I haven't really touched on standing up for myself in terms of my rights as a person with a 'disability' since starting this blog almost five years ago now. Partly due to the fact that I am really bad at doing it!
My most current problem is with studying at university. I am due to be completing my final year of psychology this year and have been having issues with the uni I am currently enrolled in (which is a different uni from my previous studies). Since I am still in the negotiation process I will not name them just yet and hope they do the right thing and support me.
Now I study via distance education as it's easier for me with my sight, with working and with life in general. As a post graduate, I don't really want to be on campus but rather spending the time furthering my career. Even though I am studying distance my course has residential schools as a component, four lots in total over the year. The campus is not local to me, it's about a three hour drive from the city, which of course I can't drive, about a seven hour train ride (into the bush) or a small plane flight (although the airport is closed at the moment).
My issue stems from two things - my vision and my anxiety. It is hard for me to travel with my vision and there is no way I feel comfortable getting a train to somewhere I have never been on my own then somehow navigate to the campus and to a hotel. I can't even read a sign! I'm still new to this whole vision impaired experience and travelling on my lonesome is not something I feel comfortable with yet. I'm a small girl and haven't learnt kung fu (but don't worry I'm in the process of that) so I feel very vulnerable. And I'd have to do it four times over the year. I could get someone to take me but frankly I don't have anybody who could take weeks off work to spend in a country town while I sit in lectures for a course I'm supposedly doing through distance education.
So you'd think I have a fairly good argument to be supported to participate in another way right? Well apparently not. I've had numerous comments from the disability officer that they have another student who is 'fully blind' and goes on campus and why can't I study at another uni? Oh ok, too hard for you so palm me off? As for the 'fully blind' comment (said more than once), can you be any more condescending? You don't know my experience or my history, you know nothing about me! You don't know how I cope or all the effort I'm making to deal with my diagnosis and live a normal life!
I was on the verge of giving up. I had a chat with someone who is involved in disability research and she gave me some useful resources to support my case and present to the uni. One of which was the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Australia is a signatory and must abide by. The main points to note in regards to education is that every person has a right to education and 'reasonable adjustments' should be made for a person with a disability.
I was still wary of picking a fight as such with the uni, and was not keen for any confrontation. Then I thought, I have to be more assertive and fight for myself. So I put together an email quoting the above and specific guidelines relevant to psychology and sent it off.
The response I have gotten so far is.. well iffy. I'm not really sure where it's heading. Regardless of whether I succeed at least I can say I tried and I made others think of the individual needs of someone with a disability.
If you are in the same situation don't give up, try your best to be assertive and stand your ground. If you get really stuck there are disability advocates who can help and speak on your behalf. We have the same rights as everybody else and organisations need to be made aware of the different needs which are necessary for success.
Updates on the outcome of my situation to come!