Autistic Pride Day 2020: Why I am STILL proud to be Autistic

Autistic Pride Day 2020: Why I am STILL proud to be Autistic

Welcome back, dear readers, to the return of A2L’s blog after a long absence! Suffice it to say, 2020 has been a very strange year for all of us …  and a very difficult one at that. Never could we have imagined this year would turn out quite like it has. For many of you, it might have meant that you have been off work for what has seemed like an eternity. For all of us, it meant the sacrifice of our nightly freedoms in the name of safety when lockdown was enacted. Suffice to say, we have all had the comfort of repetition and our sense of routine pulled from underneath us in the most emphatic of ways! For some, the disruption has hurt more than others I daresay, but nevertheless it is important not to lose sight of what is important to us – and a certain special day has served as a powerful reminder for me!

That’s right, it’s Autistic Pride Day!

Autistic pride logo

3 years ago, I wrote a very similar blog to this one, which also celebrated this day. Entitled ‘Why I am proud to be Autistic’, it remains one of my best blogs, if I do say so myself. A lot has happened since then. I’ve since been formally diagnosed with severe Anxiety and I strongly suspect Depression and PTSD. I’ve attended therapy regularly in the 3 years since. I’ve had a major mental health breakdown that cost me six weeks of work. My parents have had serious health problems in that time. I’ve struggled for years to adapt to the changes necessary to implement a self-care routine that is healthy and allows me to do my job. At one point, it got so difficult to sleep that I almost had to leave my job. Then as now, my Autism (and mental health) has presented seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my path and coping with the struggles has been mentally and emotionally taxing to the point where I often felt like giving up. This year in particular, with the destruction of my weekly routine thanks to the Coronavirus and the constraints of the lockdown, has presented no shortage of challenges itself. But now as Autistic Pride Day 2020 rolls around, I’m reminded of the good, as well as the bad.

Being Autistic, I have only ever been able to muster any interest in a few things. I have few hobbies, few pastimes and few passions. But for those things I do feel passionately about, the intensity of my interest in those things is such that they are intrinsic to who I am as a person – and I daresay I could no more give them up than give up breathing or eating! One such interest that I doubt I’ll ever be able to let go of is my desire to help others like me. Ever since my university days, which changed my life so profoundly for the better, in no small part due to the efforts of those who supported me, it has been my life’s ambition to give others like myself the same transformative experience that I had. The memories of my university days and the support I received are so profound that I will no sooner forget them than enter my grave, and until that day I intend to help others like me.

Tom, our Student Consultant, pictured with Lynda and Tina of the DMU Disability team

This passion for what I do has played a major role in bringing me thus far, allowing me to overcome all the trials put before me by mental health. There came a time when my mental health got so difficult to bear that I considered walking away. From my work, from my ambitions, from my friends … from everything. But I simply couldn’t. I just couldn’t bring myself to walk away from what I cared about, even with the seemingly perpetual panic and melancholy I found myself trapped in. Were it not for this interest so intertwined with my identity – and certainly without the support of my friends and family, I’m not sure where I would have ended up. Suffice it to say it is very difficult to get someone with Autism interested in anything, but when we do find something we care about, it is very difficult to find anyone with the passion to rival ours.

But that’s only one way my Autistic mind has helped me – remember in the last blog I talked about my analytical Autistic brain? Then as now, my analytical thinking has been a big help – though admittedly from time to time, overanalysing everything has also been a weakness of mine! Nevertheless, being able to objectively analyse my current situation and come up with potential solutions when I am attending my therapy sessions has been a big help in coping with my mental health over the years – and seems to have impressed my therapist! However, back to the salient issue – mental health can obscure how we perceive things, make us believe there are simply too many insurmountable tasks to complete and that there is no point trying. However, if one is able to analyse the situation objectively, examine why they feel as they do and determine sensible courses of action to take (under the guidance of a therapist of course, or even talking it out with a friend), they can perceive problems more clearly and act accordingly, taking sensible measures that make life easier. Having a naturally analytical mind has helped a ton in this regard.

True, Autism comes with its share of negatives too – it’s difficult getting us to talk about anything save our deeply held interests … and even more difficult to shut us up once you get us talking about said interests! There are times too when I lament that I struggle to have a conversation with my non-autistic friends and colleagues, lacking much in common in terms of interest and not being born with the same social instincts. Being Autistic can be pretty lonely at times … though when I’m with my “Aspie Wolfpack” (don’t look at me, I didn’t come up with the name …), or simply with people who understand the needs of someone with Autism, I never want for conversation or company. Plus, being gifted with a brain with such a proficient command of the English language (at the expense of mathematical aptitude admittedly), I can always express myself clearly and artfully while writing, if I do say so myself!

