'It is time to defy stereotypes of disabilities'
I was pleased to attend the Right not a Fight campaign rally on 16 June outside the Palace of Westminster.
The Association of National Specialist Colleges (Natspec) has spearheaded the campaign for a couple of years now, emphasizing the message that education should be open to all regardless of people's needs or disabilities. Throughout Natspec's history the organization’s primary focus has always been supporting the development of specialist colleges, outlining their visions as well as celebrating their achievements, and offering students themselves a professional platform to assess the impact that colleges has had on them. It gives students an opportunity to reflect upon their own accomplishments, recognize their own weaknesses and appreciate their individual qualities through independent, and life enhancing, learning. Above all they can share their stories.
'Everyday tasks are made that little bit easier'
My experience comes from Hereward College in Coventry. I attended the college from 2011 to 2013, mainly studying the media coupled with activities relating to community participation. I also explored effective methods for managing my money. Despite the academic setting and official certificates, the true success of anyone's schooling journey depends on the kind of relationships that they create. Some friendships last a lifetime, others go in different directions, but they all give us a reason for reflection and make us the person we are meant to be.
During my time at Hereward College I belonged to the peer support team. It taught me a great deal about students' anxieties, and how important it was to welcome new members of the team with a smile.
Meanwhile, the college provided a sensitive counselling service for any student going through difficult times which I personally benefitted from. I was also fortunate enough to be able to trial a new piece of contemporary disability technology: a robust unique robotic arm, the first of its kind on British soil. This was showcased within the college environment and defied stereotypes of disability, championing personal levels of capability ensuring that everyday tasks are made that little bit easier and are something to be proud of. I also attended the initial consultation of the Chair 4 Life, an initiative that was pioneered in Leicestershire. The aim of Chair 4 Life is to create a bespoke wheelchair that adapted with individuals instead of them having to attend regular reviews every couple of years. I believe this project would have endless possibilities if there was enough enthusiasm and plenty of resources to pursue it.
'Do not be afraid to challenge your own perceptions'
Another exhilarating adventure that I embarked on thanks to Hereward College was a thrill-seeking week of outdoor activity at the Lake District Calvert Trust. The program involved a range of pursuits, including zip wire, abseiling and climbing. It was organised by the college's sport and therapy department and encouraged strong team building, good sportsmanship and inner self-confidence to overcome perceived adversities. It brought the already familiar group of peers closer together with a renewed appreciation of each others' capabilities. Hereward College's alumni also provided us with unique opportunities and experiences. A former student returned to the college to tell some of us about his new project, Care Pair. The project, which I endorsed, focused on finding good and compatible personal assistants in emergency situations – not just based on their location but on their interests and hobbies, too. The format was very much like a dating site: matching clients and support workers up appropriately. Care Pair taught me that good carers can be located if only people have the patience to invest in the profession and recognize the good work that does occur. No industry should be complacent and there is always room for improvement.
Perhaps my most memorable moment at Hereward College was participating in work experience at Coventry Council in the elections department, which included meeting the mayor and the leader of the council. I learnt about how polling stations are managed when people go to the ballet box. I advised the disability officer on the council about how they could implement and maintain an inclusive and welcoming disability strategy that values everyone in the local area. I also listened and contributed to a debate about how the council could make elections more transparent using contemporary technology methods.
With this in mind, the Right Not a Fight rally was incredibly important – not just because a crowd of various different specialist colleges turned out, but because they took their rallying cry of the worthy cause right to the heart of Parliament. It is crucial not to be afraid to challenge your own perceptions or the mindset of ministers for a cause you believe in.
Time may pass, life moves on, and by then your wisdom hopefully enters golden old age. But your college foundation and story will always be the golden thread that binds every page.
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