Sam Mason (sammason) wrote in friendly_crips,
Sam Mason

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.
Tags: ablism, accessibility, blogs, disablism, education, inclusion

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