Frankly, dear readers, I can say that the Autistic brain has near-limitless potential once we find something that inspires us. How do I know this? Because I have one myself! At university, I scored first classes on my assignments left and right, only narrowly missing a first overall. Albert Einstein had an autistic brain too and let’s be honest – his name is the first to spring to mind when we think of ‘brainy’! Or how about Michelangelo, arguably the greatest artist of the Renaissance? Or Eminem, who can rap at a speed of 11.3 syllables a second?

Yet despite this hidden talent, the National Autistic Society reported as recently as 2019 that only 16% of autistic adults are in employment. Not only that, but they also claim that that figure has remained more or less static for a decade! Why might this be? Given my own dreadful experiences of looking for work prior to Access2Learn, I have to think most employers still consider autistic people to be unemployable. Perhaps we still judge one another by our ability to talk the talk, rather than walk the walk? Like I said, autistic people often find social interaction very difficult, thus making a first impression in the conventional way is that much more difficult for us.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for a big showcase of our individual abilities? Perhaps it’s time for autistic people to mark this Autistic Pride Day by showing just why we should be proud of our autism on the global platform of the internet? Anything from a tweet, to a blog, to a video demonstration on YouTube – and then share it to Twitter with #AutisticPrideDay attached to it! Why? Because, ladies and gents, actions speak louder than words. A CV only says so much, and I daresay that because of our inherent lack of social instinct, employers only see the proverbial tip of the iceberg when they meet us for an interview. Perhaps it’s time they saw us at our best, when we’re applying our unique talent, so that they may finally understand the full scale of the untapped potential of the autistic talent pool!

The bottom line, ladies and gentlemen – I don’t think I would still be here if it weren’t for the strength of character afforded to me by growing up and living my life with Autism. True, having Autism by itself doesn’t make you a superhero, but growing up with it, enduring the challenges it presents, learning to use the strengths it gives you and make it your own? That is what makes every autistic person out there a superhero in their own right. That’s why, ladies and gentlemen, 3 years since my last blog on the subject, and coming up to 30 years of life with Autism, I am still proud to be Autistic – and I daresay I’ll be saying the same thing in another 30 years’ time!

Happy Autistic Pride Day!

University Mental Health Day – 7 Useful Apps

University Mental Health Day – 7 Useful Apps

DSA is a fantastic resource to support students with a disability, learning difficulty or mental health condition, however sometimes we can all use a little extra support and a mobile app that can be with you at all times can be a great resource; Especially when said app is designed to support a particular form of mental health, such as Anxiety, Depression, OCD or perhaps PTSD … whatever your needs, you’ll find that there’s quite an impressive list of apps that can be downloaded either to an Android or iPhone and, in many cases, are absolutely free!

So, for this year’s Uni Mental Health Day, if indeed you are a student who is struggling with mental health and whether or not you are being supported through Disabled Student’s Allowances or not, we thought you might get some use from this list of useful apps designed to support people struggling with mental health!

Self-help for Anxiety Management (SAM)

If, like me, you suffer from Anxiety but don’t really find that meditation works for you, then you might get a lot of mileage out of this app, developed by the University of the West of England. Designed to help you track your mood, identify and avoid triggers, reduce stress and reach out and connect with other SAM users, SAM is a very helpful app for those with Anxiety disorders … and of course, it’s free!

Available for iOS and Android – FREE

Headspace

If you happen to have Spotify Premium, you can download this app in its entirety for free! Headspace is for those interested in trying out guided meditation and boasts a 32% drop in stress after using the app for 30 days! If you’re the type who gets stressed and can’t seem to unscramble your radar, why not find a nice, quiet spot and try out this app?

Available for iOS and Android – FREE with In-App Purchases

PTSD Coach

Designed to support military personnel suffering from PTSD as a result of their service, but useful for all, PTSD coach allows you to record and manage your symptoms, take assessments, learn more about the condition and how to cope, and offers a vast toolbox of releasing stress and soothing the mind and body. It can also prompt you to call someone you trust in the event of a crisis and store their contact info for you.

