A very exciting collaboration for today’s post. A little collaborative Q & A with Melissa from Buttons and Ramps discussing our experiences as disabled students within the school system. These are the questions I asked Melissa and her answers, and you can find my responses to her questions in her blog post over here. Anyway, enough with the babbling on and on with the Q & A.
- Are you the only disabled person in your school? How open was your school about their accessibility/becoming accessible?
There’s now another wheelchair user in the year below me, but when I started school I was the first person in a wheelchair to go there, and my family and I were very much discouraged by the council and told to go to a more accessible school. At first, there were lots of makeshift ramps and teachers who looked like they’d never seen a wheelchair before but eventually teachers learned to adapt lessons and lots of the doors in the corridors were wedged open for me. There’s still no lift, but luckily I’m able to go upstairs with a little bit of help.
2. Could/can you access all the different lessons? (dance/PE/other subjects?) What is your school’s response like if you can’t?
In S1 (the first year of secondary school in Scotland, when I was 11 or 12), I was encouraged to do every subject but I had most of my classes in the same rooms on the ground floor which annoyed me and my classmates. I’ve found that the accessibility of subjects really depends on the teacher. For example, in S1 my art teacher really encouraged me even though my hands were shaky and the lines I drew weren’t straight but in S2 my art teacher marked me down and told me not to continue the subject simply because of my shaking. I think if a teacher understands accessibility and is able to adapt lessons, it makes a big difference. There have been few occasions that I’ve been excluded from lessons but if I do ever feel at a disadvantage, I’m able to speak to my pastoral care teacher and it always gets sorted.
3. What was one concern you had going into secondary school?
I had many concerns going into secondary school, my biggest concern was how the other pupils would react to me. I was anxious about being in a wheelchair as well since I hadn’t had much experience in an electric chair before and I’d never imagined myself being in a wheelchair all the time. I didn’t want to be known as ‘the disabled kid’.
4. What is one concern you have now about the next transition – college/uni/whatever?
I’m still unsure of where I’m headed. I’d quite like to go to a conservatoire and see how far acting could take me, but I also need to be realistic and have a back-up plan. If I can’t go to a conservatoire, I would like to go to university and study English and writing. I would love to be an author or playwright as well as being an actor. I worry that my disability will limit me, especially in acting. I don’t want to end up losing out on the opportunity to act because of the way I speak or how I move. My disability shouldn’t affect my writing in theory, but it’s always funny how even things you wouldn’t assume would be different are. I just hope that whatever I’m doing, I’m happy and able to have the same quality of education as I would if I weren’t disabled.
5. what is one piece of advice you’d give to younger disabled person about school?
School is never easy for anyone. It’s important to understand your own self-worth and to be able to learn to advocate for your own needs, even if you have people who would be willing to advocate for you. Your disability is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you or limit what you can do. If people aren’t willing to understand your disability and learn how to accommodate you, they are in the wrong. You are entitled to the same quality of education as anyone else, even if it looks a bit different from your peers’ education. Treat yourself with respect and don’t let anyone but yourself dictate what you’re capable of.
6. How is the social aspect of school for you? How do other kids react to your disability?
It’s been the most challenging aspect of school for me. I’ve kept a few close friends from primary but I’ve really struggled with making new friends. I’ve found that as much as my wheelchair helps me, it’s also sometimes a barrier for me because people see it and immediately make assumptions about who I am. My speech impairment also doesn’t help much as secondary school is very fast paced and people don’t really have time to listen to me and tune in to the way I speak. I’m also someone who’s very outgoing with people they know but I tend to be pretty shy with new people, especially of my age. I find it hard to know what groups to approach and tend to just stick to talking to the same few friends I have. People are very nice to me but I find that I’m often people don’t make the effort to actually become friends with me. I think secondary school is generally not a great environment for anyone who doesn’t fit into social normalities but being disabled definitely makes things more challenging.
7. How did you find receiving support at school (i.e. teaching assistant support)?
At first I wasn’t keen on having support. I wanted to be just like everyone else but having assistants to help me with daily activities and lessons definitely makes my life easier. I have great relationships with all of my assistants and I actually really enjoy their company. I have one assistant who I especially love and I honestly think I would have moved school if it weren’t for her. Having someone to talk to (even if it’s a middle aged woman) is really helpful and valuable. I think it’s so important that you have good relationships with teaching assistants, it’s so beneficial to be able to communicate what you need and how you feel in order to have the best education possible.
8. What is one topic about school/uni you’d like to see me discuss/discuss more on my blog?
I’d love to hear more about your experiences with university (getting in, learning how to be a disabled student) and how your attitude to disability has changed in adulthood.
I loved reading Melissa’s responses to these questions and I hope you did too. Don’t forget to check out my responses to her questions in her blog post here.