All posts by julieannereynolds

“Education is said to be a ‘stepping stone’, but for disabled people it’s a slippery one”

Kasia talks about how the quality of access support varies greatly from university to university, and the impact this has on being able to live the life you choose. 

Education is said to be “a stepping stone” towards one’s career.  Unfortunately, to a disabled person, it often becomes more of a slippery stone.  There are a few university rankings that are widely available, with those from the Guardian and the Times being the most often quoted.  Sadly, there is no ranking system available that would rate quality of support available to student with access needs.  Far too often disabled students choose a university where it is guaranteed they will receive appropriate support rather than a university with better teaching that can also offer better chances of employment.  The quality of access support varies greatly from university to university.

I myself experienced different levels of support.  They varied from very poor to excellent.

The quality of support I received was very poor

A few years ago, I started a Postgraduate course at one of London’s universities.  I was still sighted at that time.  I then returned a year later as a student with a visual impairment having been diagnosed with a brain tumour too late to prevent my sight loss.

I had to cope with sight impairment while learning access technology and new ways of studying.  I used to rely heavily on my visual memory.  The quality of support I received was very poor.  It was limited to assigning me support workers.  I kept getting the same people despite expressing my dissatisfaction.  I was told by a Disability Support Officer (DSO) on one occasion that a support worker is my eyes and I should know how to use a search engine.  Later on, I was told that the DSO was making faces and rolled her eyes whilst talking to me.

In order to complete my studies, I had to submit a final dissertation.  My supervisor contacted the Disability Department and asked for someone to transcribe audio recordings.  I was assigned one person but when I asked for an additional transcriber, I was told that a meeting was required to establish my support needs, as unfortunately, they were not aware.  That was despite them being told directly by my supervisor what I required.

I ended up making a formal complaint against the DSO.  This improved the quality of her work slightly but unfortunately not for long.  The whole experience was very difficult and challenging.

I consider graduating from that university with a good grade to be the greatest achievement of my life.

More recently I tried to do a Human Resources course at a local college of further education.  The course has a CIPD (Charted Institute of Personnel and Development) accreditation.  The whole course consists of three levels with the most advanced being at a postgraduate level.  I did all that was required of me to be assigned to the right group.  I submitted a case study and filled in all the necessary forms.  It all took time and effort.  I was initially told by their DSO that I will be given access to electronic copies of books that I would require.  However, later on I was told something completely different.  On the top of that, the course leader informed me that she had never had a student that required learning materials electronically.  She had students with sight impairment who were able to access large print.  I certainly wasn’t made feel welcome.  Instead I felt discouraged and disheartened by the whole process and the attitude of the staff in the college.  Suffice to say, I decided not to go ahead with the course.

I will never willingly put myself in this situation again

A few years later I did another course at a different university.  It was a private university.  The experience couldn’t have been more different.  They were fantastic.  They just couldn’t do enough.  All that despite the fact that I wasn’t entitled to Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) funding.  They had a designated librarian who I could contact for any book I required.  She would then write to a respective publisher in order to obtain electronic copies of books.  They organised orientation walks for me in the campus.  They were always there for me whenever I required any support.  They were absolutely brilliant!

At the end of September this year I’m starting a PG Diploma in Media, Campaigning and Social Change at the University of Westminster.  I attended an open day this Summer.  Everything has been made as accessible to me as possible.  This includes the application process.  The course leader put me in touch with a current student who also has a sight impairment.  The student couldn’t be happier with the level of support he received.

It is important to know what to expect.  During my first course after my eye sight had deteriorated, I didn’t know what support I was entitled to.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I didn’t know what to ask for.  It certainly helps to know what access technology is available out there.  You then know what to ask for. Events such as Sight Village  that are organised in a few major cities in the UK are worth visiting.  Attending various events is always beneficial if not to find out about access technology, then to learn about everything else.  You just never know.

Kasia looking at the camera, smiling, wearing access technology glasses

There is no doubt that there should be equal access to education for everyone.  Society can lose out on a lot of talent.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this.  We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

“my impairment left me feeling like I was on a deserted island but technology helped me feel at home”

Ajay, Service Desk Team Lead Analyst at Scope talks about his journey from the age of 16 to a working adult, showing how technology has helped him live the life he chooses.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at computer screens at work

For me living with an impairment is a bit like being in a relationship, you and your impairment know each other very intimately, you share every moment together, you sleep together, eat together and spend a lot of time getting to know each other very well. Like most relationships you also have conflicts, and both sometimes desire different things. This certainly was the case with my impairment and me.

As I got older my disability became worse and by the time I turned 16 years old I had lost all movement in my hands. From being able to write, play musical instruments or even feed myself, I was left with no movement at all. It was as if my impairment had left me on a deserted island with no hope of getting back home.

Technology changed my life for the better

This is where technology came into effect and really changed my life for the better bringing more control and freedom to it. I remember a time when I was watching TV at home and CNN showed an advert for a new piece of technology that had come out in the US called the Smartnav.

It was a device that would let you control the mouse using your head. It works by sending a signal to a piece of reflective material which you can attach anywhere and when you move that, it would control the mouse. You can click using additional switches or keys on the keyboard. When I learnt about this I immediately contacted the suppliers and purchased it from the US. At the time I could not operate the computer without assistance and if this worked I would feel not completely disabled again.

Ajay, wheelchair user, looking at his work screen on his chair and talking into his microphone

I remember when the first one arrived it was faulty, and I was extremely disappointed. It meant that I had to return it and wait for the next one to arrive which came in a couple of weeks. As soon as I plugged it in and configured it, I was hoping that this would change my life and let me use a computer again. When I started using it, it was amazing! I was able to control the mouse with precision and complete control. It had opened up a new world to me as I was able to use the computer again, and hope of getting off that deserted island had become a possibility again.

