NUS Disabled Students Conference - Manchester
Hey peeps! So, I just got back from Manchester after being at the NUS Disabled Students Conference. I was there, proud to be representing the disabled students of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Firstly, can I just say that the event was run SO smoothly, which made its content even more accessible; so, thank you to all those who were involved in running the event!
This level of accessibility was very refreshing and really, the presence of interpreters, ramps, lifts, gender-neutral toilets, ASL clapping, pronoun labels and varying options of coloured overlays on paper handouts is essential to making student events more inclusive. I also want to say thank you to the activists who gave such motivational speeches by highlighting the fact that it is not one’s impairment that makes them disabled, its society’s lack of accommodation for it.
Onto the most important part, the people. Here are all the fabulous representatives:
Pierce re-elected EC (national executive council) 2nd place rep
Open place - Tanju Cakar (Uni of Sheffield) and Kashmire Hawker (Sheffield Hallam)
Women's - Shamima Akhtar (Birmingham Guild of Students) and Alice Armstrong (Nottingham University)
Black and ethnic minorities - Feisal Haji (Kingston SU)
LGBT - Georgie Spearing (KCL)
Trans – Alexandra (Thomas of Durham)
Mature - Deej Malik Johnson (Manchester SU)
Further education - Molly Rosenberg (Newcastle college SU)
Part Time - open
Post Graduate - open
International - open
Steering - Jess Harrison, Aisling Musson (Uni of York on a 2 year term), Katie Sinfield (Leicester 1 year term) and Mark Stirling (Sheffield Hallam 1 year term)
‘Who is the newly reappointed NUS disabled students officer?!’ I hear you cry… its Rachel O’Brien! She has been passionately fighting against austerity, for autistic acceptance, campaigning for disability rights, has made a disabled students groups tool kit (which can be found on the NUS connect website under the 'resources' tab in the toolbar) and takes solidarity with the disabled people who are being held under the occupation of Palestine. She’s been trying to decolonise spaces by making them more intersectional and offers universal credit training days in every nation. POWER HOUSE WOMAN.
For those of you who don’t know what universal credit is (I had to google it, don’t judge), it’s a benefit scheme that roles 6 different types of benefits into one, that being:
Child Tax Credit
Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)
Working Tax Credit
Its sold to the public as though it will save the tax payer BILLIONS and get people more ‘motivated’ to work -ahem*AUSTERITY*ahem- but basically disabled people with more complex benefit claims are being discriminated against by this singular monthly payment divvied out by the conservative government.
I personally found Dolly Sen crazy inspiring. A bold artivist (who referred to campaigning as 'smacking normalities arse'… so witchy) who has been working to bring down the neoliberal oppression of disabled people. She uses writing, film and performance with a satirical twist to 'make the comfortable uncomfortable'. She's campaigned for single sex hospital wards with Mad Chicks (a feminist mental health group), she also campaigned for the reinstatement of Kindred Mind (a mental health service specifically for black and ethnic minorities that commissioners tried to cut), she held a festival called 'Bonkers Fest' (which took back the ownership of powerful words that are usually used to shame us and put us back in our supposed place) and on top of all this (+ more), she's created a satirical Mr. Men comic...
Satire is such an effective way to tackle oppression and we all need a bit of humour when times get dark, so thankyou Dolly. She gave some great advice for activists, expressing that 'If you stand up for what you believe in, then there's going to be a sea of consequence' before advising us to try and be diligent with self-care to avoid burning out. Dolly then left on a beautiful note, when she said 'Nobody else can take away your inner beauty. So fuck what they think. Try to bring light into the world.' What a legend. You can find more of her work at: Dollysen.com
Questions were raised, like:
How will universal credit affect disabled students?
Political knowledge is key for awareness, so the universal credit workshops will help with that. Students in Further Education who get bursaries for travel can lose out on this if they miss college, so these will be held on Saturdays. Disability Rights UK is also addressing the issue of UC. We can help by disseminating info in our campus and lobbying MPs to clause and fix.
How can we have more conversations to encourage disabled people's issues into an ableist curriculum?
Refer to equal opportunities declaration when confronting your institutions. Run sessions for lecturers to help them understand and teach access needs. Incorporate 'Give it a go' sports to be more inclusive (like Bell foot ball, for example). In terms of the cuts to Disabled Students Allowance – there is a legal challenge against the surcharge of laptops, that the British assistant technology association is trying to help get reduced legally. This is not to say that the problem is solved though, as DSA surcharges and cuts will be introduced in northern island. We have to keep fighting.
What rights are there for disabled people post Brexit?
National DPAC (disabled people against cuts) is working hard at making this a less bleak prospect.
What’s going on in the United ‘Kingdom’?
£500 NUS funding, then it was cut. They’re trying to create a better liberation campaign, but it needs more solidarity.
Campaigning about invisible disabilities, as students may be unaware of what support they can get and institutions don't recognise that they need that support.
NUS Northern Ireland:
Rachel has been supporting the Return to vote campaign for repeal the 8th amendment. Expanding laws to incorporate other circumstances. Here’s a petition you can sign to support the legalisation of abortion to be made available in line with the best medical practice, international human rights norms and the will of the majority of people in Ireland: https://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/repealthe8th/
So there we have it! I can’t think of any ‘rise up’ revolutionary endings to this report. But one thing I will take from the conference, and try to keep in mind, is to remember not to feel stupid, sorry, ashamed or to carry any inner hatred, but to feel proud of who I am. All disabled students should. And don’t be scared to talk about it, it can be quite refreshing when people are willing to understand.
Peace, love and solidarity-
Petrina Fitzpatrick x