December 3rd marks International Day of Disability. It is estimated that around one billion people are living with disabilities worldwide and face many barriers of inclusion in various different key aspects of society. This day aims to promote empowerment and help to create real opportunities for people with disabilities.
We sat down with your current Mile End Disabled and SLD (Specific Learning Differences) Representative, Lauren Day, to talk about her plans for this year, and why she decided to run for the position!
What do you hope to achieve within your role this year?
My manifesto sets out three key areas of policy which QMUL needs to improve/ implement if they are ever going to achieve their goal of being “the most inclusive university” by 2030.
Like each previous Disabled and SLD Representative, I have drawn on my own experiences to try and improve campus accessibility. Coming from the unique position of starting my degree with an ‘invisible disability’, to now using a walking stick, one of my main policy areas is to have signs which read “not all disabilities are visible” on toilets and lifts. This should challenge people’s perception on disability and hopefully make campus easier, for people with invisible disabilities to navigate.
If you identify as being disabled, having SLD’s or an interest in campus accessibility- please click here to follow QMUL’s new forum, where I engage with students in my capacity as this year’s representative!
Why did you decide to run?
When turning 18, disabled people are 3x as likely to not be in any form of employment or higher education, in comparison to their abled peers. This statistic reflects how inaccessible higher education is for disabled people. Once you get through that barrier, there are many more across your degree that you will have to contend with, just so you can graduate.
Whilst my personal experiences at QMUL have been largely positive (s/o to Victoria, Sheila, Peter, Ashleigh and Rupert!!), it has not been without a constant struggle to justify my needs.
I decided to put myself forward for the role of Disabled and SLD representative because if I didn’t, then the prejudice I have encountered would have been for nothing. It is comforting to know that I am having meetings with people and sharing my experiences to create real change- hopefully contributing in some small way to making QMUL more accessible.
Why do you think it’s important that International Day of Disability is recognised?
I am quite pessimistic when it comes to any type of awareness day. Whilst they are born of good intention, I don’t believe they effectively target the individuals who desperately need to be made more aware. For example, International Day of Disability is 27 years in the making, yet every time I leave my home, I have a negative encounter- the most prevalent of which are those who believe it is acceptable to ask, “what is wrong with me”.
I think the best way to become an ally, is to diversify the people you engage with, (either in person or online), to increase your understanding of the types of issues which impact a minority group. Maybe then with more active engagement, (in the theme of this year) the Future will be Accessible.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Since embracing my new identity as a walking stick user, I have found other disabled people to be the most inspiring. By this, I do not mean abled people who see a video of a disabled person online doing just about anything and labelling it ‘inspirational’. Instead, I am referring to your average disabled person and how they overcome everyday encounters of ableism. More recently, I have been focusing on the politics of Marsha de Cordova who is a loyal advocate for bringing attention to disabled issues in Parliament.