What I want able-bodied students to understand, as a disabled student

Gemma Powell reflects on the need for compassion, not pity, from able-bodied students

Gemma Powell
19th November 2020
Image: Pikrepo
Dear able-bodied students,

Disabled people come in all shapes and sizes. We make up 22% of the general population, so speaking for us as a collective is hard. You will not think of every possible need a disabled person may have, because even I won’t. But if a disabled person says “it will make my day easier if you don’t do X”, then please listen.

An adjustment is not an advantage. It is something I need to merely be on the same academic playing field as you. In the middle of an exam, my anxiety ridden brain is worried about the person I just pushed past and didn’t get the chance to say sorry to. One student’s ADHD is making him think about cupcakes instead of biology and another student takes longer to type than you will with a pen and paper. People learn in different ways so if your disabled friend needs an extension on an essay, keep the grumbling to yourself.

A disabled person’s day is inherently more tiring. Whether our disability be physical, mental or both, disabilities can sometimes leave us with only bed rest for weeks. But disability is also world of contradictions. Just because our lives can be exhausting, it doesn’t mean we would change it for the world. We have to fight against extreme opinions about our existence on a daily basis and thus go on a journey of self-acceptance and pride, throughout our lives.

Being an ally can come in many forms but it’s often best done outside the Students' Union (SU) or university bubble. If you call out ableism in your personal life, even with your friends, you suddenly make the world a lot safer for disabled people to exist everywhere. Also think carefully before you harass a ‘walking person’ coming outside of the disabled toilets. Many disabilities are completely invisible.

Finally, we are humans and – at this university – adults. I don’t need your pity or patronisation. I just need compassion when struggling. Remember that you could become one of us at any time, so most of all, please think carefully and be kind.

Featured Image: Pikrepo

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