Disability Awareness Fortnight: Student Spotlight #1

Disability Awareness Fortnight allows people to share their stories and feel heard. Hear from some of our organising committee about their experiences!

Viktoriia

What does DAF mean to you? What does it mean to celebrate disabilities?  

Disability Awareness Fortnight allows people to share their stories and feel heard. It's not easy to discuss how disability can impact the day-to-day, nor is it to disclose your disability when you aren't sure of the reaction. DAF is a reminder that QMUL strives to be a safe space for everyone and that people are willing to listen. It's empowering to hear other people's stories. It allows me to connect to the community and celebrate a part of my identity. There are parts of my neurodivergence that I appreciate, and there are parts that can make life difficult; it's important to recognise both and let people know that it's so much more complex than the stereotypes and media portrayals out there.

How can we, as a community, better support and recognise people with disabilities?  

Self-education and listening are essential. There are many visible and hidden disabilities out there, and everyone’s needs and experiences are different. Learning about disabilities, in general, is a good start. Still, everyone's life experience is different, so when looking to support someone in your vicinity, the best thing to do is ask. As an autistic woman, I couldn't speak for anyone else but myself in terms of adjustments because although there are some things that, on average, could be done, my needs won't necessarily match anyone else's.  

Everyone can help to advocate for better acceptance, and it's about recognising that. I've seen several times where people used language like "disabled" and "autistic" as a jokey insult in a conversation when they weren't aware that I was neurodivergent. It's not difficult to recognise that it's inappropriate to say that, and anyone can help to call that out.

How could universities improve our support and services for students with disabilities (e.g. accessibility)?  

The most important thing to do is to seek feedback from students regularly and actively. It can be difficult for people with disabilities to reach out and start a discussion on an improvement when they are likely already exhausted from trying to keep up with university. Administrative tasks can be extremely taxing, and when they feel the disability service isn't meeting their needs, they may feel overwhelmed to reach out or feel they won't be taken seriously.  

Tell us something you are proud of.  

I am proud that I founded the QM Neurodivergent Society. At times, I felt that I wasn't genuinely included in my first year and wanted to find a proper community. Creating the Society allowed students to discuss their experiences and socialise with people who understood what they were going through. It allowed me to learn about the variety of neurodivergence and more about my own through the many educational events we have run.  

Last year, we won the Wellbeing Award. It was heart-warming to see how NeuroSoc had made a difference to people's mental health and allowed students to connect. Seeing the community grow in the past two years was amazing; I hope it will continue to grow once I've graduated.

What are your hopes for the future?

After graduating, I will continue on the path of qualifying as a commercial solicitor. As a future solicitor at Linklaters, I will be completing my SQE and then doing my Training Contract. I hope to advocate for greater neurodiversity inclusion throughout and have already engaged with the Legal Neurodiversity Network. 

 

Adam 

What does DAF mean to you? What does it mean to celebrate disabilities? 

Disability Awareness Fortnight, to me, is meant to platform and empower everyone with disabilities, promote allyship, challenge stereotypes, and enable acceptance in society. I have a diagnosis of ADHD and Autism. My disabilities affect me daily, they impact how I think, the way I go about my day and even how I complete tasks.

How can we, as a community, better support and recognise people with disabilities? 

As a community, we could better support people with disabilities by taking their experiences as valid, regardless of if a diagnosis has been given. We shouldn’t gatekeep disability behind the barriers in which society places to obstruct us. 
 
How could universities improve our support and services for students with disabilities (e.g. accessibility)? 

Universities could improve services for students with disabilities by taking a decolonial approach to service provision. Instead of adapting services, rethink and create services with disabled students in mind. Do the research and most importantly, proactively ask students with disabilities what services they would like to see.

Tell us something you are proud of.  

I’m proud to have founded and created multiple organisations and campaigns to empower marginalised communities. At the heart of each one is accessibility and inclusivity. 
 