Available for iOS and Android – FREE

Youper

For those who need to vent to somebody without judgement, but aren’t exactly people-persons, why not try chatting to your own personal AI assistant? Always there when you need to chat (literally, as it’ll be stored on your phone), Youper offers a way to talk over any stressful issues without actually talking, helping to reduce Anxiety and Depression, track and document your mental health and have that all-important chat to pick you up when you need!

Available for iOS and Android – FREE with In-App Purchases

Forest

If you’re anything at all like me you might struggle a lot with procrastination – in which case, this app offers a creative and fun solution! Plant a tree using this app and it’ll keep growing into a healthy, tall tree – so long as you keep working! But go watching Youtube or scrolling through Facebook, and the tree will wither! A fun and innovative way to keep you on track, plus you can earn in-game rewards for meeting targets!

Available for iOS and Android – £1.99

Habitica

Again, if you’re anything like I am, you might be slightly too partial to the video game world rather than the real one! But what if you could make a video game out of your real life? With all the perks you gain from completing ‘quests’, like doing the dishes, waking up early or going to the gym – and all the punishments like loss of health and other debuffs for your character should you go neglecting those ‘quests’, Habitica can be a fun way of establishing positive habits and you can even go ahead and join ‘guilds’ and fight monsters with other users!

Available for iOS and Android – FREE with In-App Purchases

7Cups

Seventh on our list, appropriately enough, with my own experience of mental health, I firmly believe that one of the best remedies is to talk about it with someone. 7Cups is an online mental and emotional health community, formed of volunteer listeners and licenced professionals, offering one-on-one chats, group sessions, online threads and more! If you want to, you can pay for professional therapy, but to talk to a listener or take part in a group session is free! You can sign up on the website and download the app for either Android or iPhone.

Available for iOS and Android – FREE with In-App Purchases

Though some of you might feel slightly sceptical or even uncomfortable at the idea of using technology to support your mental health, it’s important to realise that everybody has different needs and responds better to different things. Some prefer therapy, others might find medication more effective … and others might prefer technology! I’ll admit I was sceptical myself at first – until these apps encouraged me to document and analyse my thoughts, which I have found to be incredibly enlightening and very useful in recognising common thought traps, like catastrophising, denial, or lashing out at myself and others.

Ultimately I urge you to try out these, or some of the hundreds of  other apps for yourself, dear reader, decide which ones work best for you and decide for yourself if you want to keep using it. I can tell you from personal experience that you might well be pleasantly surprised!

My DSA

Also, don’t forget Access2Learn has its own mobile App – MyDSA. You can find lots of information about Disabled Students Allowances, locate our DSA Centres, and find more useful links to funding bodies and charities that can provide help and support.

Available for iOS and Android – FREE

University Mental Health Day 2020

University Mental Health Day brings together the university community to make mental health a university-wide priority and create ongoing year round change to the future of student mental health.

There are lots of different ways you can get involved this University Mental Health Day. Why not visit their website to find out how you can support them – www.unimentalhealthday.co.uk and make sure you use #UniMentalHealthDay to help spread the word.

Would You Rather? Time to Talk Day

Would You Rather? Time to Talk Day

Here’s a question for you today, dear readers – would you rather a) walk around with a debilitating stress or b) be mocked for getting the appropriate help? Somehow, I have a feeling we’d be shocked at how many people would choose option A. Subconsciously or not.Welcome to a very important edition of our blog, dear readers, dedicated to a day that is integral to the mental health calendar – Time to Talk Day.

Time to Talk Day Logo

Every year on the 6th February, we celebrate this day dedicated to combating the backwards, outdated and illogical stigma surrounding mental health and the shame associated with seeking help. This year, the theme is a good old game of Would You Rather! Inappropriate? I don’t think so. Sure you can have some rather funny, ridiculous or sometimes disturbing games of Would You Rather – I first discovered the game watching Zoey 101 on Nickelodeon (don’t judge me) in which protagonist Zoey had to decide if she’d rather “eat 10 spiders or wear only green for the rest of her life”. I personally would probably choose the spiders! Not that I don’t look great in green, and to be frank I’m terrified of spiders (again don’t judge me) – but like Zoey says, either she eats the spiders, throws up and that’s that, or she cries for 75 years! The thing is, dear readers, when you think about it, Would You Rather can be a good way of getting you thinking, and as someone who has lived with Generalised Anxiety Disorder since at least his teenage years, I can tell you at the not-so-tender age of 29 that a bit of perspective goes a long way when you are struggling with low mental health.

