like an able bodied person is much easier to achieve for deaf people when there are subtitles and sign language interpreters present at events and lectures. When these accommodations are implemented, suddenly the deaf person becomes a lot ‘less’ disabled, despite their deafness not changing at all. This is an example of the social model of disability.

Here is perhaps the most easy to understand analogy of this model that I have come across. Imagine that one day, everybody on earth, except you, gains the ability to fly. You are not disabled, despite this, everything is as normal, you can walk to the shops, go to work, and participate in everything society has to offer, as nothing in society has changed. You physically cannot do what everyone else can do, yet you are not considered disabled. However, a while down the line, shopping centres are built into the sky, your workplace moves to a building high in the clouds, that can only be reached by flying, most entertainment venues are up too high and you simply cannot reach them. Now, you are considered disabled. It is near enough impossible for you to work, shop and do anything you would usually do. You have not changed at all, but society did, and those societal changes made you diabled. 

As an autistic woman, most of the time I do not feel too different from my neurotypical peers. However, when there are overwhelming sensory situations, or when I am in social situations with people that cannot accept my autistic traits and I have to mask them, suddenly I feel out of place, and disabled. In my case, if sensory accommodations such as noise cancelling headphones were seen as normal and were easily accessible, and if the people around me were able to understand and accept my autistic traits as natural rather than weird, I wouldn’t be so ‘disabled’, despite me not changing at all.

If our society was more accommodating, if subtitles and audio descriptions were required, if autism traits were portrayed as normal in media, if wheelchair ramps were commonplace and if therapy was easily accessible and affordable, we would find that these conditions that render us ‘disabled’ in our society become less of a hindrance and more of a natural human variation. 

University can be a difficult place for disabled students of all abilities, and if ARU was to adopt this mindset that the setbacks of disability are more social and societal than an inherent flaw in the diabled individual, we could make a campus where everyone has an equal chance to succeed in their education, and equality and inclusivity become the standard, rather than a luxury.

In my campaign for disabled students rep, this is a mindset I would aim to help the whole student union adopt, and prioritise creating a safe, inclusive campus that champions accessibility, helping every student embrace their unique abilities, rather than be held back by them.

To make change at ARU, taking part in democracy is a must! Don’t forget to vote from the 6th of march for the candidate that will best uplift and support your community, so we can all get the very best from our university experience.

Check out @tieganleigharu for more disability advocacy content at ARU, and vote Tiegan-Leigh Everitt for disabled students rep if my campaign values align with your own.

Image: Element5 on Unsplash.

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