We Have Failed Disabled Students

Dear readers of That’s What She Said,

In August, TWSS received the following email from Elizabeth, a disabled student currently attending the University of Bristol. In it she points out our magazine’s lack of participation in Disability Awareness Week and therefore our failure to live up to our feminism.

Elizabeth Blundell’s email:

“To whom it may concern,

As a disabled student at Bristol I would just like to query whether there would be any upcoming articles about issues disabled women face during their time at university or just in general. I question this as it is currently disability awareness week and from what I can see there have been no articles coming from the magazine about physical disabilities.

Whilst mental illnesses are equally as important, I’m worried that physical illnesses are being pushed further back into the minds of students (and the university in general). I’m worried that my voice is being overpowered by people who don’t represent my experiences. Unlike those suffering with mental illnesses, I do not have the privilege of being acknowledged at university by a “themed week” and get virtually no support outside of extenuating circumstances. An example of this is on the Bristol SU website itself; under Advice and Support and Health and Wellbeing, there is no mention of Physical Disabilities (www.bristolsu.org.uk/advice-and-support/health-wellbeing). Surely this is unfair and unrepresentative of the student body?

Let alone the fact that the majority of buildings at Bristol Uni are unequipped for wheelchair access (something which can be an infuriating and painful process to discover), there is only one society that deals specifically with disability – and that is a network. Despite the pride Britain felt following the Paralympics, student sport at the university has failed to provide any support for those who wish to participate but have absolutely no idea how to do so. Most students want to pick up a new sport at university, but disabled students are once again being denied this privilege.

If the university (and this magazine) prides itself on being progressive and inclusive then why has my time as a disabled student been forgotten and overlooked? Why has my voice been forgotten in it all? Disabled students have to carefully consider the cost of every single thing – including thoughts and actions – in regards to our energy and pain levels. Our voices are consistently forgotten because society forgets these costs in invisible and visible disabilities.

I am unable to find anywhere to reach out to the SU to confront these issues. Firstly it has taken me nine hours to uncover all of this (I have only just come out of hospital so processing information is taking a lot longer at the moment) – that’s nine hours of being in physical pain when trying to find out what help I can access. And that’s nine hours of having to focus on what I can’t physically do rather than what I can do. That’s mentally draining as it is.

There are so many more issues I could list that deal specifically with my identity as a disabled woman; my sexualised body (simultaneously lacking and fetishised); my worries with being a mother; future job prospects. But I feel like this magazine should be pushing the issues that disabled students face rather than forgetting them.

I want to use my position and I think this magazine should (as a representation of intersectional feminism) use its position to criticise the university about unequal access.

Looking forward to hearing back,

Elizabeth Blundell”

disabledstudents

TWSS aims to be an intersectional space. However, aims are of no use unless we take appropriate action. Most of our writers come from similar backgrounds which shapes who is allowed into this space regardless of intention. One of our main objectives for this year is to change that by keeping close tabs on who writes for us and actively seek out those who have not been heard.

As Senior Editors of a political magazine, we occupy positions of power. It is our duty to represent different experiences, particularly those that exist outside our own. With this post, we’d like to publicly proclaim our commitment to this agenda in order to hold ourselves accountable to you, because a feminism that fails to consider all kinds of women and marginalised genders is not feminism at all. To many, this will seem like a daunting or even unrealistic task and it is true we will fuck up. We remain committed however to unlearning violent attitudes that contribute to the very power structures we are trying to undo. We believe in this political project and hopefully you do too.

Yours sincerely,

Rosel Jackson Stern and Emily Godbold

Senior Editors

Collage by Rivka Cocker

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