So have you decided on your answer to the question at the start of the blog then, dear reader? Of course you have; it’s common sense! By now it is a scientifically proven fact that stress is a killer – too much cortisol in the body can have serious consequences for one’s physical health, thus it is important to regulate our stress levels – our mental health! If we take one cold and flu tablet too many by accident, we are expected to go straight to a doctor. Too high a concentration of paracetamol or any other drug or hormone is disastrous. So it is with cortisol, which the body releases in response to stress. This is a fact! Yet still people refute the existence of ill mental health as a legitimate reason to ask for help, based on little more than they can’t see it. Unfortunately, this makes it very uncomfortable to ask for help sometimes. But this brings us neatly to our second question:

Round 2: Would you rather a) wear a bikini to work for a day, or b) listen to Crazy Frog for 3 hours a night for the rest of your life?Now granted, there might be people out there who wear bikinis to work by default if you’re a model, or maybe you just feel super-confident about your body – in which case, good for you! There’s probably someone out there who would love to listen to Crazy Frog for the rest of their lives … but I daresay for most of us, either of those options is more than a little uncomfortable! Sure, I’d look hot in a bikini (yeah right) but I wouldn’t really feel comfortable wearing one to work, but if I had to choose between a work days’ worth of solid discomfort and hours of it every night for the rest of my life, then I would choose option A! Why? Because it gets the discomfort over in the shortest amount of time, then I can move on with my life. Option B – I slowly get driven to despair and insanity over the course of my life. Think of this as a metaphor for mental health – asking for help can be so difficult for so many reasons, like maybe you’re worried that people will think less of you, or you might lash out at yourself and decide that you’re not worth anyone’s time, or you might simply decide that it can wait and that you’ll feel better in the morning or after a good session of gaming for example … unfortunately it doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried for years. So many years I was lying awake each night because the thoughts in my head wouldn’t stop. Ever. Every single night I couldn’t sleep … and it affected my work. Even these days it is still a problem. But I have been a patient of counselling for many years now. When I have a spike of Anxiety, I’m comfortable enough to seek help. As a result, I get the precious hours of sleep that I need these days.

A Sticky Would You Rather question

Round 3: Oh no! You’ve cut yourself and the wound is looking pretty nasty. It might get infected without proper treatment. Would you rather a) seek immediate medical treatment or b) slap on a plaster and hope for the best?Unfortunately, when it comes to our health, there are no easy fixes. We can’t just get rid of the underlying problems by taking the simple route and treating the symptoms. This is true of both physical and mental health. Since the digital age came about we can do all sorts of things from the comfort of a chair – book flights, order food, buy clothes and games you name it. But things like treatment of ill mental health can take years, even with the right support. I have been a patient of therapy for at least 5 years on and off, but relapse is unfortunately a fact of life with mental health as well. I’ve become better at coping with such relapses but I’m certain with my severe Anxiety that I could not have kept my current job for nearly 4 years without the therapy, with how often I have found myself unable to sleep and suffering from debilitating panic attacks.As I said previously, it’s not enough to rely on our hobbies to cope with our mental health. They may help us relieve stress in the moment, but aside from the risk of developing a full blown addiction, they can sometimes mask the problem. They may not resolve it. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Anyway, I have to give Time to Change credit for their choice of themes this year! Would You Rather might, at a cursory glance, seem like a silly child’s game, but aside from being a good ice-breaker, Would You Rather is a game that gets you thinking. It gets you to develop perspectives on subjects that you likely had never considered before – unless you actually considered eating spiders?But to conclude, the perspective I have developed from thinking about these matters of mental health through the lens of a game of Would You Rather is that a lot of the answers are just plain common sense! Does that mean they’re easy? No, not necessarily, especially for an over-thinker like myself. But it’s still totally logical to seek help with ill mental health, despite what conventional wisdom holds – and I do use the word “wisdom” loosely. While it’s also the case that confronting our mental health directly can be extremely uncomfortable, it is ultimately necessary to confront the issue directly and not search for quick fixes, unless we wish to have to put up with the problem forever – like we were wearing only green or listening to Crazy Frog for the rest of our lives!Much like the analogy of wearing a bikini to work, though it is more than a bit uncomfortable a prospect, at least you only have to do it once, as opposed to the other option which lasts for a lifetime!

