Student Disability Guidance 2.0

CSP education adviser Nina Paterson discusses how we can all ensure equity for students with disabilities or long-term conditions

Workforce Development

I’m back to update you on CSP’s guidance for students living with disability. I want to share more personally than I usually do in a Frontline article. I hope it helps to illustrate why the resource is necessary. 

I’ve been listening to the Paralympics this year with my usual enthusiasm. As someone who’s visually impaired the act of watching it requires my embarrassingly large magnifying glass and that’s far too much effort for me after a day at work. I prefer to close my eyes and listen to the commentary.

While listening, my mum and my sister insist on texting me. Did I know the oldest competing paralympian is 64? Would I prefer to be the stoker for the tandem velodrome team or run? They clearly have plans for me that I haven’t signed up for. I’ve cycled all of my life, my legs are solid, and I may still have enough strength to race round the velodrome at high speed, but they clearly haven’t seen me since the pandemic – I could roll down a hill, not run!

After Google reads their text aloud to me and I’ve stopped laughing. I speak my reply into my phone then send it to them.

Rare multi-system condition

My family’s unrealistic expectations aside, I appreciate their unwavering belief in me to master anything. It certainly helps on the days when I wake up and want to do nothing more than cry.

I’ve lived with knowledge of my condition for 21 years now, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t get me down sometimes. 

It also helps on the days when I’m advocating for myself as I navigate a health system designed around acute care, focused on body parts that fit into neat study-able chunks.  That’s a big problem with having a rare multi-system condition, I don’t fit neatly into their chunk and, even worse, they normally have to ask me to spell my condition out to them so that they can quickly run away and Google it. 

And it most certainly helps on the days when I undoubtedly notice my own deterioration. Sitting in front of my screen, noticing that I need to change the lighting, the font size, or screen magnification… just one more notch. 

But back to the guidance… in 2021 it would be wonderful to think that policies and guidance were no longer necessary but I’m acutely aware from the contact we receive directly from members that discrimination still happens – whether that’s direct or indirect, intentional or not.

I’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination. It is not fun. It is never deserved and even if you successfully challenge it (I did), it takes a lot out of you emotionally and most definitely leaves scars. 

Bias and assumptions

Putting discrimination aside, there’s a world of bias and assumptions to navigate on a near-daily basis. 

Most of it completely unintended, and if you were to point it out, the perpetrator would be mortified. But the onus is almost always on those on the receiving end to point it out, to ask for change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here at CSP I have colleagues checking in on me, not intrusively, just to make sure I’m OK. Our facilities and operations manager has offered me every bit of kit and support that it is possible to source. And my own team is always looking for ways to include me. Would a phone call be better than video conference? Do I want to keep my screen off?

There’s a world of bias and assumptions to navigate on a near-daily basis. Most of it completely unintended, and if you were to point it out, the perpetrator would be mortified. But the onus is almost always on those on the receiving end to point it out, to ask for change.

Can I see what they’re sharing? Often the answer is VC is fine, only I have to accept my hair may be a mess, and my screen magnifier will blow up my colleagues and what they’re sharing so I can engage. But it is great to be asked.

Positive action

My hope is that the same concern extends to those not yet out in the workplace. Thankfully society is changing. We are openly discussing privilege, bias, being an ally and so on. And while it might be making a minority uncomfortable, it is fundamentally a good thing. Race, sex, gender and disability are all part of public discourse.

Finally! And that’s what we want to capture with the Student Disability Guidance 2.0 – all of the positive action that’s happening, the reasonable adjustments, the technological advances and/or the advice you’d like to pass on that makes studying and being on placement for those with a long-term condition or disability easier. These need to be normal practice. We’re opening a portal on the website to capture your advice. Let’s commit to making it better for the generation joining the profession.

We’re asking everyone to get involved – students, those who have already graduated who have a disability, and every practice educator and lecturer who has supported students now or in the past. 

Overwhelm the website with examples that show what steps, large or small, can be implemented within different settings. Together we can make the process of becoming a physiotherapist more accessible.

If you’re wondering why the sunflower? 

It’s been adopted as the symbol for hidden disabilities to recognise that so many are hidden, and a new symbol was needed to complement the other more familiar symbols in use. Find out more from Our NHS Your Sunflower website.

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