The internet was a complete life changer

As I got older, the Internet started taking over people’s lives and more and more Internet Service Providers were providing Internet connectivity to people’s homes. Being able to use the internet was a complete life changer for me also because it meant I could communicate with anyone around the world and I could research and look at whatever I wanted.

The next piece of technology, which completely transformed my life again was a device called the Housemate which I have been using since February this year.

This device with an app installed on your mobile, lets you control devices around your home. Being able to control the TV again was fantastic and I didn’t need to rely on having to ask someone to change channels or access recordings and so on. With this device I can control the TV completely, being able to record, playback recordings, change channels and fully operate my Sky box. Feeling bored was now not an option.

Technology gives me the independence to be part of society

Without technology I don’t think I could really survive in this world, being imprisoned in a body which cannot move can be very depressing at times and it’s something I would not wish anyone to go through. Finding different ways to keep your hopes up and trying to perceive things positively can sometimes be a job in itself and extremely tiring. Technology brings a breath of fresh air to my life, being able to live it the way I want, giving me the independence to be part of society, be employed and share experiences with friends and family.

There is no limit to what technology could bring to disabled people’s lives

What I would really like to see is developers and manufacturers to develop more technology and software to bring more freedom and independence to lives of many disabled people out there, who rely on technology not as a luxury, but as a means to get through life on a daily basis. I think if there was more awareness raised in Information Technology about the needs of disabled people, then there is no limit to what technology could bring to people’s lives and perhaps maybe someday it could even get me off this deserted island that my impairment left me on many years ago.

We know there is still work to do until all disabled people enjoy equality and fairness, with digital and assistive technology playing a huge part in this. We all need to work together to change society for the better.

There’s something everyone can do to be a Disability Gamechanger, so get involved in the campaign today to end this inequality.

Young disabled people share their hopes for equality

Regardless of who we are or where we are from, we must work together to ensure that every member of society has an equal chance to participate in our democracy and to have their say.

Carly Jones MBE hosted an EqualiTeas event at Scope, inviting young disabled people to meet, talk about equality and democracy, eat cake and decorate biscuits! An event championed by UK Parliament, aiming to bring UK communities together to explore what equality means to people.

Carly is an autism advocate who has been tirelessly campaigning for equality for years after her own battle to get a diagnosis.

Here’s Carly’s story.

I asked Scope if they could support a celebration of the “equality of voting rights”, EqualiTeas event at their new Here East offices at Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford. Here I am talking to the Scope team about the event.

Scope team filming Carly who is sat on a sofa.
Carly being filmed.

My hope in asking Scope and I to deliver a get together, was we would be in a better position to amplify the voices of disabled people in the UK. When Scope said they would love to host this event and provide social media and PR staff, plus camera people and scope story tellers all free of charge, I was elated and so grateful!

We created our idols on gingerbread

Guests from different age ranges, genders and disability, arrived from local and not so local areas. We ate cake, and drank tea. Younger guests decorated gingerbread into whatever their idols or ambitions were, which included an astronaut, a mortician and Phil Marsh from Scope.

A younger guest sat at a table painting gingerbread
A younger guest painting (with icing) their idol onto gingerbread.

Huge EqualiTeas posters were used to sound board our needs and hopes for equality. We debated as a group our answers to such questions as “what does equality means to you?” and “have you ever stood up for equality?”.

Our passion for the subject shone through and we noted our responses on the posters themselves.

Carly sitting on the floor writing answers to questions on to the Equaliteas posters
Carly writing answers to questions on the Equaliteas poster

Why this event is important

The reason Scope and I held this event was to ensure that disabled voices were heard in democracy. To inspire a younger disabled generation to not be afraid to step forward. There are approximately 13.9 million disabled people in the UK. We are an extremely large minority group.

To ensure that no one is left behind, our voices and suggestions must be taken seriously. We must have a seat around the democratic tables to fully represent the UK appropriately.

The group sat on chairs discussing equality.
We are having an in-depth conversation about equality.

Young people would like equality to work

Many wanted shops to be more disability friendly. For some their hope was a fair chance at education. Safeguarding and sex education for Autistic girls was of high importance to many, and more representation from the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic disabled community. Some wanted to get the job of their dreams because they were talented and they deserved it not just because they fitted a diversity box ticking exercise by an employer.

That in a way surprised me, we are often given the impression that young people of today, disabled or not, have some form of entitlement. To hear a young person not want special treatment but simple equality to work struck me as incredibly articulate.

Cakes with Equaliteas sticks in them in the foreground. Guests are in the background.
Equaliteas cakes

We all had fun

The guests seemed to really have fun. Parents of the younger guests got in touch to say how proud they were of their young person and to give thanks to Scope and myself which of course is incredibly kind and heartwarming.

Check out more of the story and photos on Instagram, watch our film of the event.

By @CarlyJonesMBE

What’s next

Next up is the Global Disability Summit 23 and 24 July again at Here East, Queen Elizabeth Park, Stratford with representatives of Include Me Too (Parmi Dheensa), the Department for International Development, British Council and UK government.

There is often an illusion that when the UK talks disability we do not include our own. This could not be further from the truth. There will be many British disabled advocates and activists participating at the Global Summit for others and our own countries benefit. It’s an absolute honour to be among them and share the voices, wants and needs of others is an absolute pleasure of a duty.

Take part in the conversation at #DisabilitySummit #NowIsTheTime.

If you have a story you’d like to share, get in touch with the stories team.

If you want to get involved in campaigns and make change happen, have a look around our campaigns page and get in touch.