In any case, I hope this blog gets you thinking about these important issues as much as this year’s theme got me thinking, and if you struggle with mental health, hopefully my blog will help you decide that it is, indeed, Time To Talk!

Make sure you visit https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ to take park!

Winnie The Pooh Day 2020

Bet you never thought you’d read a blog from A2L about a kid’s show, right dear readers? Even if it was A.A. Milne’smasterpiece? Well as it turns out, deep in the hundred acre wood where Christopher Robin plays, there is far more wisdom and anthropological value to be found than one might ever be able to conceive of back when they were young enough to watch it – if there is such a thing as ‘young enough’ to watch such a great show. But I watched Winnie the Pooh countless times in my childhood, but only now as an adult do I appreciate the profound life lessons that children ought to be learning from a young ageabout accepting others as they are and staying true to friendship no matter what!

Those of my generation might have come across studies that suggest Winnie the Pooh and his friends all represent different kinds of neuro-developmental disorders – a pretty big revelation for me at the time, but when I look back, in some cases it is abundantly obvious. Tigger, for example, the lovable bouncing tiger who was happy and excitable all the time, demonstrates many of the symptoms of ADHD. Piglet and I actually happen to share a diagnosis of Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

How about Eeyore, who although constantly sad and down in the dumps with Depression, was my favourite? Truthfully, there was something very lovable about the depressed donkey. I kind of consider him my spirit animal to this day! Pretty sure I picked up my sarcasm habit from him!

Owl, who considers himself the most intelligent and has something of a narcissistic streak, also exhibits some of the traits of Dyslexia, often having trouble with spelling. Some say that the little baby kangaroo, Roo, is autistic, no doubt referring to his absolute lack of perception of danger and his attachment to his overprotective mother Kanga’s pouch. Maybe I’m slightly biased, as I myself am Autistic, but I can’t help but have a new appreciation for the baby kangaroo who laughs at almost being swept away by a river while his friends freak out!

What about Pooh Bear himself? With his obsession with honey, and how far he’ll go to get it? How about his perceived indifference and inattention to his friends, only picking up on it throughout the quest? Pooh himself demonstrates symptoms of ADHD, coupled with binge eating habits to compensate for issues of self-esteem.

But the reason I love Winnie the Pooh even now at the not-quite-so tender age of 29 is not because of the discovery that they arguably demonstrate symptoms of differing neuro-developmental disorders. Yes that discovery played a role in reigniting my childhood love of Pooh bear’s adventures in the hundred-acre wood, but what really makes A.A. Milne’s masterpiece immortal in my own eyes is the fact that it teaches us the importance of unconditional care and love for friends, even when they try our patience with their bad habits or appear sullen and resistant to your friendship. You see, dear reader, when it comes to neuro-developmental disorders, it’s easy for those that have it to have what we would see as flaws or unappealing characteristics. The thing is that they never asked to have the problems unique to them, and no matter what those problems may be, they’re still our friends.

One episode that I’ll never forget, and that I strongly recommend to new viewers, is “Winnie the Pooh and a Day for Eeyore”. As I’ve kind of implied already, Eeyore is my favourite character, but the plot of this particular episode is one of the most profoundly heart-warming moments I’ve ever seen on any TV show of any description. When Pooh and the gang are out enjoying a game of Pooh Sticks and Eeyore suddenly floats down the stream, apparently saddened to the point of total apathy that he is being swept away, he is rescued by Pooh and friends, and reveals that he was bounced into the river by Tigger. Despite Tigger insisting he didn’t do it on purpose, everyone gets angry at Tigger, who bounces away disgruntled that no-one understands he didn’t mean to harm Eeyore or his need to bounce. Eeyore responds with “why should Tigger think of me? No one else does …” and walks away. When Pooh asks why he would say that, a despondent Eeyore just keeps walking with his head hanging.

Eventually, Pooh manages to get Eeyore to tell him why he’s so upset, after taking a barrage of sarcasm and bitterness from Eeyore – it’s Eeyore’s birthday! And nobody noticed. Despite Eeyore’s passive-aggressive beratement, Pooh rushes off to get his friend a present, encouraging Piglet to do the same. Pooh hurries back to Eeyore with his gift – a pot of honey – after getting Owl to write “Happy Birthday” on it – somewhat illegibly … before proceeding to eat the honey inside the pot. Piglet also rushes to get his own present for Eeyore, a red balloon, but unfortunately trips and pops the balloon!

