So, a year after I took on the role of Students with Disabilities Officer, today I handover to Georgia Corbett, my friend and successor.
I juggled a lot this year as a final year computer scientist, and so didn’t necessarily do all the things I wanted to – but I did manage to do two main things. And as long as you make a difference, any difference, you’ve accomplished something as an activist.
I’ve been involved in running workshops, discussions, school visits, conferences and even just personal chats with students of Newcastle University and others. As a result of my involvement, I have seen people attest to being able to explain concepts around disability and language they were unable to do so previously. I’ve seen people develop a new comfortableness and understanding of their own identity as disabled people. I’ve witnessed school children who were suffering with mental illness without knowing it embrace a sense of relief that their struggles were valid and real, but also a thing with a framework to help treat and cope with.
When I came into this role, I had multiple emails from students complaining about accessibility on campus. It’s the downside of having beautiful, historic buildings – their listed status preserves that but at the expense of ease of accessibility. I knew this had been a problem for a few years – and it would not be resolved in my tenure, but I was determined to ensure I got the ball rolling, and in such a fashion that it would have the momentum to push through the years needed to get it done. I know recently an audit was done on the Students’ Union, to see what needed changing. I am confident that Georgia will be able to continue to push and push it, so that the next Disability Officer and the next will also be able to, until the SU is accessible, and the campus is accessible.
So as I write my last blog post, to Georgia I wish the best of luck. Don’t worry about changing everything – you fix the world one small step at a time. The first difference you make is still a positive move in the right direction, and I knew from the moment you asked me if I thought you’d make a good Disability Officer that you will do great improving the Union and the University for disabled students.
Don’t be afraid to be assertive. Universities here are built on foundations inheritably ableist – things like that need strong voices. Call out everything – from physical inaccessibility, lack of academic support for students, and members of society and club committees, honorary doctorate holders who are also fake allies and even incoming Faith or Belief Officers who freely use ableist slurs.
Celebrate positivity and disabled identity. Do all you can to let disabled students know they have a voice and a right to be at Newcastle.
And finally, do your own thing. You will face many requests of ways to help, and you can’t do them all. Decide what you think you can do, and set your goals.
I’ve loved my time as a part-time officer, I’ve loved my involvement with the Union, and I look forward to my next chance to run for, and hopefully be elected into, another officer role.
Best wishes all!