So you want to inspire young people? If you're disabled, don't bother

Here's my contribution to Blogging Against Disablism Day 2015.



I signed up to become a STEM Ambassador to schools. There was so much ablism (the same thing as disablism) that I gave up without visiting any schools.

Here in Britain, STEM Ambassadors are volunteers who inspire young people to choose Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The STEM subjects. This volunteering role sounded like my kind of thing. I'm a scientist and I have the gift of the gab. Also, I'd inspired young people from my wheelchair in my University's teaching labs.

So I filled in the forms, got papers to say I've no criminal record, met some of the organisers, and went to a STEM Ambassadors' 'social'. People who wanted to be STEM Ambassadors chatted over snacks with teachers who wanted volunteers in their schools. People seemed friendly as they milled about talking to each other.

But could I take part? Could I flip. Mostly I just got in people's way as they milled about on their legs.

Pages were pinned to a wall. Those were too high for me to read and hidden from my view by people standing on legs. Blank pages were offered for us, the newbies, to write what we had to offer young people. Those would have been written by hand. Due to disability I don't write with pens. Perhaps I could have written something on a keyboard and sent it in later. To do that I'd have liked to read what others had written. What schools were seeking and what volunteers were offering.

I'd have liked some response to my suggestion of something I, in particular, could offer. In my wheelchair I could have been a role model. 'I'm a scientist. You could do this too.' When I tried to talk about this idea, everybody said it was a good idea and they thought some school, somewhere, might want me. Nobody said, 'I'd like you in my school! We're proud of our disabled students!' Nobody said that.

I'd have liked some response to my request for transport. Due to disability I don't drive. Some schools are 'fully accessible' inside their buildings, even perhaps inside their grounds, but nobody wanted to drive me to any school. Nobody said, 'Let's volunteer as a pair! You're a scientist and a wheelchair user; I'm an engineer with a car. We'd make a good team!' Nobody said that.

While at that crowded 'social' I'd have liked to try some of the snacks. But I couldn't get to the buffet past the people standing on legs. The snacks weren't the reason for my being there, but nobody offered to fill a plate for me and sit with me at a table. I got a few apologies when people walked past me.

There's a newsletter about the STEM Ambassadors' Programme in my area. When I read that online, I saw various schools wanting volunteers but no mention of how disabled people could physically reach them. I got emails asking me to consider the volunteering that needed to be done. None of it was accessible.

So there it was. So much ablism that I gave up without visiting any schools. The young people never got my inspiration.
I didn't know you have a pot on your hand (Yorkshire slang for wearing a plaster cast.) I'm sorry to read that, and hope it's not painful. It's timely for this thread. It raises the question of how a STEM Ambassador would volunteer with a pot on. Or with deaf ears, blind eyes, anxiety or a hidden disability. To name just a few.

You're right that the Ambassadors' Programme in my area isn't using all the resources we crips have to offer. Young people come to me for private tutoring in my STEM subject and, if they choose, they can read my words including my academic papers. Yes, some of those young people will become disabled in future. Some of them are disabled already, facing the challenges of ablism and pity. Such a waste of minds who could be the future of STEM.
In an ideal world, yes I'd do that. Still might do it one day. The young people deserve more disabled role models. But sadly, an uphill struggle to improve the next generation's world isn't affordable for me just now.
That's such a shame as its a great thing to get children interested in Science and stuff, bet you would have been a great inspiration. I looked into the STEM thing once but never got around to doing it. I'm really surprised no one seemed to include you. They sounded totally ignorant!
I did find people quite ignorant but to tell the truth, I'm not surprised. Disability has taught me that we live in an ablist world.
Oh hai! You just described every event in my university department ever. Just so much fucking ablism that you can't even start to describe the fail in a way that "normal" (temporarily able-bodied) people can understand.

I'm sorry you had that experience. I'm sorry that all of us keep on having those experiences.
Yes we do. I've learned not to let this kind of thing be a burden on my own shoulders: it's bad stuff, but I can't carry the world.

Do you think the tabbies (temporarily able-bodied people) can't begin to understand? I find that people learn, slowly, by knowing individuals.