Kia ora, I’m Eda, your co-editor, and sometimes my body doesn’t work. Many people on this campus are similarly invisibly ill or disabled, making the issue of disability and accessibility seem like a scant one. The unique thing about disability is that it can affect anyone at any point in their lives. Some people are temporarily disabled, and for others, it’s a chronic matter. Some people don’t like to identify as disabled due to the stigma associated with it, but for me, the fact is that so long as the environment around me doesn’t accommodate my needs, I am less able than a healthy person to do life. I can still be a bad boss bitch and work 50+ hours a week, but it just takes extra effort, a lot of medication, and an early bedtime.
Recognisably the accommodations for disabled people that you will see in my article can be a large investment in resources. But they are worth it; these improvements benefit everyone, let alone allow disabled students a dignified learning experience. Closed captions for lectures are helpful for knowledge comprehension and note taking, ramps and elevators are great for people with prams and trolleys, lecture live streaming/recording keeps viruses away from campus, and reasonable lecture times and conditions allow for better concentration.
Recently the Student Council passed a motion to include a student from the newly formed Auckland University Disabled Students Association on the council to represent disabled students. This is a fantastic step to ensuring each faculty’s recognition and action on safe practices and accommodations for disabled students. But this is just the start to representing disabled student voices. Disabled students have very different needs, so it’s not enough for us to have a monolithic understanding of what disability means and how it causes barriers to one’s learning. My view on disability does not represent anyone else’s view either.
As someone with a formal diagnosis, medical literacy, and access to health insurance, I am very privileged to be able to mostly navigate medical extensions and time off work. However, it is much harder without the above and can be incredibly exhausting to prove your sickness, while you are sick. This is especially taxing for folks without a diagnosis (these take up a lot of financial resources and time commitment). So the message is to just be compassionate to anyone who is struggling and not fight their condition (this includes offering unsolicited advice).
Disability discrimination is rooted in the Eugenetics Movement where disabled folks were institutionalised, steralised and denied parenting rights. These attitudes are still commonplace when we see the infantilisation of disabled people, the denial of bodily autonomy by touching people’s mobility aids, and University staff’s attempt at treating the person’s condition (for example, through Applied Behaviour Analysis therapy for autistic folk). Refusing to accept our disability is refusing to accept a part of us that has comprised a large part of our sense of self.
Our society is relatively equipped with gender and race literacy, but when it comes to disabled people, our mothers have just told us not to stare — which has translated to not engaging in the very real issues that disabled people face. That does not mean that disabled people owe you a back story about “what happened”. So I implore you to do the research, ask about access needs, consider where accessibility comes in with your role in the world and continue to value and include disabled folk.
From the both of us, a little compassion and consideration goes a long way.
Eda Tang (she/her) & Brian Gu (he/him)
Co-Editors of Craccum 2021