But what follows is one of the most heart-warming endings to aTV show episode that I’ve ever seen. Despite being presented with two unimpressive presents, for perhaps the first timeonscreen, Eeyore smiles! His friends have made an effort for him on his birthday, lifting him out of melancholy and making him happy. He keeps smiling all the way through his last birthday party, and in the end, he teaches Tigger, who had knocked him into the water earlier, the secret to winning at Pooh sticks! As Tigger and Eeyore leave together, the gang decide that despite the day’s events, “Tigger is alright”, with Pooh saying “Everybody is, really”.

It’s an episode with such a convincingly happy ending that even after watching it several times, the audience is left as contented and happy as Eeyore and the rest of the gang is at the end. Eeyore has a happy birthday after all, while Tigger is absolved of inadvertently knocking him into the water. But the lessons of this episode are so profound that you can learn them as an infant and they will serve you for your whole life!

But that’s just one episode! Throughout nearly every episode, you will see this acceptance of each other’s flaws. When Pooh with his low self-esteem doubts himself, Christopher Robin always reassures him. When Piglet gets scared all the time, Pooh and friends comfort him. When Tigger can’t control his impulsive need to bounce, his friends tolerate it. Rabbit constantly rescues Roo when he obliviously gets into danger. And of course, when Eeyore is deep in Depression or his tail falls off, his friends help him out! Is it any wonder then, that one can watch Winnie the Pooh as a child and still feel a strong bond with the characters decades later as a full adult?

It is highly doubtful that A.A. Milne meant for his creations to be retrospectively diagnosed with neuro-developmental disorders after his passing, but what is for certain is that he gave each character in Winnie the Pooh purposeful flaws in order to make them not only sympathetic and relatable to us, but to teach us important lessons about what we might perceive as imperfections in our character, ultimately make us perfectlyhuman. When we make friends that understand that, and accept us as we are, able to see the good as well as the bad in us, the bond that is struck is immense. In my estimation, this is exactly the kind of thing that children ought to be learning and encouraged to take to heart, and it is why A.A Milne’s masterpiece deserves to be immortalised in memory with its own special day.

So once more, happy Winnie the Pooh Day!

The Future is Accessible: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

The Future is Accessible: International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Hello readers, thanks for joining us after a long absence of Access2Learn’s blog. We’ve brought the blog back today to discuss a very important, and in my own mind, chronically underrepresented day – the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Celebrated every year on 3rd December, this day is dedicated to improving the lives of and removing barriers to over 1 billion people worldwide. That’s right readers, if you read our blog last year you might remember that the world population is approximately 7 billion in total; and 1/7 of said population has one form or another of disability. One in every seven. That’s a lot of people eh? According to the World Health Organisation, that makes disabled people the world’s largest minority.

Last year, you might remember that the theme was the attitudinal barrier to people with disabilities, very neatly summed up as “diversity, not disadvantage”. I really enjoyed writing that blog, and I strongly urge you to head to our website (https://www.access2learn.co.uk/social/) and check it out. However, this year’s theme is neatly summed as “The Future is Accessible” – another masterful slogan that deserves to be a hashtag – #thefutureisaccessible. The goal this year is to promote the participation and leadership of people with disabilities and acting upon the 2030 Development Agenda.

If you’re not familiar, the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda is an ambitious, multi-lateral effort by various UN countries that contains goals like eradication of poverty, gender inequality, improvement of education, cleaner energy and an entire list of noble goals, set to be achieved by – you guessed it, 2030!

But back to the real issue here – at least from the point of the purpose of this blog. If the future is indeed going to be accessible, what needs to change in order for it to happen by 2030 – or ever, for that matter? On a structural level? On an attitudinal level? In terms of outreach and resources? How far are we willing to go to make normal the changes that will allow those with disabilities to not only participate, but thrive?

