Sam Mason (sammason) wrote in friendly_crips,
Sam Mason

How ablism stopped me learning how to teach against ablism

Here’s my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2014.

How ablism stopped me learning how to teach against ablism

I started training to be a teacher. After a few weeks, I quit the course because of ablism (or disablism - they seem to mean the same thing.)

The ablism involved telling me to adjust my attitude. Which is ironic, since this course is offered by the University where I work, a University which boasts of its excellence in Equality and Diversity. The course included at least one class about E&D. By the time that class was scheduled, I'd left. I'd faced so much ablism in the course design and delivery that it wasn't accessible for me.

Alarm bells didn't seem to ring for anybody except me when, on my way to a Welcome Event in October, I got ridiculously lost. Weeks in advance, I'd emailed that I'd be there in my wheelchair. The response was a map of the campus (the map I've seen many times during the 12 years I've been part of this University, mostly before my disability started to bite) with little arrows to mark accessible doors. I got a casual remark that there's an accessible door 'at the back of the building.' No explanation of how a manual wheelchair can reach the back of this building or how, once I'd found that door, I was to reach the training room without walking up stairs.

A long saga of wheeling around inside the building, keeping my polite smile pinned on as best I could, while fending off the over-helping by people who had no idea where the training room might be but who wanted to push my wheelchair anyway. People who wanted to pat me while holding a lift-call button pressed. What is it about wheelchairs that shouts 'Pat her! Tell her not to worry! She's helpless and can't press a lift-call button that's been installed low enough for people like her!'

After several emergency toilet visits and several phone calls to beg for release from a corridor I'd become locked into, I made it to the last few minutes of the Welcome Event. Which turned out to be in a room where I'd attended many classes before I became disabled.

I hadn't been told that the University's Disability Service employs staff to help people like me. Alarm bells didn't seem to ring for anybody except me when I asked for the classes to be recorded. The response then was that I'd be welcome to bring audio recording equipment (dream on: my income is very low) or bring a laptop for note-taking (dream on: my hands don't obey my brain that fast.) Oh well, you'll have to do without. 'See how you get on.'

At some point, maybe during the Welcome Event or maybe at the Introduction Event a few weeks later, somebody from the Disability Service appeared with a Smart Pen to record the class. Nobody had told me about that technology. It had been agreed about me, without me.

So I said polite thanks, used the Smart Pen, realised how good it is, and asked the Disability Service to provide one of those for every class during the course. Nothing more was said until another few weeks had gone by. Then I was told that the Smart Pen couldn't be made available unless I registered myself as a Disabled Student. That couldn't be done until I'd provided medical evidence of my disability. Apparently a wheelchair and my stack of disability-benefit claims weren't enough evidence.

By this time it was clear that ablism had made chunks of the training inaccessible to me. But I womanfully kept attending. I tried to be polite when I got condescending remarks about how 'it must feel frustrating in the interim period' with no improvements being promised. When I got a condescending offer to 'defer' my teaching qualification for a year, with no mention of how the training would be improved during that year.

Oh and did I mention toilets? This really brought out the ablism. Due to disability, I need frequent, prompt access to a suitable toilet. The training room is 10 minutes' journey (by manual wheelchair) from a suitable toilet. 10 minutes during which I'd need to wheel along a corridor, open a heavy door, use a lift to travel 2 floors down, then wheel along another 2 corridors. I'd have to queue for the lift and/or the toilet, keep my polite smile pinned on, and hope to avoid a mop situation before doing the whole journey in reverse.

'I don't mind if you miss a few minutes of the class!' Tell you what: *I* mind. I joined this training course because I wanted to learn how to teach. Two 10-minute journeys, plus perhaps another 10 minutes in the toilet, several times during each class, would add up to more than 'a few minutes' missed. If you think that journey to the toilet and back would be trivial, try doing it in a manual wheelchair with bladder urgency.

'We can't change to a different training room so far into the course, because rooms are already booked!' Tell you what: that change should have been made when I first mentioned my disability. I should have been invited to meet somebody from the Disability Service. Instead I got that invitation after the training course was underway, I'd missed days of paid work to attend classes, and I was being invited to 'defer' for a year.

I never made it to the Disability Service. When I asked for wheelchair-friendly directions to get there, I got a standard set of instructions for walking there and another for driving there by car (due to disability, I don't drive.) After many requests for an explanation of how I was supposed to reach the Disability Service, I realised that worry and anger about the ablism were keeping me awake at night. So I quit the course and refused to pay a penny for it.
Tags: ablism, accessibility, adaptations and accomodations, blogs, disablism, inclusion, studying, technology, training, work

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