What are some things you are involved in at QM? 

At QM, I’m on the committee of the Neurodivergent Society, Students With Disabilities, and the LGBT+ Society. I'm also involved with liberation campaigns at QM, and outside of QM I am a social activist, community organiser, and poet/spoken word artist.

 
Iqra

What Does DAF Mean to Me? What Does It Mean to Celebrate Disabilities? 

In honour of Disability Awareness Fortnight, I reflect on the significance of this period and how it personally resonates with me as someone living with ADHD, a condition often misunderstood. Coming from a background that stigmatises mental health is another reason as to why I felt inclined to provide insight on my experiences.  

Firstly, the very existence of a period dedicated towards disabilities is something I wouldn’t have expected to exist, due to lack of awareness. To me, this is a crucial opportunity for fostering understanding and breaking down societal stigmas. As I mentioned earlier, coming from a South Asian background specifically means being looked down upon for having a disability, so I believe initiatives like DAF can assist in educating the closed minded. Additionally, celebrating disabilities means acknowledging the diverse strengths and perspectives individuals with disabilities bring to our communities.

How has your disability affected your day-to-day life? Is there anything people may be surprised to hear?   

Surprisingly, most people in my life are not aware I have ADHD, and struggle with it on a daily basis. That’s the thing with many disabilities, not all of them are visible, so you never know what someone is going through. Having a late diagnosis in my teens meant I had to somehow figure out how to manage this condition myself. This in turn, made me feel quite isolated as I felt I was alone with my experiences. As I know now, this isn’t necessarily the case. Living with ADHD has presented daily challenges, impacting various aspects of my life, from time management to maintaining focus, acting impulsively and being unable to manage my emotions. This manifests itself across education, work and also my friendships and interactions with people. The struggle is real, but the strength it builds is immeasurable. 

How Can the Community Better Support/Recognise People with Disabilities? 

It is essential to celebrate the achievements of individuals with disabilities and recognise their positive significance in society. I believe continuous sensitivity training for the community will ensure a more understanding and supportive environment. I also would like to see more disabled people being offered higher positions and roles in their careers, as representation is also important. Ultimately, creating an inclusive community requires a collective effort that values diversity and actively seeks to break down barriers.

How Could Universities Improve Support for Students with Disabilities? 

Universities can enhance support for students with disabilities by prioritising accessibility. This includes providing resources for understanding and managing conditions, offering flexible learning structures, and fostering a culture of empathy and inclusion, especially from those who are teaching. For example, currently at Queen Mary, many disabled students are disadvantaged as their long-term health conditions which impact their academic performance are not recognised as extenuating circumstances. Adjusting such things as well as providing more deadline extensions and being more lenient with assignments will enable students with disabilities to feel less overwhelmed. 

Tell us something you are proud of. 

Despite facing the hurdles of ADHD without a diagnosis for most of my life, I take pride in how I have always been academically successful, achieving grades that many underestimated me for. This accomplishment underscores the importance of recognising and accommodating diverse learning styles. Additionally, alongside me studying Law, (do not even ask me how that is going), I pushed myself to pursue my passion for beauty professionally, and although it can be difficult to manage alongside studying, it further highlights my resilience.

Involvement in Extracurriculars at QM

Outside of academia, I am actively involved in the various law societies, (there are so many I cannot keep count) debating, social justice, and cultural societies at Queen Mary. I also love playing football and ice skating, so I am leaning towards a few sports societies, but my indecisiveness is getting in the way (another common ADHD struggle). 

Overall, while my disability does pose daily difficulties, it is an integral part of what makes me unique. What brings me comfort is how I am not the only one who has these struggles, so I am not alone in what I experience. Despite societal and cultural stigma, disability does not diminish one's worth; rather, it enhances the richness of our individual narratives. During Disability Awareness Fortnight, it is important we celebrate these differences, fostering a community that embraces diversity in all its forms.

 

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