There are a lot of things that need to be addressed to achieve this goal, but of course if I try to list and discuss them all in detail, it would take eternity! So I’m going to discuss some that I think are uniquely important, using my own perspective of life with a disability on things that closed doors for me personally.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I feel the need to reiterate something that I stated in my previous blog about this day, something that I feel cannot be overstated – the attitudinal barrier to disabled people. I spoke at length last year about how prevalent disability hate crime was and the employment gap recorded by the ONS between disabled and non-disabled people in the UK. In terms of hate crime, sadly it has only got worse – in fact the Home Office recorded in July 2019 that disability hate crime has increased by 1035 incidents from last year, bringing the total to 8,256 for 18/19. I do believe I also mentioned at one point that despite missing a 1st class degree by a whisker and having a capacity for writing that rivals the top 10% in Britain according to my diagnosis, the best work I could get for years after uni was washing dishes at a pub. Even today you can find articles on VICE or in the Guardian that talk about the experiences of disabled people who have made to feel like a drain on society. I personally feel that the treatment and exclusion of disabled people not only represents one of the biggest injustices in society, but also one of the biggest wastes. After all, was it not Einstein (Autistic, Dyslexic) who gave us E=MC2 and whose name is synonymous with “genius”, or Thomas Edison (Dyslexic) who at 6 had to take home a letter from the teacher saying “he is too stupid to learn” and then invented the lightbulb? What other strokes of genius would we be witnessing today, where it not for such a malignant vagary of perception that one must be non-disabled to be productive?

But dealing with the attitudinal barrier is only the first step. Taking the next step requires a focused and coordinated effort to provide something that I only wish I could have received as a child, and that thankfully I did receive at university, thank goodness – outreach. When somebody takes the time to reach out to you and help you, it makes a world of difference, both personally and professionally. Trust me, I know – I have been reached out to as a student, and I now provide the same courtesy to students for a living.

I arrived at university with barely enough UCAS points to make it, after making it into sixth form with only 5 C’s. Yep, 5 C’s – no thanks to anyone but me. As soon as someone took the time to reach out to me when I arrived at university, I found myself barely missing a 1st class degree by 2%. Pretty big difference eh? The confidence boost provided by the support available through Disabled Students Allowances, both in practical and psychological terms, makes an enormous difference for thousands of students each year, the same way it did for me back in the day.

But it is hardly coincidental. Negativity is a barrier in and of itself and can keep people from achieving their potential by making them doubt it’s there at all. For those who must cope with mental health conditions like myself, this negativity can be particularly ferocious. So imagine how refreshing and empowering it is to meet someone who knows what you are going through, who you can speak to on the level and is there to support you? Retrospectively speaking I would have killed for support like this at school. Of course, then as now schools are obliged by law to have a SENCO (Special Education Needs Co-ordinator – one person), though as I recall at my school I only met mine once or twice and didn’t even figure out who he was until decades later! Plus my school wouldn’t help me as I was not formally diagnosed, so it didn’t really help much either way in the end.

In July 2019 the Department of Education recorded an increase in pupils with SENs for the third year running, up to a new total of 1,318,300, approx. 14.9% of the total population of pupils. Only 3% ,however, (271,200) have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan. Those with an EHC plan may get the adjustments they need to succeed in education, but what about the rest? Are school SENCOs equipped and/or informed of the individual’s needs? Do they have the resources or the manpower to cope with rising numbers of SEN students year on year? How about those healthcare professionals responsible for diagnosing and providing an EHC to students? Does the difference in students with and without an EHCP suggest difficulty getting support to everyone who needs it?

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/814244/SEN_2019_Text.docx.pdf

In my humble opinion, there are both material and immaterial barriers that prevent the participation of peoples with disability within society. If the UN wishes to change this, it will need to enforce both practical and intellectual opposition to the structural and psychological barriers that disabled peoples face. A fundamental shift must be enforced in the attitudes and perceptions that disabled peoples cannot or otherwise are not productive members of both staff and society. Perhaps a gentle reminder that they have a dyslexic man to thank the next time they switch on the lights?

Structurally speaking, there remain many barriers to participation of disabled persons, but I wholeheartedly believe that a huge step in the right direction would be to just reach out. It would provide a practical and psychological boost for people who want to participate in society, much the same way it did for me.

Thanks for tuning in for the return of A2L’s blog!

Making the most of 2019 – Taking Action to make this year your year!

Making the most of 2019 – Taking Action to make this year your year!

To all our dear readers, students, colleagues and friends, on behalf of Access2Learn, I wish all of you a very Happy New Year! I do hope you found some time to unwind and relax a little before we begin the new academic year, or work year depending on your situation – after all, relaxation is but one ingredient for having a successful and happy 2019 … but more on that in just a bit.

I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I personally am delighted to be starting a new year. It wouldn’t be appropriate to put the full details in this blog, but suffice to say, I’m not sad to see 2018 go – not one little bit. One good thing about 2018 though; it gave me a great deal of perspective, which I hope will be of use to you in making the most of 2019!

This might sound incredibly cliché to you, but as someone who didn’t have the best 2018, if I could offer just one bit of advice it would be this: take action. No matter how small or trivial it may seem, mental health, mood and general happiness are always higher when you’re checking things off your list or moving in general. Who knows what you might be faced with this year but whatever challenges may arise, here’s a quote that you should all try to remember;

Lao-Tzu “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”

  • Lao Tzu

Over the course of this New Year, you might find yourself on any number of figurative ‘journeys of a thousand miles’ – challenges to which the solution is seldom easy or straight-forward. If you’re anything like me (maybe you have a mental health condition such as Anxiety), the mere thought of embarking on this journey – and the millions of ways it could go pear-shaped – will be enough to leave you feeling consumed with doubt and despair. But even the simplest action – the all-important single step with which the journey begins – will bring you closer to accomplishing the goal. It might be study-related, disability/mental health-related, or it might just be a personal goal of your own discretion … but taking action tends to breed more action – when you feel yourself gaining momentum and making tangible progress, however steady, it’s not hard to feel good about yourself. Keep this point in mind, and you will be able to achieve any goal you set in the end, and your mental wellbeing will be better for simply keeping in motion.

The best thing about this – you can apply this lesson to just about anything – academia, mental health, personal goals etc. Having a problem with revision or study? Start by identifying the specific nature of the said problem, then try asking your tutors for advice, or your classmates, or your faculty. Maybe try Googling it, or looking on YouTube. Doesn’t much matter where you start, the important thing is you made the start. Similarly, if you’re having a problem with low mental health or stress, which is often a multicausal problem, it would be an excellent start to consult your GP, or perhaps a therapist, or a close friend or family member; you might just want to make a mind-map of all the things bothering you and tackle each issue as you see fit. Again, how and where you start is up to your discretion, but the worst thing you can possibly do is nothing.

That is not to say that you should work yourself so hard this year that you burn out – more isn’t always better after all. Action must be affirmative as well, and doing things in excess rather than with precision and thought is seldom affirmative – for example, studying so hard that you can’t take anything in. Do not forget this year to be kind to yourself and to relax when you can – after all, ironic as it may sound, relaxation from time to time is itself a form of affirmative action when you think about it. Without it, you won’t be able to spend any energy on any other action and you’ll simply burn out.

For the final point, this is going to sound unbearably cliché too, but as with the first point, I cannot stress this one enough; Don’t be afraid to fail.

Inspiring words from Michael Jordan

I can almost hear the crickets singing in the background. “Seriously, that’s it?!” you must be thinking. Let’s face it, no one likes to fail … no-one I know of anyway. For some, failure is a phobia … a deep-rooted fear that can leave some paralysed. But the truth about failure is that, like enormous spiders, it’s a fact of life. Like spiders, it may scare the pants off of you, but a fact of life it remains. We all fail from time to time, it’s inevitable. So why be afraid of the inevitable? Even if you do nothing, you’re still failing – in fact, in my experience, doing nothing is the worst form of failure. Since failure is a fact of life, why not take it in stride? Why not learn from it?

“I’ve failed over and over and over again and that is why I succeed.”

  • Michael Jordan

    JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books

Here’s a name you should all recognise – J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books. Rowling is one of my favourite authors, for

obvious reasons, but it amazed me to find out that her book was rejected 12 times by publishers before she managed to release the first book. Imagine that! The Harry Potter books, rejected 12 times! Thank goodness Rowling never gave up in the face of what must have felt like routine failure, or we’d have really missed out! Who knows what you might accomplish this year, academically, professionally, even personally? Who knows how many times you will fail, or how spectacularly? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, does it? Failure is just a twist on the road to success, and you will get there if you keep walking!

But I hope this blog has given you some idea of how to make 2019 your year. Who knows what challenges and opportunities the New Year will throw your way? But remember, no matter how big the challenges are, you only need to act once to make the challenge smaller. The first step is always the most important, but once you’ve done it, you can move on the second, then the third … and eventually the hundredth! As you go, remember to credit yourself and relax when you can. But final point, particularly for those like me who suffer from low mental health; don’t spend too much time thinking about it. Yes, thinking and planning is important, but spend too much time in your head and you’ll find Anxiety and Depression rearing their ugly heads!

Once again, a very Happy New Year to you all, and we really hope that this year is your year!

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